Local tourism boards will have to find ways to offset cuts made in state marketing funds for the summer
When New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno addressed leaders of the state’s tourism industry in Atlantic City last week, her speech had a sort of “The state giveth, and the state taketh away” feel to it.
In the end, however, it was what the state left in place that was most welcome by industry leaders. What was taken was $2 million in funds still in the current state budget slated for a spring and summer marketing campaign to draw tourists to the state. Guadagno said the funds had been cut as Gov. Chris Christie and their administration try to close a $2 billion hole in the state budget.
“We all know that these are very difficult times,” Guadagno said. “We were faced with some tough choices. ... When we saw that $2 million, our choice was to either fund tourism, or do something like close a hospital or school for a few days. I know many people are hurting, but we are doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt.”
Which means local tourism boards around the state have to deal with being dealt less cards as the burden of marketing shifts to them.
“I think the attitude has to be that there is no use crying over spilled milk,” says Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism. “That money is gone. The lieutenant governor came and explained it and, myself coming from government, you just have to accept that funding gets reallocated. We’re just all going to have to work a little harder.”
Cape May in particular runs a number of promotions and marketing campaigns through local offices and boards from Ocean City through Wildwood to Cape May City. Wieland pointed to Ocean City and the work of their public relations office, which comes up with marketing ideas such as the recent Doo Dah Parade to draw attention to the city.
“Those ideas come from Mark Soifer [head of public relations for Ocean City] and we all wish we had a Mark Soifer in our towns,” Wieland says. “That’s a creativity that comes from the local level.”
Still, the loss of a general marketing campaign is felt statewide.
“A lot of people reacted to that announcement by saying, ‘Well, that doesn’t affect Atlantic City,’” says Maureen Siman, head of marketing for the Atlantic City Convention and Visitor’s Authority (ACCVA). “Our marketing money is funded differently and the cut doesn’t effect our programs. But we are still affected because we are part of the overall shore area. The spring is the most important time to be out there marketing the beaches and the beach communities. So it’s really unfortunate timing. But, let’s face it, there’s a serious budget shortfall and this is what happens.”
Both Siman and Wieland pointed to specialized regional promotions as one way to help attract new visitors. For example, both Cape May and the ACCVA have partnered to increase marketing to Canadian tourists.
“In the ’90s, Canadian visitors were a huge market for us, but then we kind of lost them due to their own financial woes,” Wieland says. “But right now the Canadian dollar is very strong and we are a bargain for them again. We’ve looked for particular markets and one of the biggest is with golfers. Canada has a very short golf season, so we’re marketing to them for golf trips and junkets. That’s the kind of marketing that has to be done.”
Atlantic City has also made similar efforts to target specific travelers. A recent example has been efforts to market to the gay and lesbian community.
“The point is to find the groups that you can offer something special to,” says Siman.
Siman was quick to point out, however, that there were many positives in Guadagno’s address. One was that approximately $9 million, to be raised through New Jersey’s five-percent hotel-motel occupancy tax, would not be touched in the next state budget and would go to arts and cultural groups. Many cultural groups have been reeling as cuts to state grants have devastated their budgets.
Guadagno also said that about $10 million in beach replenishment funds would stay in place. After a severe stretch of weather this winter and early spring, many shore communities are coping with huge beach erosion.
“The beach erosion is one of the most important things the state can do,” Wieland says. “Our studies show that 85 to 90 percent of our visitors come here for the beach. People talk about our brand. Well, our brand is the sand and we have to maintain that asset.”
Guadagno also scored some points with the industry by recognizing the importance of tourism to New Jersey’s economy in her speech.
“We understand what you do,” she told the conference. “You are our first line of defense. It is through small businesses and tourism that we’ll be able to kick-start this economy. You are the people who bring people to New Jersey and get them to spend money.”
Guadagno said she intends to be a vocal advocate for tourism in the state and told the conference that she would be available to help promote any event or cultural institution that asks.
The perception is that it’s all about gaming [in Atlantic City]. And clearly it’s much more than that so that’s the opportunity, to make sure that doesn’t happen."