By MADDY VITALE
Calling it a tremendous season for the Jersey Shore and for the state, Jeff Vasser, executive director of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, detailed some ways he is working on to improve tourism and continue to keep Ocean City at the forefront of popular places to visit.
“It seems to be a tremendous year for this area and statewide,” Vasser told an audience at the Flanders Hotel during the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce annual business summit Thursday.
Ocean City holds a special place in Vasser’s heart. He grew up in Margate and lives in Linwood, but his children have worked in the resort and love it.
It is also a place, Vasser said, he will not forget when he makes his commute from his home to Trenton to oversee the state’s tourism division and ensure it represents the entire state, from the mountains to its beaches.
“We are trying to do our part,” Vasser said. “The governor (Phil Murphy) gets tourism is an economic driver. When we propose something new, we have the governor’s ear.”
Michele Gillian, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said having someone such as Vasser, who knows and cares about the area, is crucial.
“We are extremely lucky to have representation from Jeff Vasser and we are so happy to have such a great relationship with him,” Gillian said.
She called the morning meeting, which nearly filled one of the banquet rooms at the Flanders, an important one because of the featured speaker. The event was just days ahead of the city’s Fall Block Party on Saturday.
Gillian reminded the crowd how important the block party is to the city’s shoulder season business. About 50,000 visitors are expected to pour into town for the block party.
Like Ocean City, the entire state saw a strong year in 2019. Figures available were from 2018, which Vasser said, also was a robust year for the state’s tourism economy.
The primary feeder markets the state looks to for tourism are New York and Philadelphia. Some secondary, but still prime markets are Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., and Washington, D.C. The state also targets tourists in Ohio and Montreal, Canada.
Of the $44.7 billion in tourism visitor spending in 2018, the bulk comes from food, lodging and retail, with the remainder coming from transportation and recreation.
Of the sum, $6.6 billion came from Cape May County in 2018 and $7.4 billion from Atlantic County. Ocean County tourism totaled $4.8 billion in visitor spending.
Second homeowner spending for Cape May County was $2.2 billion and $2.6 billion in lodging. Recreation was a hefty $711.4 million in Cape May County and transportation was $452.7 million.
Throughout the presentation, Vasser spoke of the impact Cape May County has on the tourism dollars.
Here is an ad for the state’s tourism:www.ispot.tv/ad/oLkE/visit-new-jersey-made-for-summer-fun
Vasser assured the audience that southern New Jersey is never forgotten in tourism marketing.
In one tourism ad, it shows video spots of people walking hand and hand on an Ocean City beach and another couple driving over the Ocean City–Longport Bridge.
While attracting vacationers to the family-friendly areas are key, the state is looking at ways to bolster travel and tourism throughout the state, he said.
He discussed the creation of a brand new slogan for New Jersey that is memorable, using examples of states where slogans have stuck for decades, including “Virginia is For Lovers.”
The state also wants to entice more international visitors, Vasser noted.
But the state’s tourism budget is not large, he explained. It totals $9 million for the entire state.
Ocean City’s Tourism Commission has a comprehensive marketing campaign with a budget of more than $620,000. Each year the commission invests in social media, billboards, TV, internet, postcards and other ways to attract visitors.
That is a reason why it is very important to work together with the local commissions, chambers and marketers, Vasser pointed out.
Tapping into areas that may spur visitors with other interests is key to a strong tourism plan.
“People know about the iconic Jersey Shore,” he said.
He said this year’s marketing focus includes letting tourists know more about the state’s offerings in food, arts, history and culture.
“There are 140 Revolutionary War sites in the state of New Jersey. We need to tell the story and the role New Jersey played,” Vasser remarked. “The quality of New Jersey wines has improved. There are 105 craft breweries. We need to tell those stories.”
Tapping into the international tourism market is also key to success in the ethnically diverse state, Vasser said.
“We need to push tax-free shopping,” he added.
Currently, marketing experts are working with the state tourism division on ways to showcase the uniqueness in the state.
“What’s more unique than the Doo Dah Parade in O.C.?” he asked with a laugh.