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Tourism Climbs in NJ, with Increased Number of Visitors around the Garden State

Monday, March 7, 2016  
Share | 03/07/2016

The state’s tourism economy continued to grow last year despite a marked drop-off in revenue and jobs in Atlantic City, with overall spending hitting a high of $43.4 billion last year, newly released figures show. Among the state’s 21 counties, Atlantic County remained the biggest generator of tourism dollars at $6.7 billion, the state Division of Travel and Tourism said in a report. But while tourism earnings increased 3.3 percent in New Jersey as a whole, they fell 5.2 percent in Atlantic County, making it the only county to see a decline. Casino gambling revenues, or “win,” fell 6.5 percent. The crisis in the gaming industry, which saw four casinos close in 2014, was also evident in employment. Tourism jobs in Atlantic County plummeted 8.9 percent last year to 47,620 workers. The statewide job number was 318,330, an increase of slightly less than 1 percent. Passaic County saw the greatest percentage growth, with its relatively small tourism economy expanding almost 10 percent in one year to $569 million. Cumberland County was in second with an 8.8 percent increase, to $348 million, followed by Hudson, growing 8.6 percent to a little over $2 billion.

Visits and spending have been increasing in Hudson for several years thanks to the proximity of New York City and several other factors, said Bill La Rosa, the county director of cultural affairs and tourism. Travelers embarking on cruises in Bayonne often spend extra nights in the area before or after their trips, for example, and the county’s FIRE industries -- finance, insurance, and real estate -- make people aware of Hudson as a base from which to visit various attractions. After Atlantic County, the area with the biggest tourism economy is Cape May County, which saw an increase of 4.3 percent, or $246 million, to $6.04 billion. Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May Chamber of Commerce and the new president of the state tourism association, said her region benefited from good summer weather that lasted into the fall last year as well as the large number of second homes that draw their owners back to the Shore through Christmas.

Good signs for 2016 - The state tourism report, which was prepared by the firm Tourism Economics, predicts that strong U.S. employment growth, wage growth, and low gas prices will further buoy the state’s tourism economy. Weather, however, remains a “wild card.” Clark and other officials said they were also concerned about proposed legislation that they say could raise business costs and reduce the state’s competitiveness, including proposals to raise the minimum wage and require employers to provide paid sick leave. The report did not address the hotly contested plan for a referendum to authorize new casinos in North Jersey, which could hurt Atlantic City but potentially boost the state’s total gaming revenues by taking business away from New York casinos. Including direct and indirect impacts, the tourism sector accounted for 9.9 percent of total employment in the state. It directly generated $17.8 billion of the state’s gross domestic product. In particular, the percentage of all tourism spending in the lodging category, which includes gambling, has fallen from nearly 34 percent in 2009 to 27 percent last year.

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