TourismTravelSummer Tourism Bouncing Back, Weather Permitting

New Jersey’s tourism industry has made a strong comeback since the days of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the World Cup and nation’s 250th anniversary on the horizon, the industry’s outlook is bullish.


While New Jersey may not be the top vacation spot in the world (Paris takes that title, according to U.S. News & World Report), tourism contributes substantially to the state’s economy, particularly in the beach communities along the Jersey shore.

According to data released in May from the New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism, 120.5 million visitors came to the Garden State in 2023, up from 114.6 million in 2022. Our visitors spent $49.1 billion generating $78.3 billion in economic activity and $5.2 billion in state and local tax revenues. By comparison, in 2022, visitors spent $45.5 billion and generated $73.5 billion in economic activity, creating $5 billion in state and local tax revenue. Tourism also supports a total of 501,000 jobs.

“Much of [the increase] has to do with the beach. Summer season represents more than 50% of total annual tourism spend in just those three months,” notes Jeffrey Vasser, executive director of the New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism (NJTT), an arm of government overseen by the Lieutenant Governor’s office charged with enticing tourists to visit the Garden State. “We know we’re going to surpass the 2023 numbers,” he adds.

Optimism is high that 2024 numbers will keep growing, even in challenged destinations like Atlantic City.

“I’m very bullish with what I see in trends in the meeting and event business,” says Gary Musich, vice president of sales and destination services for Visit Atlantic City. “What we booked in 2023 was the best we’ve ever done. It’s the rebound of the event business. We see the volume growing, and interest in Atlantic City growing in the short term,” Musich reported during a panel discussion at the 16th annual Jersey Shorecast held recently by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism (LIGHT) at Stockton University.

Jane Bokunewicz, faculty director for LIGHT at the Stockton University School of Business, reported on some of the successes of 2023, especially at Atlantic City casinos. Total gross gaming revenue ($1.4 billion) was up 11% from 2022 primarily due to growth in internet gaming and sports betting. In-person gross gaming revenue ($811 million) was up 1% from 2022 and nongaming net revenue was 45% of the total net revenue compared to 39% in previous years.

“I’m cautiously optimistic for the summer,” says Oliver Cooke, associate professor of economics at Stockton University and editor of the South Jersey Economic Review. “Job growth right now has picked up over the first quarter for Atlantic City proper, relative to where we were in late 2023. Unemployment remains very, very low. My sense is that we’re in a decent place with all the headline metrics.”

New Jersey’s annual tourism promotion budget is approximately $17.6 million, much of which supports a campaign and slogan launched last year, “Little State, Lotta Wow” to encourage tourism visits. According to NJTT’s Vasser, the message relates to the fact that people are unaware of the many opportunities in-state for a great vacation experience.

Recent successes are a far cry from four years ago. “COVID was interesting for New Jersey because we saw a 35% drop in visitors in 2020 over 2019,” Vasser notes.

However, making a full recovery can be problematic when, like last year, the weather didn’t always cooperate. “It always boils down to the weather,” notes Dana Lancellotti, president & CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association. “Unfortunately, we have had some very strange and erratic weather.”

Lancellotti is optimistic about 2024. “I think people are done with being afraid of being together. Now, they’re trying to make up for lost time,” she says.

NJTT’s Vasser shares in the optimism, noting that New Jersey’s indoor and outdoor experiences offer a unique draw for visiting tourists. “New Jersey has hiking trails, biking, canoeing, and kayaking opportunities. We’ve got a great equestrian scene, too. We know visitors love getting outdoors,” he says.

Beyond nature, New Jersey offers guests an endless list of experiences, from large music festivals such as the North-To-Shore concert series to celebrations like the 38th Annual Red, White & Blueberry Festival held in Hammonton, or the “Sea.Hear.Now” Festival in Asbury Park.

And when the weather does not cooperate, Vasser says there is no need to cancel hotel reservations. “New Jersey offers a wealth of indoor adventures,” he says, citing our museums, concert venues, and destination experiences like Liberty Science Center. There are also spectacular indoor water parks like the Dreamworks Water Park at the American Dream Mall in the Meadowlands or the new Island Water Park at Showboat in Atlantic City.

Article courtesy of NJ Business Magazine.