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Tourism Spending in NJ Climbs to Nearly $40 Billion Even With Decline of Casinos

Atlantic County still leads the way with nearly 18 percent of all tourism-related revenues in Garden State

More tourists visited New Jersey last year -- and they spent more money than in 2013 -- according to the latest report on tourism from the state Division of Travel and Tourism.

Released on Thursday during the annual New Jersey Conference on Tourism, the report shows that the only county where total tourism sales declined was Atlantic County. That drop-off was attributed to the decline of the casino industry in Atlantic City, which is where the conference was held.

Overall, according to the report, tourism revenues statewide reached almost $40 billion last year, up 3.7 percent over the previous year. The report said the boost was due at least in part to good weather last summer and the fact that the state experienced no major hurricanes or storms.

While every county saw an increase in tourism revenue, while Atlantic County’s tourism sales dropped by 3.1 percent. Atlantic County still generated the lion's share of tourism revenue -- nearly $7.1 billion, amounting to 17.7 percent of all tourism money in the state.

"The good news about Atlantic City is that it remains the go-to tourist destination in New Jersey," Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno told the conference. "The bad news is that the closing of some hotels and casinos has cost tourism workers their jobs ... We’ll bounce back from the storm now buffeting Atlantic City."

According to the report, revenue from gaming dropped by almost 5 percent, while the number of room stays dropped nearly 8 percent. Still, Atlantic County, as well as the other Shore counties, had a "strong summer season," the report stated.

On the other hand, three counties -- Union, Salem and Gloucester -- saw double-digit increases in tourism sales. Guadagno, who also oversees the Department of State, which oversees tourism, said that while the Jersey Shore has always been the state's best-known tourist destination, a little more than half of all tourism spending last year was done elsewhere.

According to the report by Tourism Economics, the number of tourists and visitors statewide – encompassing everyone from New Jerseyans vacationing at the Shore to out-of-state or foreign tourists -- grew by 4.4 percent last year, amounting to a total of 93.2 million trips. That's about 40 percent better than the low of 66 million trips in 2009 during the recession.

More than half of all trips in 2014 were day trips for business or pleasure. But overnight visitors spent the most money, accounting for almost 91 percent of all tourism sales. Similarly, $9 of every $10 was spent by tourists, rather than people visiting New Jersey for business. Almost 8 percent of tourism spending was done by international tourists.

Due to the casino closings and the relocation of Superstorm Sandy victims from temporary hotel lodging to more permanent homes, the demand for hotel rooms dropped slightly, but overall hotel revenue grew by 2.4 percent as the average room charge rose by nearly 3 percent, the report shows.

While most tourism dollars were spent on lodging -- $11.1 billion -- food and beverage sales are nearly as large, totaling $9.7 billion.

More than 315,000 people worked in tourism jobs in the state last year, amounting to 6.2 percent of all jobs in New Jersey. That represented a decline of 1.3 percent, according to the report. While Atlantic County lost about 6,000 tourism jobs, or 14.1 percent of its total, it was not the only county with tourism job losses. Bergen, Cumberland, Ocean, Salem, Somerset, Sussex and Warren also lost jobs related to tourism. The largest increase was 10 percent in Mercer County.

The most tourism jobs in the state were in Atlantic County, with 52,000, and those jobs represented a large portion of the county's total workforce -- 30 percent. However, tourism is even more important to Cape May County, where its nearly 26,000 tourism related jobs account for 4 of every 10 workers.

Overall, according to the report, direct and indirect financial impacts from tourism accounted for 6.6 percent of the state economy.

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