Shore towns look ahead to summer of COVID-19

Long Beach Island Mayor Joe Mancini promises to reopen the economy in time for the all-important summer season.

“I can’t tell you what the governor is going to do,” he said. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do; June 1 is our drop dead date. We are opening on June 1. We’re moving ahead and everyone seems to be onboard and we are going to make this summer work.”

He’s confident tourists will be able to enjoy the summer, even while social distancing.

“On the beach, we’re going to ask everyone to and from the beach, if you’re with your family pick out a nice spot, be at least 8 feet from everybody else. And then once you’re in your chair or on your blanket, take the face mask off. If they’re not onboard they can stay home,” Mancini said.

But before the summer season can kick off, businesses have a lot of unanswered questions.

“What is the season going to look like? What is the tourist is going to feel, even when social distancing becomes something of the past, will they be willing to go out,” asked Joseph Simonetta, executive director of the New Jersey Tourism Association.

Simonetta says he knows this summer will look drastically different than years past because of the impact of COVID-19.

“We’ve seen several people in other states run to beaches and crowd them,” he said. “We’re hoping people will feel safe, but we want to make sure it is safe to return and we don’t have a spike.”

While safety is the priority, Simonetta says if stay-at-home orders continue throughout the summer, it could have serious repercussions for Jersey’s critical tourism industry.

“Tourism means $43.4 billion in revenue to the state of New Jersey. That’s the economic revenue. It employees over 560,000 people everywhere from the amusement rides, the boardwalk, restaurants, the parking lot attendants — everyone that has a hand in revenue. 48% of that comes from the four coastal counties: Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May,” he said.

Matthew Coscia works for Glenmary Real Estate in Point Pleasant Beach. He says coronavirus fears may push tourists to stay home. Agents like himself are feeling the results of that.

“We are not allowed to rent so called short term right now for the summer,” he said. “I would say in my office we have anywhere between 40 or 50 particular houses that we do short-term rentals for, and that could be 15 weeks of the summer where we’re constantly in and out doing rentals. I would say more than half of them have contacted us, or 75% of them have contacted us, and had questions or in some cases asked for refunds.”

Simonetta says when beaches are finally open, the tourism association plans aggressive promotion to draw in worried tourists. Mancini urges all visitors to be responsible if and when they do visit the Jersey Shore this summer.