CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, NJ – Worldwide tourism has been deeply affected by the Coronavirus and there is no better example of how fragile the industry is than what is happening now. Often, tourism is the first impacted in these situations and the last to recover. Pictures of desolate attractions and empty airports are a stark reminder of what we take for granted.
Hurricane Sandy greatly impacted New Jersey but nothing of this magnitude has happened in our lifetime. We must be flexible and prepare to meet the challenge. This will pass and our visitors will want to return to make new vacation memories once travel restrictions are lifted. Cape May County is making plans to be ready. Spring events serve as the unofficial start of the summer season and generate weekend business for the lodging, attractions and food and beverage sectors.
Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton, liaison to the Department of Tourism has been closely following the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting travel bans and deeply concerned about the impact they are having on the countywide tourism industry.
“We have dealt with hurricanes, flooding, and weather incidents over the years that have interrupted the operations within the tourism industry, but we have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. Tourism is a $6.6 billion industry and employs 35,000 people in this County alone, we are all operating in the unknown. We are looking down the line to salvage the summer and capture visitors who are looking for a close to home vacation destination,” Thornton said.
Spring events throughout the County are being canceled or postponed. Executive Orders by the Governor have closed attractions and restaurants until further notice. The County Freeholder’s are requesting second homeowners and renters to stay home until the State gives us the word to reopen. The County will remain in compliance with the CDA extended social distancing guidelines.
Cape May County has very few corporate businesses and small businesses depend on the visitors who come as early as Easter and weekends that follow through the start of summer. Recovery and reopening of the county’s top industry are at the forefront in the County’s marketing plan.
“The Department of Tourism is working aggressively to adjust to the new normal and continue to promote Cape May County as a destination of choice when the travel bans are lifted. We will be ready when things calm down. We will target our visitors with a strong summer and fall campaign and ensure them we will continue to offer a great vacation experience when they return,” said Diane Wieland, Director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism.
Information for business owners is available to help them survive the shutdown and navigate the assistance programs in place. It is important they be ready to open when conditions change. The County Chamber of Commerce is posting new information and conducting webinars to keep business owners informed of the programs that are available.
"Vicki Clark, President of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce said, "We encourage all businesses to review these resources and determine the aid program that could best help them during this recovery. Our tourism-driven economy is strong and resilient with everyone, both owner and employee anxious to open and get the 2020 season underway when the time is right."
The Canadian dollar plunged at the onset of the virus and today the Canadian Dollar exchange in the US is $.71 and that is subject to change. This could greatly impact the Jersey Cape’s largest international visitor that represents nearly 10% of the visitor base during the summer months. The Quebec visitor has been a loyal customer since 1968 and it is anticipated they will return to the Jersey Cape when the exchange rate is more favorable. Canada is heavily promoting travel within their country.
“Our visitors are subject to the same guidelines and feel the same sense of concern for their safety and well-being. Vacations are currently not a priority; we hope that when this is over people will need to get away once this has passed. We want to stay top of mind as a vacation destination close to home and free from worries," explained Wieland.
We are reallocating our marketing budget and grant funding to ramp up our advertising campaign moving forward. We were able to postpone our marketing efforts for at least one month. Travel shows scheduled for the remainder of the season are canceled resulting in limited marketing in some key regions. To offset attending fewer shows the department will increase its digital and outdoor presence in those areas as well as in top visitor markets in Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Print, digital, broadcast and outdoor advertising scheduled to start in mid-March will begin in May for most buys in the campaign.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has not only created the need to revisit the marketing plan but to craft a new message as well. At this time, we need to be sensitive to those who are not able to travel and reluctant to make vacation plans and let them know they have amazing opportunities waiting for them on the Jersey Cape. We want to remain top of mind and let them know we will be here better than ever vacation experience.
Our message will be subtle to let our visitors know we will be here to host them when they are ready. We want them to remember vacations in the past and showcase images that are truly souvenirs of the soul. Ads depicting smiling children playing in the surf, blue skies, boardwalk amusements, natural beauty, vast beautiful beaches, and calm waters are sure to evoke special memories of the past and plans for the coming season. We feel we can weather this storm and restore our tourism industry.