TRENTON – Shortly after Superstorm Sandy, a group of bipartisan lawmakers sponsored a bill that would channel more money than usual toward the summer tourism marketing campaign in hopes of getting the word out that much of the Shore is open.
It appears the Christie Administration shares the goal of having more money put into tourism marketing this year for the same reason. However, it’s proposing to use not state dollars, but some of the funding it is anticipating from the federal government.
In its plan released on Tuesday detailing how it would spend the first $1.8 billion in Community Development Block Grant funding it will receive from the federal government, the administration proposed spending $25 million of the fund on a tourism marketing campaign “to promote storm-impacted businesses and shore communities by letting the nation know that New Jersey is recovering and that communities are open for business.”
The goal of the campaign, the administration said, is to encourage New Jerseyans and tourists to shop locally, thereby supporting companies that are operational.
State lawmakers, including Assemblyman Matthew Milam, (D-1), Cape May, have sponsored bill A3630, which calls for appropriating $20 million in state funds to the Department of State for travel and tourism advertising and promotion. The bill was released by the committee in January, but no further action has taken place yet.
Tourism industry officials testified recently that the extensive devastation in some Shore communities is leading some would-be visitors and summer renters to pass on vacationing at the Jersey Shore under the impression that much of it is not open.
But as Milam had said previously, nothing could be farther from the truth.
“One of the biggest misperceptions post-Sandy is that our shore businesses are completely shut down, when in fact many were back up and running a week after the storm,” he said in a prior statement. “Given the billions of dollars generated by our tourism industry every year, this is a relatively minor investment well worth making.
“Now is the time when people start booking their summer rentals so we need to get the word out as soon as possible that the Jersey Shore is in fact open for business.”
Milam had said that focusing on getting visitors to spend the night at the Jersey
Shore is particularly valuable since it would mean more revenue through the occupancy tax.
The Christie Administration’s plan to use some of the CDBG money for tourism purposes normally would not be allowed, and thus it has requested a waiver. In the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Disaster Recovery Requirements regarding Sandy, there is a mention of New Jersey wanting to use some of the grant to support the tourism industry. It states that such a use could be permitted since it could help preserve the state’s $38 billion industry by not causing an erosion of revenues.
“Without such intervention, the State estimates a $950 million loss in the third quarter of 2013,” the document states.
There is precedent.
The document also states that such money had been used for similar purposes, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, to attract visitors to New York City.
“Tourism industry support, such as a national consumer awareness advertising campaign for an area in general, is ineligible for regular CDBG assistance,” the document says. “However, such support was eligible, within limits, for CDBG–DR (disaster recovery) funds appropriated for recovery of Lower Manhattan following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and HUD understands that such support can be a useful recovery tool in a damaged regional economy that depends on tourism for many of its jobs and tax revenues.”
The waiver was granted in part because New Jersey is proposing to use indirect means, which federal rules require, to drum up tourism, rather than proposing “direct assistance to tourism dependent businesses.”