Op-Ed: New Jersey’s Economy Relies on Increasing Tourism | Cody-Bjelka

By Kathleen Cody-Bjelka

New Jersey ended this summer’s tourism season on a high note. Vacationers crowded the Jersey Shore’s newly replenished beaches for what was the fifth hottest summer on record in the past 125 years. Local business owners who saw an uptick in sales celebrated the increase in visitation. The tourism industry is vital for New Jersey businesses and it’s important that domestic and international travelers continue to visit and put money in its economy.

Last Wave Brewing Company, a popular brewery owned by Nick Jiorle and Bert Roling in Ocean County told the Asbury Park Press that their tasting room would quickly fill up every day this summer and saw a 26% increase in sales. In addition, Tim McLoone, the owner of Robinson Ale House and Tim McLoone’s Supper Club said his establishments saw a 12% increase in sales this summer too.

McLoone attributes this summer’s success to the momentum from major events hitting New Jersey like MTV hosting a live concert at the Stone Pony and boardwalk in Ashbury Park. The Asbury Park Press attributes the increase in New Jersey tourism to an image makeover.

“We all know it’s a funky, cool, accepting place and now everyone is finding out,” McLoone told the publication.

There are countless travel organizations in New Jersey such as Meet Atlantic City, Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Jersey City Economic Development Corporation that work to promote the state tourism domestically.

But how international tourists, an important part of the industry since they contributed $2.8 billion in spending last year, find out about all these “funky” and “cool” things to do in the Garden State?

One organization is Brand USA, created by Congress in 2009. It is a public-private partnership that promotes cities in the United States to international tourists through their marketing initiatives. Their efforts promoting New Jersey as a premier tourist destination have driven economic growth in our state by attracting 98 million visitors. And just because the government created this program, it doesn’t mean that it uses taxpayer money.

Brand USA is funded by a small $14 fee certain international travelers pay through the Visa Waiver Program. As a public-private partnership, private industries that benefit from all these tourists match the money brought in by the Visa Waiver Program. So, not a single taxpayer dollar is needed to keep Brand USA operating and bringing in billions of dollars to all 50 states, including New Jersey.

Island Beach State Park

In fact, it’s quite the opposite – the high number of tourists that visited New Jersey, because of Brand USA, felt the economic benefits that many families and individuals have come to rely on. The almost 100 million tourists spent $20.8 billion in New Jersey, which created $3.6 billion in tax revenue. This means that each household had $1,525 in tax savings from Brand USA’s marketing efforts.

We also have to think about employment numbers because increased tourism leads to job creation. Brand USA is responsible for supporting over 200,000 jobs directly and indirectly, and without the organization’s continued efforts the hospitality and tourism industry would see a decrease in its job market, which would devastate many communities in which these individuals live and contribute.

But since Brand USA was created in a bipartisan manner by Congress, it has to be periodically reauthorized to continue receiving funding from the Visa Waiver program. For the first time, its reauthorization is at risk, but our Congressman Frank Pallone has the authority to prevent this from happening as the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. As the Congressmember representing cities with popular tourist destinations such as Monmouth Beach and Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, he should understand how important Brand USA’s reauthorization is for the economy in his district.

Tourism is a major sector in New Jersey’s economy and organizations like Brand USA that help boost the industry are an important contributor to its success. Residents who rely on the hospitality and tourism industry also rely on the results of Brand USA’s marketing initiatives. Congress voting to reauthorize Brand USA seems like an easy decision and let’s hope Congressman Pallone sees it that way too and helps to get Brand USA funded quickly.