Tourism on the rise in New Jersey

April 10, 2008 1:04:15 PM PDT
Howard McCullough likes New Jersey just fine. Sitting in his powder blue windbreaker and tan ball cap outside the Trump Marina Hotel Casino after a successful stint at the casino, he and his wife were bound for their Upper Marlboro, Md., home with nothing but good feelings about the Garden State.

"I like the vacation atmosphere here, the shore, and I've been a harness racing fan all my life so I love the Meadowlands track," said McCullough, who comes to New Jersey twice a year. "It's all good."

It's people like him that keep the cash registers ringing and the workers working in New Jersey, where tourism is the third-leading industry.

Last year, the amount of tourists visiting New Jersey - and the money they left behind - both increased by nearly 6 percent over 2006, according to figures released Thursday by the state Division of Travel and Tourism.

Tourism spending rose to $38 billion, up from $36.6 billion in 2006, as 75.2 million people visited New Jersey in 2007, up from 71 million the year before.

"A strong tourism industry is vital to economic growth in New Jersey," Gov. Jon Corzine said. "These positive results demonstrate the ability of tourism to buoy the state's economy by providing good jobs and improving business opportunities across many diverse sectors."

But Corzine has proposed a $1.8 million cut in tourism promotion in this year's budget.

During a speech Thursday at a tourism conference, Corzine alluded to the proposed cuts while praising tourism industry leaders for doing great things with "our little-bitty budget, which is getting littler and littler."

"It's my responsibility to make sure we take the burdens off our businesses," Corzine said. "We're trying to cut spending with no new taxes. I hope people understand that it is filled with difficult choices."

Particularly encouraging about the figures released Thursday was an increase of more than 15 percent in the number of overnight stays that tourists made last year.

But the number of direct and indirect jobs created by travel and tourism activity in New Jersey actually fell slightly last year, to 466,442.

Tourism-related jobs still account for more than 11 percent of total employment in the state, making tourism the third-largest industry in the state after pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

According to the tourism figures, one out of every nine New Jerseyans owes his or her job to tourism. And if tourism did not exist, each New Jersey household would pay $1,330 more in taxes to maintain current tax receipts.

Visitors from other states represented 66 percent of tourism expenditures. New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and South Carolina topped the list of out-of-state visitors who made the trek to New Jersey last year.

The study also found that 71 cents of each tourism dollar spent in New Jersey stayed within the state.

"Once visitors experience the Jersey shore with its beautiful beaches and family fun, or enjoy the great entertainment and nightlife offered here, or discover the historic and cultural opportunities that abound, they are pleasantly surprised by the myriad of incredible offerings," said Nancy Byrne, executive director of the travel & tourism division.

McCullough's wife Eileen took more than fond memories home from Trump Marina.

"We did very well here," she said with a smile outside the casino. "New Jersey is a lovely state."