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New Jersey tourism officials will have a difficult task in overcoming perceptions that the Shore has been irreparably harmed, but the federal fund infusion should help.
The Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau earlier this week renewed its call for towns, chambers of commerce and businesses to participate in an online marketing campaign that alerts visitors that they are open.
The grassroots effort — including affixing a blue logo to their websites that links to the tourism bureau’s site — takes advantage of the Internet, an inexpensive way to advertise.
“We can’t wait for the money (from Congress),” said Robert Hilton, executive director of the bureau, as the outcome of the vote on Sandy aid — which was approved — remained uncertain. “Now is really the time when people are starting to plan their summer vacations, or at least begin thinking about it.”
The bureau is responsible for promoting the tourism industry in Monmouth County and part of Ocean County, the region hardest hit by October’s superstorm Sandy. (The Asbury Park Press is a sponsor of the group and is donating to the organization part of the profits from its book “Sandy: The Jersey Shore in the Eye of the Storm.”)
Tourism officials and elected leaders continue, by and large, to talk confidently about opening in time for the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day. But the devastation is massive. And the bureau’s attempts to get everyone on the same page hasn’t been easy, if only because of the sheer number of towns and business groups at the Shore.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno on Tuesday visited Lola’s Boutique in Point Pleasant Beach, whose owner wondered if the slow start to the year was because visitors remain hesitant to come to the borough.
Marla Lengle said her store on Bay Avenue survived the storm with minimal damage. But town officials in Sandy’s aftermath cautioned nonresidents to avoid danger and stay out, even though, Lengle said, most of the damage was a few blocks to the east.
When customers call, “Instead of saying, ‘What time do you open or close,’ they just say, ‘Are you open,’ ” Lengle said.
Eleven weeks after Sandy hit, Congress on Tuesday debated a bill that would provide billions in financial aid in a package that could include money to promote the Shore’s tourism industry. Without it, both the state and the Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau have had to rely on a low-cost strategy.
Hilton has asked towns and chambers of commerce to send him a list of businesses that are open so that he can include them on the bureau’s website, www.visitthejersey shore.com. He said their response has been uneven.
Ideally, business owners also would include the blue “The Jersey Shore is Open” logo on their own websites so that the campaign gets better placement on search engines such as Google.
“The more sites that have it, the more visibility it has,” said James Mahlmann, chief operating officer of NetCetra, an Internet marketing company in Brick and a proponent of the campaign. “And the more times people search for the Shore, it’s going to pop up. And that’s what we want.”
— The Jersey Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau, with the help of Gold Mobile, a Woodbridge-based technology company, upgraded its mobile website so that it, too, can tell visitors which businesses are open.
— New Jersey will unveil a marketing campaign touting its resilience in Chicago and at events surrounding the inauguration in Washington, D.C., and the Super Bowl in New Orleans, Guadagno said.
— Point Pleasant Beach is considering partnering with Guadagno’s office to send letters to residents who have second homes in the borough that much of the town is open.
“That’s an easy, easy lift,” Guadagno said in an off-the-cuff brainstorming session with the borough’s mayor and business owners. “It doesn’t cost anything except a 47-cent stamp and a little paper.” (Not even that, as the price of a stamp will be 46 cents beginning Jan. 27.)
Hilton noted he still travels through towns that are in for a costly, time-consuming rebuilding project. But he said the marketing campaign would be stronger if the businesses that are open, participate.
“I always try to make sure I’m really clear to everybody that not everything is open, but a lot of stuff is,” he said. “And we want you to come visit to the stuff that is.”