Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that tourism hit a record level in 2012 and accounted for nearly $40 billion, up from $38 billion in 2011. The 2012 figure was the highest since the annual record-keeping began. Also, about 82.5 million visitors came to New Jersey last year, an increase of nearly 5 percent over 2011 levels.
"That's even more amazing in light of the storm we had on Oct. 29," Christie said.
Fortunately for the state, the storm hit in the fall after the summer tourism season had ended. Many tourism-related businesses and shore communities said nice weather during the summer led to a good season through Labor Day weekend.
Unfortunately, the storm left New Jersey with many damaged tourist destinations, including the Jersey Shore, and the need to rebuild. Tourism is New Jersey's third-largest industry, after pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
New Jersey's travel and tourism industry directly supports 318,560 jobs, a 2 percent increase over 2011 and the largest single year percentage increase over the last six years. When combined with indirect jobs, the total exceeds 500,000 jobs, or 10 percent of all New Jersey jobs, Christie said.
Other details from the annual tourism report include: -Tourism generated $34.7 billion of state gross domestic product in 2012, or 7 percent of the entire state economy.
-Including direct and indirect impacts, tourism generated $4.5 billion in state and local taxes and $5.1 billion in federal taxes last year.
-Hotel room demand grew 5.8 percent last year.
The state is planning a $25 million advertising campaign highlighting the slogan the Jersey shore "is open for business."
Christie said the shore is not a monolith, and parts of it fared much better than others.
"South of Long Beach Island, things are pretty much normal at the Jersey shore, and folks need to know that," he told a tourism conference in Atlantic City. "These communities are ready to go. They have rental communities and their businesses are ready to go."
Long Beach Island itself is in good shape for the summer.
Heading north into Ocean County and parts of Monmouth County is "more problematic," the governor said.
Boardwalks are being rebuilt in Belmar and Seaside Heights, but some spots will still have damage this summer.
"I've always said the Jersey shore will come back, but it will be different," he said. "There are places that will look and feel different. There's no way around that."
Christie said each of the storm-damaged boardwalks should be rebuilt and ready for use by Memorial Day weekend.