Jersey Shore’s summer tourist season was coming to an end when Will Andre, manager of the Boardwalk Beach Inn in Point Pleasant Beach, reviewed his reservations. They confirmed what he suspected: the season was almost as good as it could be.
Of 372 nights available in August for the 12-room motel, he said, only three went unfilled. And that was because of last minute cancellations.
“It was a solid year compared to the last two years,” said Andre. “Everyone seems to be happy because of the weather, mostly.”
As Labor Day weekend signals the unofficial end of summer, tourism businesses say they have enjoyed a summer in which storm clouds — both figurative and literal – never materialized. Visitors ignored inflation. The weather was hot and dry. And operators ended up with what is becoming a persistent problem: too many customers without enough staff.
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In total, Ocean and Monmouth counties looked set to match at least last summer, when tourism generated $7 billion despite safety issues created by COVID-19, and are closing in on their pre-pandemic days.
Leading the way were visitors like Michael and Cara Emma, who piled into their SUV with their two young daughters on Wednesday and drove from their home in Fairfield, Essex County, to Manasquan for a day at the beach .
They’ve been making the trip regularly this summer, they said, unblinking to the record high gasoline prices that dominated conversation at the start of the summer.
“We prefer to enjoy life,” said Cara Emma.
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Watch what people do, not what they say
The start of the season promises to be chaotic. As consumers emerged from COVID-19 lockdowns, demand for everything — gasoline, air travel, hotel rooms, food — was higher than supply could keep up. The global supply chain has bogged down. The Russians invaded Ukraine, driving up oil prices.
As a result, inflation hit a 40-year high, driven in part by gasoline prices, which peaked at $5.06 a gallon on June 13, according to AAA, before declining steadily. Higher costs have raised fears that consumers will cut spending on everything but the essentials.
But a July survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found nearly 70% of consumers said they would take a vacation “no matter what”.
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Melanie Magaziner, owner of the Tide Table Restaurant Group, which operates a total of six restaurants on Long Beach Island and Stafford, said she noticed comments in visitors’ Facebook groups saying they ate at home more often. due to high prices.
But its restaurants have remained busy.
“I feel like we’re in a unique position on the Jersey Shore,” Magaziner said. People might “save up to come to the Shore, but they want to go out to dinner, and they want to go to their favorite restaurants, and they want to have their favorite foods. So it’s hard to say. I mean, I know we all increased prices, but it didn’t seem like people were spending less money.”
Kyle Hopfensperger, owner of 2nd Jetty Seafood in Sea Bright, said consumers might have discounted some of the more expensive items, but not enough to dampen the summer.
“We’ve seen a great summer,” he said.
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Seven-day outlook: Nothing but sunshine
To say the weather cooperated would be an understatement.
This summer is expected to be the third hottest on a record dating to 1895 and the driest since 1966, New Jersey state climatologist David Robinson said.
Almost every day was a beach day. For example, in July, Long Branch recorded 1.4 inches of rain, 3 inches below normal. And his average temperature of 78.1 degrees was 3 degrees above normal, Robinson said.
For the tourism industry, “it’s damn impressive,” he said. “You couldn’t have a cleaner slate.”
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City officials said their beaches were packed. Seaside Heights, for example, said revenue from beach badges was 4.5% higher than a year ago, though part of the gain was due to a $1 increase in daily wristbands. Toms River said its beach badge revenue was down 7.5 per cent, but noted that much of Ortley Beach was closed at the start of the season due to beach erosion and that nearby Island Beach State Park was free.
After a slow start, Seaside Tiki Tours has found an audience. The company this summer began offering cruises around Barnegat Bay in a 23ft catamaran fitted with a tiki bar. (Customers must bring their own drinks).
Larry Warner, one of the owners, said the weather worked in his favor.
“You are on the bay,” he said. “It’s the best place to be when it’s hot.”
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Help is always wanted
Tourism business owners who buckled last summer under the weight of labor shortages have received at least some help this season. Visa programs that had been shelved during COVID-19 have returned, bringing with them international students who could participate.
But employers continued to feel the pinch. New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell to 3.7% in July, a sign that few workers were still looking for work. And a variant of COVID-19 — not as severe, but more contagious than previous strains — spread across the Shore in June and July, adding to the labor shortage.
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Asked about the course of their summer, some traders had to think about it.
Dan Malay owns How You Brewin’ Coffee Co. with stores in Surf City and Barnegat Light, and Poppy’s Ice Cream Parlor in Barnegat Light, with his wife, Lori.
He said summer was gangbusters. High gas prices might have worked in favor of the Shore, convincing visitors not to go to, say, Maryland or North Carolina, and to stay closer to home. And the weather was perfect.
If only he could find enough help. Malay ended up reducing Barnegat Light’s coffee shop operations to four days a week from seven due to a lack of staff, and he laments the amount of income he had to give up.
“An unprecedented company with an unprecedented job market,” Malay said.
Michael L. Diamond is a business journalist who has written about New Jersey’s economy and the health care industry for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at [email protected]