Senator Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic) is proposing that New Jersey stop eating the seeds of tourism and grow a larger hospitality economy that generates greater state revenue.
South Jersey and the newspaper have been asking for just this for decades, with limited success. State governments often attempt to designate sufficient funds to promote and sell their attractions and destinations, but too often end up diverting them for other uses.
The bipartisan bill establishes a county tourism incentive grant fund to provide counties with funds to promote local entertainment options and vacation destinations. Surplus funds raised from state hotel and motel occupancy fees are returned to the county for tourism promotion in proportion to the amount of occupancy fees the county generates. Occupancy fees collected in excess of what was expected within the budget are considered overages.
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Another major originator of the bill is Senator James Beach (D-Burlington, Camden), Assistant Majority Leader in the State Senate. A strong bipartisan endorsement is particularly pertinent, as statewide tourism requires marketing to realize its potential.
The week before Christmas, the bill was unanimously introduced by the Senate State Governments, Gaming, Tourism and Historic Preservation Commission.
2018 was the last time I had hopes for tourism promotion. Chris Brown has organized a hearing by an Atlantic City commission to find ways to get more tourists to New Jersey. There were a lot of good ideas, and more marketing arguments were stronger: According to the state Travel and Tourism Administration, tourists spent $43 billion a year in New Jersey at the time, and state and local tax revenues put him at $5 billion. It was producing close to the dollar.
States with strong tourism marketing, such as Virginia, reportedly return about $7 in tax revenue for every dollar spent. But even if New Jersey used all the funds it secured and didn’t conduct house searches for other purposes, the total amount would still be less than half of the average tourism marketing budget of any other state.
“If we are serious about growing the tourism economy, we need to reinvest in something that works,” Polistina said. “Tourism promotion pays off if it can encourage families to visit more often, stay longer and spend more money on local businesses and events.”
The bill was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. We urge that committee to provide similar prompt and full support.
The amount of surplus funds from hotel and motel occupancy fees is probably not enough to optimize this large segment of the New Jersey economy and the government revenue it generates. At least that’s the beginning.
New Jersey has the resources and is ideally located to have the highest concentration of potential visitors and vacationers in the country. It’s common sense to reach out to them and let them know what’s here.