ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Tourism promoters, business owners and even members of the Christie administration have been saying for months that tourism was down last year as a result of Superstorm Sandy.
But 2013 was actually a banner year for New Jersey, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said Thursday at the state's annual tourism conference in Atlantic City.
She said tourism accounted for $40.4 billion in economic activity last year, topping the previous record of nearly $40 billion set in 2012.
Her claim contradicts statements made last month by Michele Brown, the state economic development chief, at hearings on Sandy relief aid. Brown said 2013's tourism numbers were slightly below the 2012 figure.
"I read it like five times and I asked the people, 'Are you sure about these numbers?'" Guadagno said at the conference in the Golden Nugget Atlantic City. "That's the first summer after Sandy."
Virginia Pellerin, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Authority, said the report Guadagno cited Thursday contains new data that was not available earlier in the year. She also said the tourism data Brown referenced included only the four shore counties, not the entire state.
The overall tourism statistics came from a report compiled for the state by Tourism Economics, a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Oxford Economics firm.
It said visitor spending increased by 1.3 percent in 2013, and total visitation to New Jersey increased by nearly 6 percent to 87.2 million.
Guadagno also said construction of and investment in tourism facilities was up 24 percent last year — not surprising given the amount of damage that needed to be repaired after Sandy and from a devastating boardwalk fire in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park.
An informal Associated Press survey of beachfront business owners in Monmouth and Ocean counties just before Labor Day found many reporting sales had fallen by 30 percent in the summer of 2013.
Gov. Chris Christie spent the first week in August at the shore with his family, sitting on the beach, playing miniature golf, strolling boardwalks and dining out every night.
"We knew that this summer was not going to be like the summer of 2012; I said that right from the beginning," he said shortly before Labor Day. "There's no doubt that business was going to be down all over the Jersey shore because a lot of people, having seen the extraordinary devastation, didn't believe we'd be able to be up and running in time for summer. They turned out to be wrong, and I think we'll get them back next year."
Tourism promoters also told a legislative hearing in December that the state's "Stronger than the Storm" campaign came too late to save the first post-Sandy summer.
The report also asserted that tourism:
— Is New Jersey's 5th largest industry.
— Generated $35.9 billion of New Jersey's gross domestic product in 2013, or 7 percent of the entire state economy. If New Jersey tourism were a company, its sales would rank No. 70 on the Fortune 500 list — bigger than Sears, DuPont and Hess.
— Directly or indirectly supports 511,000 jobs in New Jersey, about 1 out of every 10 jobs in the state.
— Generated $4.6 billion in state and local taxes, and $5.2 billion in federal taxes last year.
The state plans to launch its new summer tourism campaign, "Going Strong," later this month. It hopes to use $5 million in federal Sandy recovery funds to pay for it.
The report also predicted that visitation to New Jersey will increase by 2 percent or more a year in each of the next four years, and that tourism spending will increase by more than 4 percent annually over that same period.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC