The latest 2020 Occupancy Tax data released by the New Jersey Treasury shows October collection for Cape May County surpassed the amount collected in 2019 by 6.5% or $33,533.58. Increased visitors during the fall impacted all sectors of the tourism industry with the average overnight visitor spending $374 per person per day. Both the September and October data exceeded the collection amount during the same months in 2019, which were record months. The increase in overnight visitors reflects a fall season the exceeded expectations and will chip away at the year-to-date losses from the shutdown.
In addition to the hotel, motel, and bed and breakfast inn overnight lodging, increased and extended home rentals during the fall, along with record house sales also attributed to increased tourism spending. Occupancy Tax is not levied on rentals. These visitors supported retail, recreation, and transportation spending. Food and beverage continue to struggle due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Second homeowners and new home buyers impact retail with items such as furniture, electronics, and home décor rather than the traditional souvenir items. The service industry for new home construction, remodelers, handymen, property managers, and maintenance and cleaning companies are in high demand and are increasing spending and providing more year-round jobs.
Remote work and virtual school options allowed many second homeowners to remain in the County beyond the summer months which added to fall expenditures. Approximately 47% of total dwellings in the County are considered second or vacation homes and typically most are not occupied during the fall and winter months. This year was very different as we saw local businesses more crowded than in the past fall months. Anecdotal reports from realtors indicated record sales and rentals through December 31 and well into 2021. Indications show the sales and rental market remain active in the first quarter of 2021.
“We saw the expenditures begin to rise in July and August and attributed that to our beaches and outdoor recreational activities. After months of being quarantined, visitors overwhelmingly picked our beaches to get away and enjoy the openness of our mainland and wide beaches in the resort towns. We did not anticipate the fall to exceed prior years and happy this gives our small businesses a much-needed bump. We had a record September and October which shows that people are looking beyond the beach for vacations with the diversity we have to offer. Shoulder season tourism is especially important during these uncertain times”, said County Commissioner Director, Gerald M. Thornton, liaison to the Department of Tourism.
Camping in Cape May County delivered in a big way with high occupancy numbers well into late fall. While overnight campground visits are not charged Occupancy Tax and were not included in the monthly report, their impact on the lodging industry is vital to the county’s economy. Cape May County has 47 campgrounds and more than 17,000 campsites that accommodate a variety of RV models, cabins, and park homes. Campers support all segments of tourism and tend to stay longer. The Canadian border being closed since March created a mass of cancelations and the void was quickly made up with domestic campers. The surge in camping was spurred by the need to find a controlled vacation option that allowed campers to feel safe and ensure they could protect and sanitize their immediate environment. The variety of recreational vehicles and the appeal of ‘glamping’ started a few years ago and has caught on for families, retirees, and couples and there are no indicators that the RV life will end any time soon. RVing is allowing many to see the country and for many to complete their bucket lists.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, RV sales and rentals skyrocketed across the Country. Once the campgrounds were permitted to open in New Jersey, site rentals in Cape May County were in high demand and remained busy through November.
“As we prepare for the 2021 summer season, we are making many adjustments to our marketing plan to address the ‘new normal’ in vacationer behavior. The vaccine will make a huge difference in the traveler’s ability to make vacation choices. We saw the growth in late summer and fall visitors to the region and know the diversity of the Jersey Cape and the open spaces will have a strong appeal to travel planners. We will continue to include an element of confidence in our messaging to ensure our visitors that their safety will remain our top concern”, said Diane Wieland, Director of the Department of Tourism.
It is anticipated that the busy winter months of November and December and a robust holiday season will continue to close the gap with year-end losses nearer to 20% over 2019. A full economic impact will be released by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism in the late first quarter.
“When we compare our fall tourism expenditures and the impact of our second homeowners to other destinations, we better understand the importance of eco and agri-tourism on our bottom line. The tourism industry is fragile and world-wide we have seen the devastation from natural disasters but we never anticipated the full direct and indirect impact the pandemic has had on tourism and for such a long period of time. It will take a few years to build our way back to the pre-2020 time and regain our $6.9 billion industry, but many of our businesses have proven they can do it”, Wieland added.
“Cape May County has a resilient team of small business owners that have worked hard to comply with CDS regulations and other restrictions to reopen and stay open to rebuild and regain the losses from the shutdown. I heard from so many business owners, especially those in the restaurant industry that are hanging on by a thread. Many will not be able to sustain the loss in business and will never reopen. We will do everything we can to assist them and keep our tourism industry strong and vibrant,” Thornton concluded.
2020 - January through October Occupancy Tax
2020 2019 Increase/decrease
January $131,955.20 $98,002.52 29.5% increase
February $149,140.90 $128,585.65 14.8% increase
March $66,338.94 $192,916.18 65.6% decrease
April $3,058.96 $347,885.17 99% decrease
May 28,340.70 $879,397.47 95.6% decrease
June $1,060,131.65 $1,988,580.76 46.6% decrease
July $2,633,125.44 $3,393,974.11 22.4% decrease
August $3,329,102.57 $3,602.147.72 7.5% decrease
September $1,671,693.29 $1,424,277.38 17.3% increase
October $549,080.26 $515,546.71 6.5% increase
Total (YTD) $9,622,005.99 $12,571,319.20 23.5% decrease