CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, NJ -- Tourism professionals are reporting that travel will fully recover in 2025. International and business tourism continues to struggle to recapture pre-Covid levels with New Jersey tourism still down in many areas and segments. Cape May County continues to recover ahead of other counties with all indicators showing the County's recovery is well ahead of the targeted date with full recovery expected in 2022. Occupancy Tax data is showing that every month through September has seen an increase over 2019 collection except for February. Losses experienced in the lodging sector in 2020 were recovered by July 2021 with the other sectors not far behind.
September Occupancy Tax report didn't disappoint, with a record $2,004,557 reported for Cape May County by the New Jersey Treasury. This exceeded every September report since 2005 when the tax was first levied on the lodging industry. The collection rate for September 2021 was more than 40% over 2019, which was a record year for Cape May County and 20% over September 2020. (September 2020 was a record month in spite of COVID). Year over Occupancy Tax data for the first nine months of 2021, indicates Cape May County lodging is up 23.4% over 2019, and 40% over 2020.
"Tourism recovery has been one of our main concerns and a big part of our "Safely Together" campaign to ensure not only the safety of our residents and visitors but to help our local businesses recoup losses from the shutdowns and restrictions. The County's marketing efforts were extremely successful and Cape May County is recovering at a faster pace than anticipated," said County Commissioner Gerald M. Thornton, liaison to the Department of Tourism.
Occupancy Tax is the best metric available to measure overnight stays in each county and is posted monthly by the New Jersey Treasury. This data provides a gauge for measuring overnight stays statewide. On average, overnight visitors to Cape May County spend $374 per person, per day. The per-person spending impacts all tourism sectors across the board, in addition to state and local taxes.
"Cape May County Occupancy Tax has outpaced all other counties in New Jersey since May 2021, with significant increases during the June through September months. The four beach counties, Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth, and Ocean saw growth during the summer months, indicating the strength of beach tourism. Another record September points to the lure of fall for new and return visitors who are able to get away after the summer. We anticipate a good fall and winter as travelers seek unique and close-to-home experiences that include nature and outdoors, historic attractions, shopping, wineries, breweries, and distilleries. There are so many special events and outdoor opportunities that bring more visitors back each year," reported Diane Wieland, Tourism Director.
The pandemic changed tourism globally with travel trends in the U.S. strongly leaning toward road trips in lieu of air flights. Closer to home drive destinations did well and that trend will continue as travelers wait and watch ongoing restrictions and mandates. Cape May County benefited from strong visitation during the summer, which has extended through the fall and winter. The trend started in June 2020 and has carried through to September 2021. The increase in Occupancy Tax translates into an increase in visitors and overnight stays. Room rates remained the same or with small increases to cover costs related to sanitizing.
Traditional rentals, online bookings, and second homeowners have greatly impacted the shoulder season, serving to expand the summer season and moving the County closer to becoming a year-round destination.
Online bookings are not included in the lodging numbers provided by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism. The number of properties available for online bookings grew 10% countywide in 2021, from 5,172 in 2020 to 5,695 as of September, generating $43,776,897 in rental income between January through September. This breakdowns to each property generating $7,686.90, on average during the first nine months of 2020. The average nine-month occupancy rate was 66%, an increase of 15.7% over the same period in 2020.
"The summer months produced record visitors with tourism direct spending across all sectors anticipated to follow the Occupancy Tax increases. Growth during the fall and winter are indicators that Cape May County is becoming a year-round destination. Our tourism industry leaders have done an outstanding job in beating the issues they faced from the shutdowns, restrictions, labor shortage, and supply chain interruptions," added Thornton.
Additional funding provided by the Cape May County Board of Commissioners to support a fall and winter campaign is attributed to the increase in September numbers. The Department of Tourism's marketing message for the holidays promotes special events, shopping locally, and purchasing local products to eliminate supply chain concerns, Giving the gift of a Jersey Cape vacation has resonated well with reports from restaurants and retail outlets reporting business being better than expected.