People walk along the boardwalk days before the Memorial Day weekend, the un-official start of summer, on the Jersey shore on May 27, 2021 in Wildwood. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
New Jersey’s tourism industry has recovered from its pandemic slump and is expected to reach record totals this year and next, Secretary of State Tahesha Way told Senate lawmakers Thursday.
Visitors spent $29.4 billion in New Jersey in 2020, a $17 billion drop — roughly 37%s — from the $46.4 billion in tourism spending recorded in 2019, according to economic impact reports the state commissioned. The number of visitors similarly fell as the state endured shutdown orders and coronavirus fears, dropping by 27% year-over-year.
Tourists began to return in 2021 as restrictions eased, but their spending still lagged more than $9 billion behind 2019.
Dampened tourism cost the state $1.1 billion in foregone tax revenues in 2020, and about half as much in 2021, the economic impact reports found.
Way reported the trends to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. She told them tourism fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, and more growth is expected in coming years.
“2023, we’re still in it, so we still have to wait for the number next spring, but our forecasters are looking at the range of about $49 billion,” Way said.
Forecasters predicted $52 billion in tourism activity for 2024, she added.
It’s not clear whether recovery has been uniform across all regions of the state, and the secretary did not say whether particular sectors of the tourism industry continued to struggle. She promised to deliver those details to lawmakers.
“We love and honor and cherish the richness of our shore,” Way said. “But at the same time, there are other notable aspects of New Jersey, such as our wineries, our breweries, our local farm markets, lavender farms, hiking, and other good things that you can have and experience in our rich state.”
Responding to a question from Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), Way said state election infrastructure is ready to accommodate same-day voter registration.
“Separate and apart from any legislation, I think the team and I — working along with Homeland Security and others in our partnerships — have readied up our systems,” Way said.
Under current law, voters must be registered 21 days before an election to legally cast their ballots.
Advocates have sought to add same-day registration to the raft of election reforms enacted in New Jersey over recent years, but their efforts have met resistance despite support from Democrats in both chambers of the Legislature, including Zwicker, one of 10 Democratic senators sponsoring the bill.
The measure would cut the registration deadline to eight days while allowing voters to register at their polling place on Election Day, among other exceptions.
That bill has run into opposition from some Democratic members in the upper chamber who worry the practice would make it impossible for candidates to know their pool of voters — and thereby make it harder for incumbents to win re-election.
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