ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — 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.