April 5, 2013 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Travel: Area beach resorts prepare for summer
Rehoboth Beach (Washington Blade file photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Rehoboth Beach, Del. is a major gay travel destination. (Washington Blade file photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Tourism officials on the Delmarva Peninsula say they expect an influx of visitors this summer as the Jersey Shore and other coastal areas to the north continue to recover from Superstorm Sandy.

“This weekend was packed,” Camp Rehoboth Executive Director Steve Elkins told the Washington Blade. “It was amazingly crowded and I saw a lot more cars with New York and New Jersey license plates than I see in normal times.”

Sandy’s record storm surge inundated Fire Island, the South Shore of Long Island, coastal areas of New York City and large swaths of the Jersey Shore before it made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., on Oct. 29. Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City and even Cape May did not experience any significant damage outside of some minor flooding in low-lying areas, beach erosion and downed trees.

Carol Everhart, president of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, told the Blade she is seeing a double-digit increase in information requests from last year.

Roughly 25 percent of the area’s visitors come from New York and New Jersey, but Everhart said more than 20 percent of the inquiries have come from people who live in areas that Sandy most directly impacted.

“To get these requests this early this first quarter is unusual,” she said. “We related it to the storm.”

Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel, Motel, Restaurant Association, said she has “definitely seen an increase from that particular market” and attributes it to the roughly $3 million in advertising her group has spent in the area over the last few years. She stressed she expects those who would normally vacation on the Jersey Shore or Long Island will come to Ocean City this summer.

“Beach vacationers like to have their beach vacations, so they’re going to find a beach somewhere,” Jones said. “I would definitely say it’s possible, and of course we don’t wish that on anybody. We were fortunately spared, but I just can’t even imagine what they’re going through.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last month said the 82.5 million tourists who visited the Garden State in 2012 generated a record $40 billion. His administration also announced it would launch a $25 million marketing campaign “to let potential visitors know that the Jersey Shore will be open for business this summer.”

New York City welcomed 52 million tourists last year in spite of Sandy that inundated large swaths of lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.

Jeff Guaracino, chief strategy officer of the Atlantic City Alliance, noted the city’s casinos reopened five days after Sandy made landfall. He told the Blade the iconic boardwalk is in “pristine condition” in spite of media reports during and immediately after the storm that suggested otherwise.

“What we hear from the real estate agents is that in southern New Jersey, where the housing market is very robust and [summer rentals are] very strong, people are looking from other displaced towns and moving south,” Guaracino said. “We understand from the real estate [agents] that sales have been robust for summer and that rates are up as well. So that gives you a whole other new tourist base for Atlantic City.”

Doreen Talley, director of marketing of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, told the Blade businesses in the region at the southern tip of New Jersey that is accessible from Lewes, Del., by ferry were “up and running business as usual” the week after Sandy made landfall.

She said occupancy rates are ahead of where they were at this point last year.

“That’s due to the fact that areas like Long Beach Island and a few of the other towns are not going to be able to accommodate the visitors that they’re usually able to because their accommodations have decreased,” Talley said.

Local tourism officials with whom the Blade spoke said they expect this momentum will continue through the summer.

“I have no indicators that we’ll see anything other than a very strong visitation this year,” Everhart said.

Guaracino said he hopes a new ad campaign that his organization will launch with the Miss America Pageant next week that will air in the Philadelphia and New York City media markets will draw more visitors to Atlantic City.

“People are starting to hear the message now that Atlantic City is open for business,” he said.

Talley echoed that message.

“People are coming in, finding out about Cape May, which they never had before,” she said.

In spite of the potential windfall that tourism officials in southern New Jersey and on the Delmarva Peninsula expect this summer, they remain mindful that beaches farther north continue to recover from Sandy.

“It’s really hard to think that we’re benefitting from somebody else’s suffering,” Elkins said. “We do think that since so many of the beach areas on the Jersey Shore will not be fully recovered that we will probably see more of an increase in those people coming here.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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