Things may be looking up for New Jersey shore towns this year.
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll released Sunday finds that more New Jerseyans plan to head "down the shore" this summer than in the past four years.
And compared to last summer alone, more middle income families plan to stay for a week or more.
More than 2-in-3 New Jerseyans plan on visiting the Jersey Shore this summer, including 27 percent who will spend a week or more and 42 percent who plan on shorter visits. Another 6 percent live down the shore. Among those staying a week or more, about half (48 percent) say it will be their family's main vacation this year.
The 69 percent of New Jerseyans who plan to visit the shore this year is up from 59 percent who planned to visit in 2009. The number who intend to stay for a week or more has also climbed by 6 percentage points compared to last year.
About 13 percent of New Jerseyans report that a shore stay will be their family's main vacation for the year. This number has been fairly consistent over the past few years.
What really impacts the tourism economy are the number of people who choose to visit the shore for additional vacation time. This number has fluctuated during the economic downturn. Last year it stood at 9 percent, but this year's survey indicates that 14 percent of New Jerseyans plan a secondary vacation of a week or more down the shore.
"While the MTV show has brought renewed notoriety to New Jersey's beach scene, I think an improving economy rather than the chance of spotting Snooki or ‘The Situation' is the main reason state residents will return to the shore this summer," Patrick Murray, the poll's director, said. "Our poll indicates that many New Jersey families are still struggling financially, but the greater intent to make vacation plans this year is perhaps an indication of better days ahead."
Murray said the poll results suggest that a brighter economic outlook will affect the economic mix of shore visitors this year. Compared to last year, middle income residents are more likely to plan a week or longer vacation down the shore and lower income residents are more likely to make a shore visit at all. Upper income residents will continue to visit the shore in numbers similar to past summer seasons.
Among those earning less than $50,000 a year, 61 percent say they will be making a shore visit this year, which is up from 46 percent last year and also somewhat higher than in previous surveys (54 percent in 2008 and 53 percent in 2007). Among those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, 68 percent say they will be making a shore visit this year, up just slightly from previous surveys. However, 29 percent of this income group say they will be staying a week or more, which is up from 19 percent last year.
Among those earning more than $100,000 a year, 78 percent say they will be making a shore visit this year and 32 percent will stay for a week or more. These numbers are similar to previous surveys.
One unique cost factor associated with a Jersey Shore vacation is the necessity to buy beach tags or pay a fee to gain access to many of the state's beaches. The large majority (62 percent) of state residents think these fees should be eliminated. That finding is similar for both visitors and non-visitors to the Jersey Shore. However, it's also worth noting that the number of residents who support beach fees has been on the increase from 26 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2008 and 36 percent today.
"Perhaps New Jersey's current fiscal environment leads some people to feel that beach users should bear the costs for maintaining this resource,'' Murray said. "But residents still see the beach as a statewide asset that should be maintained primarily by the state."
More than half (53 percent) of New Jersey residents say that the state as a whole should pick up most of the cost to maintain Jersey beaches, compared to 36 percent who feel that local towns should shoulder the burden for their own piece of the coastline. Another 7 percent say the cost should be shared equally between state and local governments. Two years ago, 49 percent said the state should pay for most beach maintenance compared to 33% who put the primary responsibility for this on the local shore towns.
The poll was conducted by telephone with 804 New Jersey adults from April 7 to 11. The sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM