BY GINA G. SCALA
When you think of New Jersey in 2012, you will undoubtedly associated it with Superstorm Sandy, which carved a path of destruction through the Garden State’s most lucrative tourist areas: the Jersey Shore.
Still, the Garden State set a tourism dollar record last year as it raked in more than $40 billion. That figure tops the $38 billion tourism revenue in 2011, which saw the Jersey Shore evacuated and Atlantic City shut down for Hurricane Irene the week before Labor Day.
"That's even more amazing in light of the storm,” Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday at a New Jersey Conference on Tourism.
Sandy made landfall just south of Atlantic City on Oct. 29, nearly two months after Labor Day and roughly a month after annual autumn events like ChowderFest on Long Beach Island.
"I'm happy that we're able to say today that we're going to let the nation and our key international markets see that New Jersey knows how to handle this type of crisis, as we've done already, and that we know how to handle the rebuilding," Christie said. "So today is the basis for a great starting point?"
Whether the Garden State will garner those numbers this year, there is good news: The Miss America Pageant, once a mainstay in Atlantic City, will be back this September. The pageant made a beeline for Las Vegas eight years ago.
On the heels of that, New Jersey will host the 48th Super Bowl in February 2014 when the big game is played at MetLife Stadium. And in April 2014, WWE's Wrestlemania will be held at the stadium.
“We're still facing the challenges of the aftermath of the storm," Christie said. "We've got to continue looking to the future and to continue the steady progress of rebuilding, but that progress has to be steady and visible. We have to continue to encourage our citizens and the folks who come here to visit and enjoy our state, that our comeback is sure and certain, and that it's progressing in a way that can make everybody proud."
Tourism is the state’s third largest industry; only the pharmaceutical and chemical industries are bigger money makers for the Garden State. Travel and tourism accounts for more than 500,000 jobs, or 10 percent of all jobs in New Jersey, Christie said.