Inflation and gas prices aren’t deterring Jersey Shore visitors this summer

Despite high gas prices and inflation, Jersey Shore towns are still seeing crowds so far this summer, and expect that trend to linger the rest of the season.

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Cheryl Lozada (right) with her husband, Tom, and daughter, Leah, on the beach in Wildwood, N.J. on August 10, 2022. Lozada said she and her family have been vacationing here since Leah was a toddler adding that they were going to come regardless of the cost. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Cheryl Lozada (right) with her husband, Tom, and daughter, Leah, on the beach in Wildwood, N.J. on August 10, 2022. Lozada said she and her family have been vacationing here since Leah was a toddler adding that they were going to come regardless of the cost. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Regardless of the cost, Cheryl Lozada said that her family was going to have their annual vacation in Wildwood, New Jersey this year. They’ve made the trek since her daughter, 13-year-old Leah, was a toddler.

“We had a little bit of money put aside,” she said. “You only live once on this earth…you can’t put a price on the beach and your mental state of mind.”

While memories and good mental health are priceless, inflation has increased what Lozada’s family has paid. Their hotel room was almost $1,900 for five days. She said, “normally it’s like at least half of that.” They also paid $120 in gas to get to the Jersey Shore from Hackettstown, New Jersey this year. Lozada adds that they probably “filled up the tank like four times.”

“I drive a very small car…a Subaru Legacy, which is a four-cylinder car,” she said. “I can’t imagine if you had a bigger type [of] vehicle.”

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Inflation was on the minds of Jersey Shore leaders going into the tourist season. By June, average gas prices hit $5.00 a gallon for the first time. Despite rising costs making a trip to the Shore more expensive this year, it is not keeping people away. The latest gaming revenue results from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement are a sign of how good business has been so far this season.

Brick and mortar casinos reported $299 million in wins in July, an 8% increase over the same month last year. Overall, wins are up 16% so far this year.

“The fact that the casino revenues are up by a pretty substantial amount, suggests that people are visiting and they are spending money,” said Jane Bokunewicz, director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism. “If visitation was up and spending was down, that would be an indication that perhaps [due to] inflation, people were spending less.”

There was a concern, based on June’s numbers, that high gas prices and inflation were taking their toll and that it was going to hurt business this summer. But Bokunewicz said with July’s numbers being better than last year and 2019, pre-pandemic, it’s a good sign that the university’s “shore cast” of business being good this year is holding.

“With the July numbers being so strong, I think that it’s a really good sign for the rest of the summer and even into early fall,” she added.

Officials in both Atlantic and Cape May counties report that so far, the 2022 season is either meeting or beating expectations.

“It depends on the area,” said Larry Sieg, President and CEO of Meet AC, which markets Atlantic City as a place for conventions and meetings.

“On the meeting side, we’re probably on par with 2019,” he said.

Atlantic City is still beaming after hosting the 113th annual NAACP National Convention. It was one of the first major events the Shore resort city hosted since reopening from pandemic lockdowns. Sieg, citing final registration numbers, said 9,000 people registered for the event, generating an economic impact of about $10.5 million.

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Shortly after the conference, the 2022 National Sports Collectors Convention drew its largest crowd since 1991.

“On the leisure side, I would say we’re exceeding ’19,” Sieg added. “The city is packed [and] hotels are running at almost 100% occupancy every day.”

In Cape May County, occupancy numbers are outpacing 2019 and last year, according to county tourism director Diane Wieland.

“[In] 2021, we had recovered 96% to the level of 2019, which was a record,” she said, adding that they have surpassed those numbers.

Though the number of visitors is meeting or exceeding expectations, both Wieland and Sieg said they have noticed a shift in how money is being spent at the Shore.

“I think people are holding back in some areas and I think [in] some areas they’re spending more,” said Seig.

Wieland said spending is “mixed” with people who are renting whole houses or condos with kitchens opting not to eat at restaurants for the entirety of their trip.

“They’re going to the grocery store, they’re cooking at home, they have a barbecue or something at their rental property,” Wieland said. “Maybe [there will] be one night they’re going out for a special dinner.”

Cheryl Lozada and her family planned an entire week in Wildwood. They’ve opted to visit a sub shop to get a sandwich and some chips, as opposed to eating at a restaurant every day.

“Maybe sometimes instead of having ice cream every day on the beach, you have it like twice a week on the beach,” she said.

The boardwalk in Wildwood, N.J. on August 10, 2022 (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Ice cream treats that ranged between $3.00-4.00 last year, are a dollar higher this year “with a few cents in between,” according to Molly Powell, a Fudgy Wudgy vendor.

“It’s really gone up,” she said. “You have a lot of people turning around because the prices are a lot different, a lot higher.”

Powell, from Philadelphia, has been working the beach with her cart since Memorial Day. She said business started to pick up for her at the end of July.

“[It’s] pretty good right now,” Powell said, adding that she expected sales to be at about the same level for the rest of the season.

Still, there are those who are opting to go to the store before they come to the beach.

“You do a lot more packing before you come as far as food, towels, and water,” said Donnell Cole, who visited Wildwood with his family for the day from Temple Hills, Maryland. “You try to avoid miscellaneous spending as much as possible and fill your tank up from the beginning.”

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