VERNON, NJ – Looking to bring more tourist to the region, along with their tourism dollars, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer held a round table on the ground of Mountain Creek on Monday.

Mayors, local business owners, the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce and N.J. Assemblyman Parker Space attended the meeting to discuss the current climate of tourism in Sussex and Warren counties.

Gottheimer pointed to Civil and Revolutionary War sites, the Appalachian Trail, Mountain Creek, Crystal Springs, Sterling Hill Mines  and Peters Valley School of Craft well as local towns as reasons to get people to the area.

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“How do we make sure people get here and How do we grow the economy,” Gottheimer said, opening the meeting. “We need to do more to promote more than the Jersey shore.”

He proposed launching a tourism task force to address the issue. 

“If we coordinate and fight as a team, I believe we can get more tourism dollars,” Gottheimer said.

Currently the only source of funding to promote tourism comes through competitive grants, Sussex County Chamber of Commerce President Tammie Horsfield said.

Adam Perle, President of the New Jersey Travel Industry Association told Gottheimer the state spends only $9 million a year on tourism.   

Horsfield said Sussex County received only $150,000 of that total.

“Of the $9 million we get $150,000. That’s a joke,” Gottheimer said.

 Perle said for every dollar spent on advertising tourism in New Jersey, the economy gets back $27.

Horsfield explained without tourism, every household in Sussex County would have to pay an additional $1,098 annually in taxes.  She presented the group with an economic impact study that said in 2017 visitors spent $530 million in sussex county supporting $722 milion in business sales, 8147 jobs and $113 million in income.

In addition to the $9 million from the state, there are local and private entities adding funding, bringing the total spend on tourism to $20 million.  She said for every dollar spent on a hotel room, the state reinvests only two cents to promoting tourism.

“Thankfully we have champions in the state house,” Horsfield said. 

“The biggest thing I see in Trenton are anti-business bills that see businesses as the enemy,” Space said.

The Mayors and business owners spoke about barriers to getting tourist to the area, beyond money.  Infrastructure, sewer, water and zoning were the chorus.

“I tell people they can come to a four season resort that’s only an hour away,” Chrystal Spring’s Resort Chris Molvihill said.  “It’s easier to get people from Long Island to come than people from Manhattan because [Long Islanders] have cars.”

Mass transit, especially trains, would help the region.

Green Township mayor Dan Conkling said, “The old people who live here don’t want tourists here.”

Horsfield said another barrier is the Highlands limiting sewer and water.  “Close to fifty percent of the county is preserved land.”

“Builders also say red tape is an issue,” Gottheimer said.

Montague Mayor Richard Innella said increased access to the Delaware River would help to allow tourism business stay in New Jersey. 

“We have 11 miles of shoreline,” Innella said. “The is no boat access, no beach access and any parking in 30, 40, 50 years old.  Now if they want to get to the river they drive across the bridge,” into Pennsylvania.

Perle said the region’s competitors are the Poconos and upstate New York.  Both Pennsylvania and New York spend in the hundreds of millions on tourism with good results for them.

“Pennsylvania and New York are stealing our business, it’s time we steal their tourism,” Gottheimer said.

Sussex County Chamber of Commerce Marketing specialist Tammy Crimando said it is difficult to cover all of the media outlets now available with only $50,000 in their budget including cable [tv], social media, radio and travel shows.

“There are so many different outlets, it’s difficult to target an audience,” Space said.

 “It’s amazing that you do so much with so little,” Gottheimer said.

Wantage Mayor Ron Bassani said, “The next generation is not watching TV.” They are doing the promotions themselves using social media he said.

 “We need to work together, even as towns,” Horsfield said.  “Our competition is not each other, it is out of town.  We need to show the state this is a good place to come.”

“That’s why a consortium component is so important,” Gottheimer said.

Gottheimer said he and Senator Steve Oroho would be sending a letter to Governor Murphy seeking additional resources to promote tourism in the region.

Attendees included:

  • Andover Mayor Dolores Blackburn
  • Green Mayor Dan Conkling
  • Montague Mayor Richard Innella
  • Vernon Mayor Harry Shortway 
  • Wantage Mayor Ronald Bassani
  • Assemblyman Parker Space
  • Tammie Horsfield, Sussex County Chamber of Commerce
  • Tammy Crimando, Sussex County Chamber of Commerce
  • Chris Molvihill, Crystal Springs Resort
  • Grace Reff, Peters Valley School of Craft
  • Kristin Muller Peters Valley School of Craft
  • Karen Kymer, Kymer's Camping Resort
  • Chris Haggerty, Mountain Creek
  • Al Dorso, Skylands Stadium,
  • Mike Geerhart, Milk Street Distillery
  • Gordon Geerhart, Milk Street Distillery
  • Adam Perle, New Jersey Toursim Industry Association
  • Jackie Morales, New Jersey Tourism Industry Association
  • Helen Carew Director of Constituent Services, District 24.

#joshgottheimer #sussexcounty

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