Representatives of tourism and business agencies told a state Assembly committee Thursday that New Jersey needs to have a new tourism campaign ready within a few weeks if it wants to prevent next summer from being affected.
Numerous tourism officials all said they liked New Jersey's "Stronger Than The Storm" ads, featuring Gov. Chris Christie. But they all said the Memorial Day weekend debut was way too late to help drive new traffic to the shore last summer.
"We needed to get the message out in January and February that the shore was open for business," said Sharon Franz, president of the New Jersey Travel Industry Association. "That's the time when our customers make their vacation plans."
She and others said some shore businesses were down 30 to 40 percent in June and July, which were also plagued by bad weather, before rebounding in August.
The tourism promoters did not blame the state for starting the ads too late. But they did say a new campaign needs to be rolled out as soon as possible.
Robert Hilton, executive director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, said many merchants in Monmouth and Ocean counties, the areas hardest-hit by Sandy, are still struggling.
"The folks in my area are scared," he said. "One in 10 businesses in my area are talking about closing in January."
He said 50 percent of bookings in bed and breakfasts and small hotels occur from Jan. 1 to March 31.
"That is the time for us to market and advertise the fact that we are here," he said.
Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, said the ads should have noted that the entire Jersey shore was not devastated by the storm.
"The worldwide media eye focused on New Jersey; the national media delivered the news," she said. "However, not all of New Jersey was equally affected."
She blamed incorrect reporting by the media, including inaccurate reports that Atlantic City's Boardwalk was destroyed by Sandy, for hurting parts of the shore like hers that suffered far less damage.
The officials also said the state needs a dedicated source of funding for tourism ads other than the state hotel tax, whose receipts fluctuate and can't be relied on for steady funding year after year.
A message left with the state Economic Development Authority inquiring about 2014's tourism promotion plans was not immediately returned.