Forget Earl, East Coast Beaches See Spike in Tourism This Summer

Hurricane Earl won't be enough to hurt the east coast's tourism industry this year
Hurricane Earl won't be enough to hurt the east coast's tourism industry this year

Lee Nettles, the head of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, isn't worried about Hurricane Earl, which hit his region with high winds and driving rain just in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend. Thousands of vacationers may have evacuated, but the surprisingly strong summer season at the North Carolina vacation destination means that local businesses can weather this storm.

In fact, now that Earl has cleared out, the Outer Banks may be able to salvage the long holiday weekend after all. "I am not ready to throw in the towel on Labor Day," says Nettles.

His optimism is well-founded. Occupancy tax collection from vacation rentals rose 15% in July. For the January through July period, that revenue is up 5%. Though August figures are not yet available, indications are that they increased as well, he says.

A Perfect Storm for East Coast Beaches

In fact, business is up in tourist areas all along the eastern seaboard from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to the Jersey Shore to beach destinations well below the Mason-Dixon Line like the Outer Banks. Call it a perfect storm of factors. Hot summer weather spurred many East Coasters to flee hot cities for cooler ocean breezes. And with tighter budgets, came shorter vacations that were only a drive away. Canadians also helped. The Canadian currency is in good shape, making a trip to the U.S. a great value for our neighbors to the North.

"Even with a bad economy people still want to go on vacation," says Tiffany King, spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We have actually had a very strong summer."

New attractions also helped, such as the new $6.2 million boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Visitors and occupancy were up 5% to 15% this summer, according to Mark Kruea, a spokesman for the city. "We had a very strong summer," he says. "June, July, August and September have been very good. "

Tourism and Television on the Jersey Shore

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Business also was good in Cape May County, N.J., which boasts a $5.1 billion tourism industry serving 19 million people annually, according to Diane Wieland, the director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism. More than 60% of area businesses in a recent survey said they were having a strong to good summer. Part of that could be a result of marketing. The county's target growth markets are New York, New Jersey and Quebec, says Michele Gillian, head of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.

Further up the New Jersey coastline, one town is getting an unusual (and somewhat infamous) boost. Seaside Heights continues to reap the bonanza from reality TV show Jersey Shore. Teenagers flock to the resort town, which bills itself as "your home for family fun since 1913" for a glimpse of "Snooki", "The Situation" and "J-Wow." Seaside Heights reaps a benefit from the Viacom Inc. (VIA), which has booked 4,000 hotel room nights and paid for 50,000 catered meals for their production crew and security detail. The Jersey Shore house, by the way, is available for rent for $2,000 a night and is being advertised as an ideal location for graduations and Sweet 16 parties.

Maria Maruca, the head of the Seaside Heights Improvement District, says the summer tourism season would have been strong even if there was no TV show.