As the summer of 2011 neared its final weekends, businesses up and down the Jersey Shore had visions of a big finish.
But a vengeful woman named Irene came ashore and washed away any chances for a truly successful season. The final numbers proved underwhelming. Tourism grew just 1.5 percent in Atlantic County and 4.5 percent in Cape May County compared to 2010.
"In spite of Hurricane Irene, where most businesses lost four to five business days, we still had those modest increases," said John Cooke, president of the Cape May Chamber of Commerce and manager of Victorian Motel. "It was a good year."
Shore businesses once again have dreams of another record-breaking summer.
In the midst of a resurgence that oddly enough is the work of a slow national economy, vacation communities from Sandy Hook to Cape May are reaping the benefits of families staying closer to home for vacations in recent years.
"The constant of 'staycations' and what we are referring to as to 'tank of gas travel' have really helped," Cooke said. "People who can get to Cape May with a full tank translates into anyone within four or five hours of here."
"Tank of gas" vacationers have also likely become more enamored with the southern Jersey Shore because of lots of solid press in the last two years.
Wildwood has been named New Jersey's best beach four of the last five years and Cape May last year garnered Trip Advisor's accolades when the popular website named it America's second best beach, behind only Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Booking solid for long summer
John Cooke, who has managed the picturesque Victorian Motel in downtown Cape May for eight years and served as chamber president for two years, said the unseasonably warm spring have already given a bump to summer bookings.
"Most properties are reporting bookings are at an accelerated rate," he said, noting the 38-room Victorian is almost fully booked from mid-June through the end of August. "Full rentals are reporting up 25 percent over last year."
Cape May County tourism revenue has reached about $5 billion annually, Cooke said yesterday.