Can NJ Be a Major Tourist State?

Many people may immediately answer this question with a big no, and some people may even laugh at the naiveness of the person raising this question. As a resident of NJ for over 28 years and who on many occasions have pondered what to show out-of-state friends and relatives visiting us, I have also always answered this question in the negative. However, recently after returning from a vacation cruise in the Caribbean and just as the plane was flying over NJ and almost ready to land at Newark, I revisited this question. Mentally I started to list all the potential major tourist attractions in NJ. To my surprise, I came up with a very long and fairly impressive list, and it caused me to revisit the above question.

First of all, NJ has several mega attractions:

These are well known, although the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island may often be associated with New York rather than with NJ. Besides these mega attractions, NJ also has several other near-mega or potentially near-mega attractions. These include:

Each one of these could have significant appeals to a broad spectrum of visitors. Furthermore, with the possible exception of the last one in the above list, each attraction is worth multiple visits, so that a NJ resident who has already visited the attraction can still enjoy the visit when accompanying an out-of-state visitor. The Grounds for Sculpture is a wonderful sculpture museum (both indoor and outdoor) that one can spend a very enjoyable half-day or full-day with the whole family. Unfortunately, it and perhaps also the Edison National Historic Site are like well-kept secrets, even for long-time NJ residents.

In addition to the above mega or near-mega attractions, NJ also has many other major or potentially major attractions:

Even though Branch Brook Park has significantly more cherry trees than Washington, D.C., people from all over the country, and perhaps even all over the world, know about the cherry blossom festival in Washington, D.C. However, most people outside of NJ, and even many residents of NJ, have never heard of the cherry blossom festival in Branch Brook Park. Similarly, most people, including many NJ residents, have never heard of the Duke Farms/Gardens, Museum of American Glass, Morristown National Historic Park, or Patterson’s Great Falls. A couple of these attractions are applicable only for a short-time interval each year, roughly three weeks in early spring for the cherry blossom festival in Branch Brook Park and one day for the Red Bank Navesink River Independence Day Fireworks.

As we can see from the above lists, there is a large variety of attractions that can attract tourists to spend a few enjoyable days in NJ. The attractions include:

  • Educational (such as Liberty Science Center, Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, Edison National Historic Site, NJ State Aquarium, Morristown National Historic Park, Princeton University/Institute for Advanced Study)
  • Arts (such as Grounds for Sculpture, Garden State Arts Center, NJPAC)
  • Scenery (such as Branch Brook Park, Duke Farms/Gardens, Jersey shores, Grounds for Sculpture, Great Falls, Cape May)
  • Entertainment (such as Atlantic City, Garden State Arts Center, NJPAC, Six Flags, Medieval Times)
  • Sports (such as Meadowland Sports Complex, Delaware River Gap National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area, Mountain Creek Resort-Vernon Valley/Great Gorge Ski Area)

Another advantage that NJ can offer is that its small size allows a visitor to visit most if not all of these attractions relatively easily. For example, a visitor staying in central NJ will be within one to one-and-a-half hour drive of most if not all of the attractions.

So what has kept NJ from being a major tourist state? Some of the major attractions are not applicable all year round, such as the Jersey shores, the Garden State Arts Center, Six Flags Great Adventure. Coupling that with the cold weather during the winter months makes it less attractive for visitors during the late fall to early spring months. However, there are enough year-round attractions so that the tourism trade does not have to have a precipitous drop during the cold weather months. During these months, we could also include some tourist attractions across the state borders to beef up our portfolio, such as the Pocono ski areas just across the border in Pennsylvania or the Hunter/Wyndham ski areas north of NYC, or the Broadway shows and museums in NYC.

I believe that the major reason is the lack of publicity and marketing and the belief that NJ can be a major tourist state. To illustrate this point, I use some of my personal experiences. The Grounds for Sculpture has existed since 1992. I have been a continuous resident of NJ since 1980 (and also a NJ resident for another two years earlier), yet I didn’t hear about the Grounds for Sculpture until 2004, and I heard about it from a relative, not from the public media. Furthermore, many of our friends have also never heard about it until recently when we told them. Similarly, until recently we and many of our friends have never heard of Branch Brook Park, Duke Gardens, Museum of American Glass, and Waterloo Village. If long-time residents of NJ have never heard of the tourist attractions, how do you expect out-of-state or foreign visitors to know about these attractions?

If NJ wants to become a major tourist state, then up-and-down the NJ political and business leadership, it must believe that NJ can be a major tourist state and act on that conviction. An extensive, long-term, major marketing campaign needs to be launched to let people (including NJ residents) know about the many attractions of NJ. Then many of the potential mega/major attractions can become real mega/major attractions.

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