By Michael Sadowski
HARRISBURG, Pa. May 24 (Reuters) - New Jersey, which launched the start of its summer season on Friday after many of its beaches were devastated by Superstorm Sandy last year, is getting support from neighboring state tourist agencies.
Instead of trying to attract some of the 59 million tourists who visit the Jersey shore and spend $19 billion each year, states including Pennsylvania and Delaware have taken a hands-off approach to attracting tourists from the Jersey shore.
"We believe in the golden rule," said Linda Parkowski, director of the Delaware Tourism Office. "We know if the wind didn't shift northwest during the storm, it would have been Delaware that got hit hardest. We're very cognizant of that."
Sandy caused an estimated $36.9 billion of damage in New Jersey when it hit on Oct. 29, according to state estimates. The storm left much of the state's 130 miles (209 kms) of coastline in ruins.
But most of the state's popular beaches - Atlantic City, Cape May, Sandy Hook and others - are already open or plan to be soon, and the state is spending $25 million to send out a positive message to attract tourists.
MARKETING WAR CHEST
The Atlantic City Alliance, a privately-backed tourism organization, has another $20 million designated for marketing, according to Jeff Guaracino, the chief strategy officer for the alliance. That's in addition to financial efforts of local tourism agencies, casinos and other shore businesses.
"It's a war chest," he said. "I would say, arguably, it's the most the state has ever spent on tourism marketing."
Tourism officials in Philadelphia, whose residents are some of southern New Jersey's biggest clients, said they have no plans to aggressively redirect tourists to Pennsylvania's biggest city, which is an hour's drive from New Jersey beaches.
"Things will fall where they will," said Cara Schneider, media relations director at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. "I think you'd see people furrowing their brows if they saw an ad to get people to leave New Jersey beaches and go somewhere else."
Delaware expects a 20 to 25 percent increase in visitors this summer because of damage in bordering New Jersey.
"We find that people who visit Delaware want to come back to Delaware," Parkowski said. "But it's not our plan to try and keep them here."
Further south in Ocean City, Maryland, which has about 4 million visitors a year, the city is open for business this summer, according to Donna Abbott, director of the Ocean City Department of Tourism.
She said the department has increased marketing in New Jersey and New York, but that is more of a defensive move to let people know Ocean City was not affected by the storm.
Tourism officials in the Pocono Mountains in northeast Pennsylvania are "optimistic" they could see more visitors this summer. But they have not marketed to them, said Carl Wilgus, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
"I would suggest it would be in poor taste," he said. "I can tell you from past experiences that kind of campaign is not very effective. You still have to make the case of why your region is a good place to go."
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