Cherry Hill, N.J., resident John Jaczko, 43, has gotten the message. After seeing the ads every night on television, he plans to find a Jersey beach, even a battered one, for his family trip this year. “A lot of the shore is family-run, family-owned businesses,” Jaczko said. “They could go under with a bad year.”
Still, many of the displaced are looking farther south.
Requests for visitor guides from New York and New Jersey residents are up 15 percent from last year, according to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re fielding calls from them every day,” said Harold Marmon, a Coldwell Banker agent who represents rental properties in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach.
In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Jersey shore regulars have been eager to book from Sun Realty’s stock of 1,200 beach houses strung between Corolla and Kitty Hawk, managers say. The proportion of customers from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania has jumped almost 10 percent from last summer, even though many of the renters have never before traveled below the sweet-tea line for a beach trip.
“They’re going to have a very different experience down here than they’ve had at some of the New Jersey beaches,” said Sun Realty marketing director Stuart Chamberlain. “No big boardwalks here, no high-rise hotels or condos. It kind of takes you back to the way beaches used to be.”
In Delaware, Redefer’s new clients have been gravitating to smaller, stylish properties, as opposed to sprawling beach houses (many of which are locked up by regulars up to a year in advance).
“What will be really interesting to see is, will they fall in love and want to come back?” he said.
Beach migration patterns run deep, with some families returning to the same rental house, the same mini-golf, the same crab shack summer after summer. When routines are disrupted, it presents an opportunity for other resorts to do a little delicate poaching in their neighboring markets.
Without mentioning Hurricane Sandy by name, Chamberlain’s company has been quietly promoting its Outer Banks offerings in some new areas. They’ve run ads in the editions of Redbook and Family Circle magazine that circulate in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and paid for online spots targeting Internet subscribers of Philadelphia-based Comcast.
“We’re not saying anything to play off the bad things that happened. We just want them to know we’re down here,” Chamberlain said. “We did the same thing after the gulf oil spill” in 2010.
Ocean City officials added additional weeks to their spring marketing and expanded their campaign to Pittsburgh. But tourism director Donna Abbott said that was more a function of a growing ad budget than a strategic grab for tourists displaced by Sandy.
“We compete in the same markets, anyway,” Abbott said. “We just wanted to make sure people knew we were open for business.”
Other beach towns might find Jersey partisans a tough crowd to convert. “There is an enormous brand loyalty to the Jersey shore,” said Seneca, the Rutgers economist. “There may some shifting south for a season or two, but it’s deeply ingrained.”
That’s fine with Lee Nettles, even though he’s the head of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. He’s seen enough heavy weather to sympathize with his counterparts farther north and is happy to send their customers home when the cleanup is done.
“I feel for them, man. We’ve been there,” Nettles said. “I’m rooting for New Jersey. I have confidence that those visitors that love those beaches will go back when they are ready.”