New Jersey Sells Itself As a Vacation Hot Spot

TO most out-of-staters, New Jersey is home to belching refineries, rampant crime, dirty beaches, and a New York City bedroom community.

But to Eugene Dilbeck, who hails from Cassville, Mo., the Garden State is wide rivers, mountain ranges, clean white sand, historic sites, cultural entertainment, and outdoor recreation.

"I never had the opportunity to sell beaches and skiing at the same time," says Mr. Dilbeck, the state's director of Travel and Tourism, came here after stints in Texas and Oklahoma. "This is a sleeping giant here.

A three-day car trip from the Delaware River through Princeton to Cape May and the Wildwoods convinced Dilbeck there was more to New Jersey than negative headlines.

Since arriving in Trenton two years ago, Dilbeck has worked to bring his 15 years of marketing savvy to a job traditionally given to political insiders. The state has historically viewed tourism as a summer-only coastal industry.

To change negative perceptions about the state, Dilbeck launched a multimedia advertising campaign designed to raise awareness of the state's varied tourism offerings.

Last year, despite the Gulf war and worst recession in the state since the 1930s, tourism was a $17.8 billion business, down only 2.4 percent from the previous year. The industry was the state's second-largest, behind pharmaceuticals/chemicals.

Even more impressive was the 264 percent rise in requests for travel literature in 1991 over the previous year.

"I've never seen this kind of response," says William Siegel, president of Longwoods International, which does market research on the travel industry. Dilbeck hired the Toronto firm to study vacationers' traveling and spending habits.

`NEW Jersey was being passed by because it never marketed itself as a touring destination," says Mr. Siegel, who has done travel research for Colorado and Nevada.

He found that New Jersey travelers last year spent $5.5 billion on food, $4.4 billion on retail purchases, $2.5 billion on gambling, and $1.8 billion on lodging - all of which helped the state collect $2.2 billion in taxes.

Following recommendations from Longwoods, the state is using the slogan "New Jersey: You Should See Us Now!" for 1992 to imply that a great vacation was being missed if the traveler didn't come soon.

New Jersey also placed ads in food and travel magazines, regional publications such as "Yankee," and upscale magazines such as The New Yorker.

"A strong image helps people decide to spend their money in New Jersey," Siegel says.

A strong image will most likely help within the state as well. The study uncovered what Siegel calls a "negative halo effect," or a low self-image, that needs to be overcome if the state is to generate more tourism revenue.

"New Jersey residents have a tendency to see themselves as something less than the city sophisticates of New York and Philadelphia," Dilbeck explains. "I came [here] from Texas, where people defended their state. Even the immigrants."

To promote a better self-image and unity among the state's fragmented tourism industry, Dilbeck launched the New Jersey Travel Industry Association. The industry group's members meet regularly with representatives from the state's transportation and environmental protection departments to monitor traffic congestion, maintenance problems, and any beach pollution.

"Tourism used to be every person for himself," recalls Paula Williams, proprietor of the Whistling Swan Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Stanhope, situated in the mountainous Skylands region in the northwest part of the state.

"We never came together before," Ms. Williams adds.

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