Some New Jersey tourism experts who testified before the Assembly Tourism and the Arts Committee Thursday, said the state's "Stronger than the Storm" campaign to drive people to the shore after Sandy would have been more helpful if it kicked off earlier. 

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"This past season was absolutely a disaster for us," said Bob Hilton, executive director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We lost the complete spring season. The hotels and the towns didn't see any kind of reprieve until August, September, October.  Hotel occupancies saw an increase in bookings in August through November, but they're dead now."

Others to testify felt the "Stronger than the Storm" campaign focused too much on the Jersey shore. Everyone seemed to agree on one point; New Jersey must make more money available for tourism advertising.

"Tourism continues into the winter and spring months, especially when it comes to the restaurant and hospitality industry," explained committee chairperson Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Salem). "It's not just a summer business. Quite simply, we cannot back off when the recovery is so fragile."

In Riley's opinion, the state needs an aggressive campaign focused on the businesses and attractions offered and the value of overnight stays. She said we cannot rest easy when so much is at stake for jobs, our economy and our heritage as a top tourism destination.

Not everyone had a sad story. Jacqueline Pappas, executive director of the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that June was a bit of a struggle for her town because of consistently bad weather, but things turned around.

"I'm here actually to tell a good story. Asbury Park has had an amazing year," said Pappas. "Even with the loss of the June revenues we are still well ahead of where we were last year."

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