By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Boffo. Banner. Blockbuster.
In other words, it was a great summer season.
Although there were no champagne corks popping Thursday during the Sea Isle City Tourism Commission meeting, the board members did celebrate what is believed to be one of the best summers in years.
The principal reason for the bustling 2019 vacation season was the sun-soaked weather from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, they said.
“I think the summer of 2019 was a banner season. It was one of our best weather summers in years. It was weather-driven, even more so than economics,” said James Bennett, the Tourism Commission chairman.
Mickey Coskey, the commission’s marketing consultant, told the board members that the summer was marked by “fantastic numbers from a tourism perspective.”
Echoing Bennett’s sentiments, Coskey pointed to the gorgeous weather as the main catalyst for Sea Isle’s big summer.
“We had an awesome summer,” she said.
Beach tag sales, considered a key indicator of the strength of the summer season, reflected Sea Isle’s big crowds. Through Labor Day, beach tag sales totaled $1,378,580, an increase of about $14,000 from 2018.
Coskey released figures Thursday showing that Sea Isle’s tourism website visitsicnj.com had significant gains in traffic, another sign of the successful summer season.
The number of visitors to the website jumped by 25 percent and the number of new users was up 26 percent. The number of sessions increased 25 percent and page views grew by more than 20 percent.
Web traffic continues to underscore the importance of mobile communications in reaching vacationers, Coskey said. Overall, 60 percent of the visitors used their cellphones to view the tourism website this summer. In comparison, 31 percent of the web visitors used their desktop computers and 9 percent used their tablets.
Women far outnumbered men in accessing the website, 57 percent to 43 percent, respectively. Those figures suggest that women are generally taking the lead role in planning summer vacations in Sea Isle.
Key parts of Sea Isle’s marketing strategy for 2019 mixed social media, internet videos and a combination of more traditional types of tourism advertising, such as billboards, the city’s visitors guide and rack cards. This year, Sea Isle gave out 45,000 visitor guides.
Sea Isle annually spends about $100,000 to $110,000 for its marketing campaign. The 2020 campaign will be rolled out in phases leading up to the summer season. The advertising and marketing blitz is intended to distinguish Sea Isle from other Jersey Shore towns in the fierce competition for tourism business.
“You need a multimedia approach when you’re doing your marketing program,” said Coskey, owner of the advertising, marketing and publishing firm Seven Mile Publishing & Creative.
On a typical summer weekend, about 50,000 to 60,000 visitors will pour into Sea Isle, compared to the town’s year-round population of 2,100. During peak summer days, such as the Fourth of July, the number of tourists will balloon to 65,000 to 75,000, city officials say.
While the 2019 summer season is barely over, the Tourism Commission is already plotting strategy to draw visitors to Sea Isle next year. The 2020 campaign will formally launch on New Year’s Day, said Diane Merson, Sea Isle’s tourism representative.
For the second year in a row, the marketing campaign will use the family-friendly slogan “Reconnect in Sea Isle!” The campaign will encourage visitors to post photos and videos on the city’s Facebook page that highlight their vacations. The idea is for friends and family members to show how they are “reconnecting” in Sea Isle.
In addition, on or around New Year’s Eve, the Tourism Commission will place a digital billboard on the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia to serve as an early invitation for visitors to come to the shore.
“We come out early to get a jump on the planning for summer vacations,” Coskey said of the billboard’s debut on New Year’s Eve.
The Tourism Commission will ratchet up its marketing campaign around Feb. 1 by placing two more strategically located billboards on the I-95 corridor in Philadelphia.
Sea Isle’s three billboards that were located in Philadelphia for the 2019 marketing campaign were seen by nearly 11 million people traveling to and from the shore, Coskey told the Tourism Commission.
“That’s huge,” Merson said in response.
The commission may use geofencing technology in 2020 at its billboard sites to enhance its marketing and advertising campaign. For instance, geofencing would track someone’s cellphone as they drove by the billboards and then would send them a Sea Isle tourism advertisement on their phone.
“It makes sense to use this technology for next year,” Coskey said.