By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions statewide, Sea Isle City is preparing for a big recovery during this year’s summer vacation season, tourism officials said Thursday while giving an optimistic outlook.
“Let’s have a great summer,” Sea Isle Tourism Commission Chairman James Bennett declared during a board meeting.
With COVID-19 crowd restrictions being rolled back or lifted statewide by Gov. Phil Murphy, Sea Isle is planning to resume some of its signature events canceled last summer, including the Fourth of July fireworks celebration and the “Saturday Night Concerts Under the Stars” series in Excursion Park.
Citing the emergence of the COVID-19 vaccines and a drop in New Jersey’s number of coronavirus cases, the governor announced that starting May 7, crowd limits for outdoor gatherings will increase from 250 to 500 people.
Starting May 19, he plans to remove all crowd limits on outdoor gatherings. However, people attending outdoor events will still need to observe social distancing and remain at least 6 feet apart from other groups.
“Obviously, this is very good news for the entire Garden State and it is also good news for the many people who were disappointed that we had to cancel Sea Isle City’s 2020 Saturday Night Concerts Under the Stars, because now we are able to host this year’s summer concert series at the Excursion Park Band Shell as we hoped,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said in a statement.
At the same time, Sea Isle will continue to follow safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, city spokeswoman Katherine Custer stressed.
“Mayor Desiderio has made it clear in no uncertain terms. Public safety is his No. 1 concern,” Custer said during the tourism commission meeting.
Although Sea Isle will be ramping up its entertainment lineup, not all of the events will return this year, most notably the traditional Skimmer Festival, the city’s biggest summer celebration.
Normally, the two-day Skimmer Festival draws tens of thousands of visitors over Father’s Day weekend. Just like last year, Sea Isle is canceling the parts of the festival that attract the heaviest crowds. The city will not have hundreds of vendors lining the Promenade for an outdoor shopping extravaganza, a food court and amusement rides in Excursion Park.
Instead, there will be a sidewalk sale by local businesses on Saturday, June 19, on the first day of Skimmer Festival. On Sunday, June 20, the festival will conclude with the traditional Father’s Day antique car show on the Promenade. The car show is spread out along the Promenade for social distancing.
City Council President William Kehner, who also serves on the tourism commission, noted that people have expressed their disappointment to him that the Skimmer Festival is being scaled back.
“They were sad, but understanding at the same time,” Kehner said.
Custer explained that despite the governor’s easing of the coronavirus-related crowd limits, there simply isn’t enough time from now until June to organize all of the vendors and other major parts of the festival.
“Skimmer is one of the festivals with so many moving parts,” she said. “It takes months and months to plan it.”
Even in its abbreviated version, the Skimmer Festival is still expected to be a big draw, Custer said. She noted that the sidewalk sale was successful last summer and the same thing is expected this year.
To help boost tourism, Sea Isle has a summer marketing campaign, including social media, commercials and print ads.
“It sounds like we really have things moving this year,” Bennett said of the marketing campaign and the summer entertainment lineup.
The campaign also features a Sea Isle tourism billboard prominently located on the Walt Whitman Bridge to attract visitors from the Philadelphia area.
In addition, Sea Isle tourism representatives will make an appearance at the Philadelphia Flower Show on June 7-12 to promote the beach resort.
As a special part of its social media campaign, the city will target the 25 to 54 age group in the Philadelphia area in an effort to attract younger families who want to vacation at the shore.
“We’re trying to get the families and kids with this one,” Sea Isle tourism assistant Chris Oney told the board members during the meeting.
In another sign that Sea Isle should have a strong summer season, Oney said visits to the city’s tourism website visitsicnj.com have jumped 37 percent compared to last year. There was a “huge spike” in website traffic beginning Easter weekend, he noted.
“People are staying on the website longer,” Oney said in an interview after the tourism meeting. “They used to stay for (an average of) 30 seconds. Now, they’re staying for a minute or a minute and a half.”