By Donald Wittkowski
One billboard is already up on the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia. Two other billboards will occupy prominent spots on Philadelphia’s heavily traveled I-95 corridor starting in early February.
They will tantalize tourists with the words, “Reconnect in Sea Isle!”
Although it is the dead of winter, tourism officials in Sea Isle City want vacationers to already begin dreaming about those lazy, hazy days of summer at the Jersey Shore.
At a meeting Thursday, the Sea Isle Tourism Commission unveiled a nearly $100,000 marketing campaign for 2019 that will entice visitors with a combination of social media and old-school advertisements such as billboards.
Mickey Coskey, the tourism commission’s marketing consultant, said it is never too early to get visitors to start thinking about their summer vacations in Sea Isle.
“As we’ve done in the past, we’d like to get a quick jump-start on the season and have people spend more time in Sea Isle,” said Coskey, owner of Seven Mile Publishing & Creative.
Sea Isle’s first tourism billboard debuted on the Walt Whitman Bridge on Dec. 24. The other two billboards, strategically located on the I-95 corridor near Pattison Avenue and at Rhawn Street, will be unveiled on Feb. 4.
The bridge billboard urges tourists to “Spend More Time in Sea Isle City” as their New Year’s resolution. It mentions the city’s visitsicnj.com website.
The billboards coming in February will feature a picture of two adorable children – a girl and boy – sitting next to each other on the beach close to the water’s edge.
“It is such a great picture. There are a lot of emotions when you see it,” Coskey told the tourism commission members.
This year, the tourism commission is changing its marketing slogan to “Reconnect in Sea Isle!” Previously, Sea Isle had used the slogan “The Forecast is Fun” for a few years.
“It was time to refresh the theme,” Coskey said of the switch. “We felt the theme ‘reconnect’ was an important concept.”
Key parts of Sea Isle’s tourism strategy will include a Facebook campaign, YouTube videos and traditional tourism publications such as travel guides, rack cards, bookmarks and local print ads.
“It’s a great marketing campaign,” declared James Bennett, the tourism commission chairman.
Beginning Feb. 15, the Facebook page will include a “Countdown to summer,” featuring daily posts on Sea Isle attractions and events. Posts will highlight family and friends reconnecting in Sea Isle. People will be encouraged to send their photos and videos to the Facebook page.
The marketing campaign will be rolled out in phases leading up to the traditionally bustling summer vacation season. The advertising blitz is intended to distinguish Sea Isle from other Jersey Shore towns in the fierce competition for tourism business.
Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio appeared at Thursday’s meeting to thank the tourism commission members for their work and also give them a pep talk underscoring the importance of the summer season.
“Let’s push it forward. Let’s up it a notch,” he said. “We want to push the bar up. We need it.”
Suggesting that the city’s marketing campaign has been working, the mayor said he is amazed by all the times he hears people from other states say that they “love Sea Isle.”
Desiderio also was at the meeting to swear in Councilman Bill Kehner, his son, Bill Kehner Jr., city tourism representative Diane Merson and Sea Isle resident Chris Donohue to new terms on the commission’s board.
Well before summer’s arrival, Sea Isle will hold its hugely popular “Polar Bear Plunge Weekend” celebration on Feb. 15-17, highlighted by the annual chilly dip in the ocean. The weekend will include an array of visitor-friendly events. Based on the turnout in recent years, thousands of people are expected to take the plunge on Feb. 16.
Bennett noted that this will be the 25th anniversary for the plunge. In the first year, the event attracted only 25 people, a miniscule turnout compared to the massive crowds of self-proclaimed polar bears now.
“We have blown it up from there, obviously,” Bennett said of the plunge’s dramatic growth over the years into a major tourist draw for Sea Isle.
The weekend celebration will also include the Mike’s Seafood Polar Bear Run-Walk for Autism on Feb. 17, an event that promotes autism awareness. Last year, the event raised $150,000 for autism-related programs and causes, Councilman Kehner said.
“That’s amazing,” Bennett said of the amount of money raised for autism awareness.