With COVID-19 travel restrictions prompting many to rethink travel plans, North Jersey officials are pitching their area of the state as an alternative for a fun—and safe—Winter getaway.
This holiday season, New Jerseyeans have been urged to stay home and celebrate locally. With the state undergoing a second wave of the outbreak, Gov. Phil Murphy has reiterated the call to keep the holidays simple in hopes of curbing the spread of the virus.
During a Dec. 4 virtual meeting, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, along with Assemblyman Parker Space and small business leaders from Warren and Sussex counties, highlighted several safe and socially distant Winter activities and tourist attractions in the region.
Calling Northwest New Jersey one of “the hidden gems in our state,” Gottheimer said the area has the makings to be “a driving economic force” with its many eco-tourism opportunities.
“We should be working on attracting more of our fellow Garden State residents to safely visit Sussex and Warren counties to come hike, fish, ski, shop and visit our beautiful downtowns,” the Congressman stated.
Since March, small businesses across the state have faced numerous challenges, from mandated closures to competing for federal relief loans to obtaining unemployment benefits.
Pandemic ‘Scary’ For Businesses
In New Jersey, stores have generally seen a decline in traffic, with about one-third shutting their doors for good, according to TrackTheRecovery.org.
In Sussex County, revenue dropped 15.3% and the number of small businesses decreased by 20.6%. Warren County saw a 41.6% decrease in revenue posted by small businesses and a 31.6% drop in how many small businesses were open.
“Being in business myself, it’s scary, but we do have the advantage of being up here, in the most beautiful part of the state,” said Space, whose family owns and operates Space Farms Zoo & Museum. “That’s definitely something we can draw on now and use to our advantage for the Winter season.”
The region could also be attractive to “the city folk” who are looking “to get out and get fresh air,” Space said. “Come up here, be safe and see what we have to offer.”
Two of the area’s biggest attractions—Mountain Creek Resorts and Crystal Springs Resorts—say they are open for business, offering a variety of socially-distant outdoor activities, such as skiing and skating. Limited indoor dining is available at both resorts.
Joe Hession, chief executive officer of Mountain Creek Resorts, promised “a great, safe experience” to visitors at his Vernon resort.
“We really feel with the pandemic that people need to feel safe, but also be outside with their family unit,” Hession said. “Live life outdoors. It’s really important for your mental health.”
Chris Mulvihill, Chief Marketing Officer at Crystal Springs Resort, said it’s “been an interesting year” at the four-season resort in Hamburg and they “had to reinvent ourselves in a lot of ways.”
According to Mulvihill, the resort is “taking the virus very seriously” by following “comprehensive guidelines and rules.” Fortunately, he said, Crystal Springs has “been blessed with a lot of outdoor space (but) space constraints on indoor activities” has been one of the biggest challenges.
Like Space, Mulvihill believes marketing to “affluent New Yorkers” could be “a huge opportunity” for Northwest New Jersey and is a demographic Crystal Springs tapped into this Summer. The resort saw more visitors from New York City and were people who otherwise would have been travelling but opted not to fly.
Safe in Sussex
“They see Sussex County and see us as a great, safe alternative,” he said. “People want comfort and want to know they’ll enjoy themselves, but also want to know they’re safe.”
Space said, “It’s scary times for anyone in business—especially with all the restaurants going into the Winter season.”
In New Jersey, indoor dining is limited to 25% capacity, however during the Summer many establishments were able to recoup the loss of tables by offering outdoor seating. Now, cold temperatures has forced restaurants to pack up their patios and move service back inside.
There are restaurants that didn’t have space outdoors to even offer dining due to their location, with Space adding, “Reinvention can be limited.”
Dining Critical to Businesses
Nearly 30% of restaurants have gone out of businesses since the onset of the coronavirus crisis and up to half of dining establishments may close due to the pandemic’s impact, according to the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.
Gottheimer said, “We are continuing to face major battles with the pandemic, with hospitalizations and infections at all-time highs. All of this means COVID-19 is continuing to impact our local economy, our families, and our workforce—which is why it’s critical to highlight the safe opportunities that the Fifth District has to offer.”