A study commissioned by the Princeton Regional Convention and Visitor’s Bureau says tourism in the Princeton region has surpassed pre-recession levels, generating more than $1.85 billion and employing 34,700 people in 2012.
Brian Tyrrell, an associate professor of hospitality management and tourism at Stockton College, did the study via his company, Tourism Research and Training Associates. Tyrrell looked at data gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the state Division of Tourism to determine how much money area hotels and restaurants were bringing in. Because that data is county-wide, he was able to use it to figure out Mercer County’s revenues. For the three towns in Somerset and Middlesex counties covered by the PRCVB, he looked at hotel tax receipts, and also the number of restaurants in those towns.
The study credited marketing efforts by the PRCVB, created by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism. Tyrrell said the PRCVB’s efforts to organize and promote events like the rowing championships on Mercer Lake and other sporting events have made June the busiest tourism month in the region. Tyrrell said May and October, prime business travel months, used to be the high points of the year.
According to the study, pre-recession spending was $1.7 billion in 2007. That dipped to $1.4 billion during the depths of the economic downturn in 2009.
In 2012, the largest tourism spending within the Princeton region was in the food and beverage sector at $500.2 million, or 27 percent. The next greatest area of spending was transportation at $415.2 million, or 22 percent. The report indicates that this number is likely to increase because of Frontier Airlines’ introduction at Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing.
Shopping, recreation and entertainment, and accommodations make up the rest of the spending. Occupancy tax receipts show that accommodation spending as a whole in the Princeton region was at $6.6 million in 2012, almost where it was pre-recession. This figure represents nearly 7.6 percent of all hotels occupancy taxes collected in the state.
The hotel occupancy tax is designated to secure funding for travel and tourism promotion and is one of the funding sources for New Jersey’s destination marketing organizations. The PRCVB is the state-designated destination marketing organization for the region.
But the study said that only about 1.6 percent of the $87 million in annual hotel tax receipts goes to New Jersey’s DMOs, whereas nationwide, the average is about 55 percent. While the study indicated that tourism has been growing steadily for the past three years, it nonetheless recommended that a greater percentage of the tax revenue go to the DMOs, such as the Princeton Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Summer and late fall/early winter are developing and growing markets for tourism in the Princeton region,” said Patience Purdy, chair of the PRCVB. And, says Tyrrell, the numbers for 2013 so far look like it will be another banner year for tourism and travel in the county. “I expect the trajectory is going to pick up,” he said.