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Tourism: A Rising Trend
South Jersey is increasingly becoming a booming destination for both out-of-state visitors and locals.

by Carly Murray

It is evident to anyone who has visited South Jersey that it has everything—from culinary excellence to entertainment, an abundant history, awe-inspiring natural wonders and more than the average state’s oddity destination appeal. However, central to major cities like Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C., New Jersey can be somewhat of a hidden gem. 

New Jersey’s varied landscape alone presents an all-in-one experience. The mystical appeal of the Pine Barrens transforms into beaches, farmland, suburban towns and bustling downtown areas, each with their own draws and charm. While the natural aspects of South Jersey do not generate income directly, they guide visitors and residents alike to the rest of the state.

Another indirect way that New Jersey’s terrain benefits the state financially is the agricultural production that inspired the label of “The Garden State.” Michael P. Snyder, director of operations for Visit South Jersey, references an annual study conducted by Tourism Economics and the NJ Division of Travel and Tourism in 2022 that places the New Jersey food and beverage industry No. 1 in top visitor spending figures at $998.1 million. He notes that over 9.31 million visitors were documented in 2022, a 9% increase from the previous year.

“[South Jersey] is a rich and diverse portion of the state: It’s not quite as populated as the north, but once they called New Jersey ‘The Garden State,’ it had an awful lot to do with the southern portion,” says Dr. Thomas Kinsella, director of The South Jersey Culture & History Center (SJCHC).

This comes to no surprise for culinary tourists, or to those who have experienced the local dining scene in their neighborhoods. Collingswood, for instance, has nationally acclaimed eateries that appear on “best of” lists and include a wide variety of both cultural and regional delicacies. Yet, Collingswood is primarily “BYOB,” allowing for the dining scene and the liquor locales to operate as their own attractions within the state. 

New Jersey’s alcohol laws do not currently permit the easy-access sale of alcohol at gas stations or grocery stores, so the region has rather focused on tailoring wineries and craft breweries as a destination spot and an experience—much like the food. 

“My predecessors throughout the years have worked their hardest to make this region quite the wine destination internationally. We grow wonderful grapes because of our soil and being so close to the ocean. This region throughout the years has been awarded so many awards internationally and nationally; that is a destination of its own,” says Snyder. “I’ve been, over the past couple of years, promoting the wine region as a destination. But while you’re here, we have these wonderful downtowns, we have these attractions, we have this history—so you can actually make it a vacation experience. Our wineries are just doing some phenomenal work.”

The second-largest industry for visitor spending was found to be transportation, allowing guests to explore that aforementioned scenery. Even if the Shore begins as the main draw, it is only a short distance from a multitude of other attractions. In South Jersey, the Shore to the Philadelphia region contains a unique history that spans across literature, music, archeological discoveries, cultures, sports, art, entertainment, true crime and American history. 

Compared to other states, New Jersey contains a lot in a small amount of space. While there is humorous debate over the existence of a Central Jersey, one could really travel the entirety of the state in less a few hours. Whereas, with a state like Texas, for example, one could drive hours and remain in the same region. That is why New Jersey ultimately makes the perfect day trip or weekend getaway, allowing a diverse experience without too much extra travel. After all, New Jersey even achieves a Southern appeal with its famous Cowtown Rodeo, the longest running in the U.S. Considering, too, Haddonfield’s Hadosaurus, Margate’s Lucy the Elephant, the Pines’ Batsto Village and the plethora of Americana in between, traveling through South Jersey is akin to adventure.

“South Jersey has some pretty—again for being a small area—distinct and interesting attractions. If you think about everything that happens along the Delaware River from Burlington City down to Salem, that’s one slice of river life directly across from Philadelphia/Pennsylvania. Or, if you were to go into the north-central parts of South Jersey, you’re smack dab in the Pine Barrens, which is the first federal reserve made in the ’70s. It’s a UN[ESCO] Biosphere Reserve. It’s a fabulous environmental, ecological and cultural area,” says Dr. Kinsella.

Many local townships are gearing up for America’s 250th birthday, the anniversary of the American Revolution. The region holds its own share of war and legislative history, an expansion of the commonly considered hotspot of history that is Philadelphia but also distinctive to New Jersey. While the historical attractions do not necessarily generate revenue for the state, either, they lead out-of-state visitors to other experiences. Furthermore, special events add that extra boost to, ironically, keep historical sites modern.

Homecoming250 is set to take place in October 2025, and will utilize the Delaware River and Camden Waterfront to feature “ships from every war starting with the American Revolution through Desert Storm … sailing the Delaware,” according to Snyder. 

While New Jerseyans’ fervor for local sports teams is no secret, perhaps the exact extent is lesser known. In addition to Homecoming250, Snyder and his colleagues are actively preparing for the FIFA World Cup that will be held in summer 2026. Though held in North Jersey and Philadelphia, this inevitably will bring new faces to a region most known to sports fans for football, baseball and basketball.

The history of New Jersey is vast, but it is also still in the making. Residents witnessed and participated in the emergence of legalized adult-use recreational marijuana, with the state acting as an East Coast role model for this market. Of course, this is a major tourism magnet as one of the few completely legal states in the area. It is still very much under development, but the cannabis industry has already progressed massively in a few short years.

In an interview last summer, Executive Director of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) Jeff Brown affirmed, “I think we are going to be a model here. I’ve said publicly before, I firmly believe that New Jersey can be the premier cannabis market on the East Coast, and I think we’re on our way to get there.”

To those who have never experienced it, there is often a preconceived notion that the entirety of the state encompasses the culture of the Shore—a misconception popularized by television over a decade ago. In reality, the Shore is just a small part of what the state has to offer, and the tourism industry is increasingly appealing to all niches of out-of-state visitors’ culture and interests. As passionate individuals continue to promote the region’s enchantment, tourism and the economy will continue to thrive.

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 14, Issue 3 (February 2024).

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