Business people wondering how rising gas prices will affect summer tourism can be encouraged by those who say LBI’s ease of access is a plus in attracting people here.
The perspective of Lori Pepenella, CEO of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, comes from past experience in 2008, when gas prices approached $5 a gallon. The people of New Jersey still needed a summer.
“When I joined the chamber, I remember being very upset that gasoline was about to hit $5 a gallon and people could jump on planes to go somewhere else. ‘was a lot cheaper,” Pepenella told The SandPaper’s question. “That situation seems very different to me. Our way of working is so much different now than it was before the pandemic. We already have people who are here.
And those interested in LBI are not far behind. “We are within reach of such a large population within an hour and a half of major cities that it will always be economically viable,” Pepenella pointed out. “In the summer there are a lot of weddings and special events that people are committing to, vacation rentals that involve multiple family members, so that’s where they’re going to get together, so it there’s dedication,” she noted.
“I don’t think it will affect weekly rentals; I think it will improve it,” predicts Duane Watlington, whose site vrlbi.com (Vacation Rentals LBI) markets vacation homes for homeowners and real estate brokers.
As people see gasoline prices rise, they may want to stay even closer to home, observers say.
A recent trend of “staycation” is still in play, Watlington sees.
“The majority of our rentals come from New Jersey and New York, less than three hours away. How much does that gas cost compare to “put the kids on a plane and fly”? It’s going to be expensive…we have beautiful beaches here.
Gasoline price hikes come today at the same time the shoreline is an escape to fresh air in what Watlington called “our third COVID bump” year.
Reservations have come earlier since the pandemic, he said. Regarding bookings made months ago, “I still think the Omicron variant has scared a lot of people off again on vacation close to home,” he said. “And the scarcity of rentals over the past two summers has prompted many people to plan early.
“Bookings are already very strong and ahead of schedule. For the 10 weeks of summer, we have about 8% of our rentals left. Some weeks availability is less than 2%.”
To be clear, many choices are still open, depending on the week. The most available weeks remaining are June 25, when 18% of the choices are still open, and August 27, with 32% available.
When a spring weekend heats up, it gives businesses a “sneak peek” to gauge interest.
“He warmed up to 10 degrees, and that’s all it took to get in the car and do a lap,” Pepenella said. “Gasoline prices are high, but so is the value of your destination. The trends we’re seeing may show even longer stays, especially among second homeowners.
Another factor in favor of travelers is the better fuel efficiency of cars than in 2008.
“We are optimistic but still cautious,” summed up the CEO of the chamber. “We want to make sure that everyone, when they come down, feels the experience here is good and worth the trip, and we know that we always meet and exceed those expectations. So we have a good base to start with.
Watlington said traffic to the VRLBI website was steady.
“I’ve lived here all my life; shore is always an option, especially for a weekly charter. There might not be as many day trips, which would affect us more if we were a community like Belmar.
Typical owners of a second home on LBI, while eager to use the home themselves, split some of their weeks to pay for expenses, Watlington said.
“Then there are the real investors, who will buy a house, tear it down, build a new house and rent it out, or buy a duplex that they can just rent out, and not use it.”
Prices for VRLBI rental properties vary. There are 60 ads that cost less than $2,000 a week, and there are three that cost $50,000 or more. Another is listed at $45,000, and there are seven in the $30,000 range. The average cost is between $5,000 and $10,000 per week.
“Prices are up, especially for beachfronts and especially for homes with pools,” Watlington said.
High-end rentals are “mostly full,” he said, but some weeks are open. “There is a smaller audience for these properties.” The $55,000-per-week rental “is fully booked from May 21 through September 10.” A $45,000 beachfront with pool in North Beach is already booked from July 1 through September 6.
— Maria Scandal