Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce Gets Award from New Jersey Tourism Industry

Chamber, Pepenella Receive Partnership Award for Surf and Sip Brew Trail
May 16, 2018
Courtesy of: New Jersey Tourism Industry Association Lori Pepenella (left) accepted the Excellence in Tourism ‘Partnerships’ Award from the New Jersey Tourism Industry last Thursday in Trenton.

The smartphone app that highlights the LBI Region’s breweries with surf- and art-inspired businesses created by the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce is gaining some attention. It’s called the Surf and Sip Brew Trail. And on May 10, the chamber received the Excellence in Tourism “Partnerships” Award for this app from the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association during an Advocacy Day in Trenton.

“This was a great win for all those involved and for the region,” said Lori Pepenella, the chamber’s chief executive officer. “To get recognized at this level is few and far between. The competition for these awards is high, and to be honored for the partnerships our chamber created that stand out against the best in the state was a true accomplishment.”

The Tourism Excellence Awards recognizes projects, events, programs, partnerships, digital outreach and attractions that improve the New Jersey tourism product. That includes increasing overnight stays and attracting out-of-state visitors, increasing tourism expenditures, and positively promoting locations within New Jersey as a destination.

Receiving the award was impressive enough, but understanding that the relatively small chamber is competing with such destination marketing organizations as Cape May County, the Meadowlands and Atlantic City makes it a true feat.

The highlight of the morning was a talk by New Jersey’s Secretary of State Tahesha Way. Nominated by Gov. Murphy, she was sworn in in February. She had been an administrative law judge and served as a Passaic County freeholder.

“This industry is the seventh employer within our state. This underscores the centrality of your industry,” Way told the assembled group.

“As we all know, a global economy powered by ideas and innovation can only occur through its people, and our people are New Jersey’s greatest asset. As New Jerseyans, we possess a boundless drive for our state, which makes New Jersey a wonderful place to live, to play, to work, and my favorite – to eat. I don’t know about yours, but that’s my favorite,” she said to a round of laughter. “So let me be clear, I am committed to a robust tourism industry that spurs further economic vitality in this great state.”

While the entire chamber received the award, the trail and app are the brainchild of Pepenella. She worked to develop the initiatives, foster the relationships and have the app built.

“We are able to track who is downloading the app, about 100 per month since the launch,” Pepenella said. ”Once the trail is completed we get that information, too. The popularity of the beverage tourism niche and the fact that we are cultivating our cultural assets as well was evident by the demand for information from the out-of-state trade shows we participated in. The goal is to raise awareness for the destination, and build loyalty by generating more visits.” She added, “The Partnership recognition is one that shows the capacity of bringing stakeholders together to create something extraordinary.”

The Surf and Sip Brew Trail is essentially a guide to local businesses that help to tell the story of the region. It works in conjunction with the chamber’s Made in Southern Ocean program, featuring the three local craft breweries Pinelands Brewery, Manafirkin and Ship Bottom Brewery.

Capitalizing on a movement where folks are looking for more of an experience in their travel and a connection to the area, it highlights ideas, artwork and products of local origin. The rest of the stops on the trail are South-End Surf N’ Paddle with options to take part in a Stand Up Paddle tour or lesson, Ann Coen Gallery for surf-related photography and art, Jetty for surf design apparel, The Tuckerton Seaport’s Surf Museum as well as boat and board building workshops, and the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center itself. The award brings good publicity to the participating businesses and the region.

“Innovation is the key for local business to not only remain competitive, but to thrive,” Pepenella explained. “Our growth has to come from expanding partnerships and how we identify the authentic experience. By providing ongoing programs, development opportunities and marketing, we encourage  businesses to build a network that will help broaden their appeal to consumers.”

In addition to the awards, economist Geoff Lacher presented New Jersey’s 2017 tourism numbers. The state overall saw $43 billion in tourism last year. Visitor spending rose 2.4 percent and supported 6.9 percent of all jobs, employing some 523,328 people. Broken down, 28 percent was spent on lodging, 25 percent on food, and 18 percent on retail. He explained that the forecast was for slight growth, but noted that weather always plays a factor, as do gas prices.

The Surf and Sip Brew Trail App is available for Android and iOS via iTunes or the App Store.

— Jon Coen

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