SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Governor Chris Christie has declared New Jersey's beaches open for the Memorial Day weekend. The governor's hoping to reassure tourists that the Jersey Shore is ready for business a year and a half after super storm Sandy hit. WHYY's Tracey Samuelson says there's plenty of optimism this year following the state's worst natural disaster.
TRACEY SAMUELSON, BYLINE: Before we get into this summer, let's recap last year's season. Both statistics and anecdotes suggest the tourism industry had mixed results. In July, Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini told me he thought the weekly rental market in his area of the shore was down 30 percent. The problem was that many tourists were confused about the level of damage.
MAYOR JOE MANCINI: You know, every time they showed that roller coaster in the water off of Seaside, they thought that was the entire Jersey coast. But it's not.
SAMUELSON: But the news wasn't all bad. In the nine New Jersey counties which were most damaged by Sandy, most saw modest gains in the amount tourists spent last year. Some of those increases might've been thanks to the recovery effort, says Brian Tyrrell. He's a professor of hospitality and tourism management at Richard Stockton College in the Atlantic County.
BRIAN TYRRELL: We actually saw some increase last year, particularly early in the year, increases in hotel revenue, for instance, due to FEMA and Red Cross and construction officials coming down.
SAMUELSON: But however mixed the results from last year were, Tyrrell is optimistic that this summer will be a good one for the shore.
TYRRELL: We are fully expecting that it's going to be a real banner year this year for the Jersey Shore. And I think that there's a lot of communities that are really, you know, ready and well-prepared to see visitors back.
SAMUELSON: Realtor Matt Schlosser says things are looking up after Sandy cut his business in half last summer, mainly because so many people hadn't finished fixing their houses yet.
MATT SCHLOSSER: I don't think we're going to be on track for 2012 numbers. I think the demand is there, but if we have 20 percent less homes, we can't do those types of numbers.
SAMUELSON: But the houses he does have are newer, bigger, more expensive. That's helping him make up some lost revenue.
ELAINE ATLEE: I mean, overall, driving around it really doesn't look like there was a storm anymore. Everything looks good, in order.
SAMUELSON: Elaine Atlee is a real estate agent with Prudential Zack Shore Properties. She says rentals on Long Beach Island last summer started slow but eventually picked up. And so she's optimistic about this season. Bookings have been strong so far, and each week, there are more homes available to rent as people finish repairs.
ATLEE: There's a handful that'll be ready for next summer, so the inventory will increase again next year.
SAMUELSON: And because of the storm, there are some people who are renting out their homes who haven't in the past, including Atlee.
ATLEE: My house is coming along great.
SAMUELSON: We stop alongside her new house, still under construction. When it's done, renters will move in before she does.
ATLEE: Just kind of help offset the cost of the construction and all the new furniture and everything that the house needs.
SAMUELSON: She's already fully booked for August. For NPR News, I'm Tracey Samuelson.