Chamber aims for the tourist dollars by making Sussex County a place to visit

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    SUSSEX COUNTY-The Big Apple has been a travel destination for Sussex County residents for generations. Now, the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce wants to turn the tables and bring New Yorkers here to spend their vacations. The Chamber of Commerce has launched a campaign to promote the county as a four-season tourist destination, showcasing the beauty and year-round events and activities offered here. "We're no different than a Poconos or a Catskills," said Sussex County Chamber President Tammie Horsfield. To experience New Jersey, visitors "don't have to go to the shore or to Atlantic City. We have a whole lot of things to offer right here," she said. The chamber just finished hosting a dozen out-of-town reporters and writers for a three-day summer media tour, the second in a series of tours that will feature different seasons. The next tour, planned for mid-October, will spotlight pick-your-own farms, fall foliage and other autumn events. At the summer tour, Aug. 11 through 13, the writers n freelancers, and travel writers for magazines and newspapers n were treated to three days and nights of area restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, and everything from the New Jersey State Fair and Mountain Creek Water Park to horseback riding and golf. "We do things just a little bit differently than a lot of other chambers do," Horsfield said, explaining the aggressive campaign. "A lot of chambers have brochures. We go a step further. We take you to it and we make you experience it." The tours, part of an overall push to promote tourism that started back in January, are planned by the chamber but the costs are absorbed by the participating businesses, Horsfield said. The response from local merchants has been positive, she said. "They've learned the value of positive press," Horsfield said. "It's an investment for them, it can put dollars into our economy." Although Sussex County is already gaining popularity as a day-trip destination, the chamber now hopes to make it an overnight vacation spot by promoting a menu of activities for tourists, Horsfield said. "People come to destinations, not for specific attractions," Horsfield said. By packaging a wide variety of what Sussex County has to offer, the chamber hopes to make it worth a trip from New York City or further, she said. The chamber sees Mountain Creek n the water park in the summer and the ski resort in the winter n as an anchor attraction. Chamber officials believe the park becomes more attractive if people realize there's more to do once they're here. "Mountain Creek understands the need to offer something for everyone," Horsfield said. "We can do that by working together." Mountain Creek has begun a $500 million redevelopment project that company officials say will take it from a day-trip ski center to a premier, year-round attraction. The expansion will add several residential developments and will include a main street filled with lodges, shops, restaurants and hotels. The chamber has published brochures that list 38 local attractions, with photos and a locator map, as well as brochures for individual seasons featuring agriculture, recreation and ecology. It also hosts a brochure swap, where local businesses can provide visitors with brochures from other area businesses. The chamber has one visitor's center now, at Lafayette Village, and hopes to open several more at Mountain Creek, Crystal Springs, High Point, in Montague and in the Sparta-Byram area, Horsfield said. The next step in its tourism campaign is branding n finding a slogan that can be used in tourism promotions, she said.