Memorial Day weekend kicks off the peak tourism season on the Jersey Shore, an area that's still rebuilding a year and a half after Superstorm Sandy.
Last summer, business owners rushed to reopen — and they largely succeeded. But homeowners struggled to repair and rent their properties.
This year, homeowners are a lot more optimistic. But before we get to 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 said he thought the weekly rental market in his area of the shore was down about 30 percent. Many tourists were confused about the level of damage at each area along the shore.
"You know, every time they showed that roller coaster in the water off of Seaside, they thought that was the entire Jersey coast," Mancini says. "But it's not."
But the news wasn't all bad. In the nine New Jersey counties that were most damaged by Sandy, the majority saw modest gains in the amount tourists spent last year. Some of those increases might have been thanks to the recovery effort, says Brian Tyrrell, professor of hospitality and tourism management at Richard Stockton College in Atlantic County.
"We actually saw some increase last year, particularly early in the year," Tyrrell says. "Increases in hotel revenue, for instance, due to FEMA and Red Cross and construction officials coming down."
Tyrrell is optimistic this summer will be a good one for the shore.
"We're fully expecting that it's going to be a real banner year this year for the Jersey Shore," he says. "I think that there's a lot of communities are really ready and well prepared to see visitors coming back."
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.
"I don't think we'll be on track for 2012 numbers," Schlosser says. "The demand is there, but if we have 20 percent less homes, we can't do those types of numbers."
But the houses he does have are now newer, bigger and more expensive, which helps him make up some of the lost revenue.
Elaine Atlee, a real estate agent with Prudential Zack Shore Properties, says rentals on Long Beach Island last summer started slow, but eventually picked up, so she's optimistic about this season. Bookings have been strong so far.
"Overall, driving around, it really doesn't look like there was a storm anymore," Atlee says. "Everything looks good, in order."
Each week, more homes are available to rent as people finish repairs.
"There's a handful that will be ready for next summer, so the inventory will increase again next year," Atlee says.
Because of the storm, some people are renting out their homes for the first time, including Atlee. When construction on her new house is done, renters will move in before she does.
"Just [to] kind of help offset the cost of the construction and all the new furniture and everything that the house needs," Atlee says.
She's already fully booked for August.