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Union County Aims to Increase Tourism

Elizabeth, NJ – Union County is home to many exciting places that are known only to a few. That’s why the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has announced the completion of the Union County Tourism Master Plan to market our tourist attractions.

“Union County sits within the hub of the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan Region and is accessible by most major highways and public transportation,” said Freeholder Chairman Angel G. Estrada. “We are committed to marketing all of these assets and investing in tourism to yield economic benefits.”

Union County’s Tourism Master Plan details what is needed to define and build a structured tourism industry in the county. The plan outlined in the Recommendations and Implementation sections of the report is designed to be manageable and realistic. Under the new Union County Tourism Master Plan, a tourism coordinator will focus on showcasing the arts and historic destinations, and promoting other tourist sites.

“We have a large number of historic houses, parks, and arts organizations right here in Union County,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, liaison to the Cultural and Heritage Programs Advisory Board. “The problem is: not enough people know about them. We want to use our Tourism Master Plan to market our historic and entertainment treasures to a broader audience. Attracting more visitors to our county will mean increased growth, both economically and culturally.”

Tourism is the 9th largest industry in New Jersey. Approximately 71.1 million visitors chose New Jersey as a destination that year, according to a report at the 2007 New Jersey Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The number of overnight visitors grew 4.2 percent in 2006, versus a 1.2 percent decline in day visitors. Additionally, tourism generated 391,600 direct jobs and 89,200 indirect jobs in 2006.

The growth in tourism is already happening in Union County. More than 40,000 people from throughout the region attended Union County’s 2007 MusicFest. The summer concert series in Echo Lake Park also attracts large crowds. And last autumn, some 4,000 people visited the 25 historic sites featured in Four Centuries in a Weekend, including the Deserted Village in the Watchung Reservation, Boxwood Hall in Elizabeth, and Union’s Liberty Hall, the home of the first New Jersey Governor.

Other popular tour destinations include Jersey Gardens Mall which has a proven track record for attracting domestic and international visitors. The Mall reported tourism as 20 percent of business in 2007, including 2,400 motor coach tour groups. Another popular venue, the Union County Performing Arts Center, will reopen this spring in the historic Rahway Theatre.

There are many other sites that will draw the attention of tourism planners. Union County was a hotbed of the Revolutionary War. The Caldwell Parsonage in Union was home to the patriot leader, Rev. James Caldwell and his wife Hannah, who was murdered during the revolution. Plainfield’s Drake House Museum was once George Washington’s headquarters.

The Union County park system is a remarkable example of Olmstead design and an epicenter of recreation and ecotourism opportunities. It includes 35 parks and facilities located on more than 6,600 acres. All this is in addition to the county’s quality hotels and restaurants.

In order to fully benefit from existing tourism opportunities within the county, additional recommendations in the Tourism Master Plan include development of ongoing communication between tourism industry partners, and development of basic tourism marketing tools to communicate with visitors and generate revenue. The plan also aims to capitalize on existing and high potential attractors to draw and keep overnight visitors, and to transform county events into programs that attract visitors from outside our county borders.

The Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, in the Department of Parks and Community Renewal, will coordinate implementation of the master plan throughout 2008.