It happens every summer: We roll deep into peak shore season, and people start complaining about hotel and motel prices.
The short answer for why this is so is simple: It’s supply and demand.
The longer answer can be broken down into five parts:
1. Whole House Rentals Dominate
The whole house rental is the way to go at South Jersey shore towns, where you and 15 of your closest family members rent a house from a Saturday to a Saturday. That means that hotel and motel options outside of Atlantic City (where whole house rentals are illegal) are not plentiful. In Sea Isle City, there are two motels. Two. It's not like there's a lot of room to build new places on our barrier islands, so don't expect that to change any time soon.
If you want to drop in for a weekend, you're going to be fighting for those limited spots with a lot of other people — and pay for it.
2. Atlantic City Hotels Are Still in Demand
Despite casino woes, hotels are still packed. Non-gaming revenue, a large chunk of which is hotel revenue, has grown by $160 million in the last two years and is approaching an annual $1 billion mark, according to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Now, don't use those numbers to make a case that non-gaming will save these casinos — they won't because the business model relies on making more from gaming — but it does show why casinos can and will charge a premium for rooms in the summer (unless you're a high roller, of course).
3. It's an Eight Week Season
The Jersey Shore's peak season is extremely short. Sure, we say that summer rises on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and sets at Labor Day, but the true height runs from Fourth of July week to two Saturdays before Labor Day. That's eight weeks this year.
Why only eight weeks? Because June weather is unpredictable and kids are still in school, especially this year when school years were extended after a rough and snowy winter. That last week of August is less busy for a lot of reasons: Older kids are already back in college; high school sports practices have started; families don't want to try to get ready for back to school while on vacation.
So peak demand is eight weeks long, which drives up prices in those weeks. If you pass on what you think is an overpriced hotel, someone else will swoop in and claim it.
4. Value Options Go Fast
Lower-priced options sell out far in advance, reserved by people who know where and when to find deals. In Cape May, which has a mix of hotels, motels, B&Bs, whole house and condo rentals, you can see this at the Victorian Motel. They charge $190 to $220 for weekend nights July 1st to September 1st, and they've largely booked up summer rooms by the end of March.
5. People Want to Be Here
Usually, these price complaints carry an air of "I'm not paying that much to visit N.J." And still, these beaches and beach towns are crowded and in demand because it's a glorious place to spend part of the summer. If N.J. was so gross or icky or a swamp, there wouldn't be a demand to butt up against supply limitations.
So here are my suggestions: First, wait until after Labor Day. Prices drop, but the weather is better than July and August because you're more likely to get sunny beach days without humidity. It's bathing suits during the day, hoodies and flip flops at night kind of weather.
If you want to go now, make a list of lower-priced hotels, and start calling to ask about cancellations. They happen. You may be lucky enough to snap one up. This can also be a way around a two-night minimum, another thing you'll find at these hotels and B&Bs because of high summer demand.
Or book a room in Philadelphia for the weekend and pretend that over-chlorinated hotel pool is the beach. Or head to the Outer Banks because you think driving eight hours each way to save on a hotel is a deal. Or fly to Florida and sit on a beach blanketed with 100% humidity — and enjoy the TSA pat down and flights packed with kids headed to see Mickey Mouse if you're routing through Orlando. If N.J. is so gross and/or below your living standards, why are you looking here anyway?
I won't mind if you go somewhere else. More space for me and my beach chair.
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