The event, called a "Heart to Heart Conversation With New Jersey Tourism," dovetailed with a "Show Your Love for the Jersey Shore" campaign announced Monday by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, aimed at getting Shore lovers to return to the beaches long before summer.
Tourism, a $38-billion-a-year business in New Jersey, supports 312,000 jobs and helps drive the state's economic engine, experts say.
"The best way you can help with the recovery is to come to the Jersey Shore and spend money," said Grace Hanlon, executive director of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism.
Hanlon noted that getting visitors to come back - now and again this summer - will be crucial to New Jersey's full economic recovery from the storm, which devastated some barrier island communities in Monmouth and Ocean Counties and left significant damage in sections of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.
"This is a critical moment in the relationship between the Jersey Shore and its visitors," Hanlon said. "This is the time people are planning their summer vacations, and we need to get the message out that we're ready for them . . . before they decide to go somewhere else."
Former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, who purchased Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township last June, said he was confident that the Shore's tourism industry would bounce back from Sandy's blow.
"It is up to us to let the world know we are open . . . and to show New Jersey in the best light that we can," said Jaworski, noting various events, tournaments and games - including next year's Super Bowl, slated for the Meadowlands - that will showcase the state.
Hanlon said the state's tourism was on a roll before Sandy hit, up a full 7 percent in 2011 over the year before, with new visitor expenditures just shy of the all-time high of $39.5 billion, reached in 2007.
And those numbers are giving businesses and residents hope now, said Bob Hilton, executive director of the Monmouth County-based Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"We know it's going to be a great summer because we have the three things that will make it great: We have the ocean, we have the sand, and I can guarantee we'll have at least some sunny days. Now, all we need are the folks to come down and complete the summer," Hilton said.
Wednesday's event was organized by the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, which announced that it will alter its annual rivalry-driven "Top 10 Beaches" contest this year to focus instead on a more unified effort called "Make More Shore Memories," a photo contest. The top 12 online vote-getters will be announced in May and will be included in a 2013-14 calendar. Proceeds from calendar sales will be donated to help with the Shore recovery effort, said Marsha Samuels, a consortium spokeswoman.
Contact Jacqueline Urgo at 609-652-8382 or email@example.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at philly.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.