ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Tourism in New Jersey was a $35.5 billion industry last year.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told a tourism conference in Atlantic City on Thursday that figure was up just under 1 percent from 2009.

Tourism remains the third-largest industry in New Jersey after pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

Visitation to New Jersey was up by 4.6 percent, with 67.8 million tourists last year, Guadagno said.

But those figures are down from the success New Jersey’s tourism industry enjoyed before the recession hit. In 2007, tourism was a $38 billion industry, with 75.2 million visitors.

Guadagno said high gas prices should work to New Jersey’s advantage this summer as vacationers stay closer to home and choose vacations at the mountains or the Jersey shore.

“What do we have in New Jersey that Pennsylvania doesn’t have, that Pennsylvania can’t buy and that Pennsylvania can’t create?” Guadagno said. “The 127 miles of beautiful beaches. It’s a fantastic opportunity for all of us.”

She also says the state will resume a spring and summer advertising and promotional campaign that it could not afford to do last year.

Guadagno also paid particular attention to Atlantic City and the state’s effort to turn around the struggling resort, which is the nation’s second-largest gambling market but is in danger of losing that title to Pennsylvania, possibly as soon as next year.

“Atlantic City was a big problem: it was dying,” Guadagno said. “It was dying and we weren’t keeping up with our neighbors in Pennsylvania. Now we are doing something about the problem.”

The state has approved a tourism district encompassing Atlantic City’s 11 casinos, its Boardwalk and other areas. The district will have vast authority over the areas, including making sure they are safe and clean. The state also rolled back many regulations the casino industry found onerous and expensive.

“You see Atlantic City literally rising out of the Boardwalk,” Guadagno said.

And she said New Jersey will fight Pennsylvania to retain its status as the nation’s No. 2 gambling market.

“I will die trying to fix Atlantic City before I let our neighbors in Pennsylvania overtake the revenue in Atlantic City,” she said. “It’s a competition. We are not gonna lose that fight.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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