New Jersey a tourism destination? -- Tourism spending hit $44.7 billion in 2018

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New Jersey's beaches, casinos, forests and cities attracted tourists who spent nearly $45 billion last year – and Gov. Phil Murphy, as well as state officials, are looking to the future to keep the tourism numbers booming.

Gov. Phil Murphy says tourism spending in New Jersey has increased for nine years in a row, and with a new focus on international travelers, the governor says the American Dream mall, as well as Atlantic City, will draw 150 million visitors by 2023.

The American Dream is a 3-million square foot shopping, entertainment and dining complex set to open in a few months.

RELATED: American Dream mega-mall set to open 15 years after groundbreaking 

There will be a huge ice skating rink surrounded by three stories of shops, a food court and a window looking into the water park, with a roller coaster inside.

Gov. Murphy says visitor spending will increase jobs.

"I believe when it is fully up and running, they will have 16,000 employees there every day, which is extraordinary, and if you haven't seen the scale of this thing, it's like something that doesn't get built in the United States anymore," says Gov. Murphy. "It's overwhelming."

Speaking at a tourism conference Thursday in Trenton, Murphy said the tourism industry generated $5 billion in state and local taxes in 2018. He said about 111 million people visited the Garden State last year, up more than 7% from the previous year.

"We have been blessed with one of the most advantageous locations of any state in the country," says Gov. Murphy. “From every one of our 8,700 square miles, we have an awesome story to tell the nation and the world, and together we're telling it, and together we're getting more and more people to listen. 

Tourism is the state's seventh-largest industry, supporting nearly 334,000 jobs.

When indirect jobs, such as those that supply the industry, are included, the figure rises to over 531,000 jobs.

Food and beverages, and lodging, accounted for the largest share of tourism spending.

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AP wire services helped contribute to this report.

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