After the Storm, Atlantic City Stands Strong
By Andrea Doyle
February 1, 2013
An Insider's View
The Atlantic City Alliance (ACA) was established in 2011 as a nonprofit corporation whose primary mission is to develop and implement a full-scale, broad-based, multi-year marketing program for Atlantic City. On April 16, 2012, the organization launched the $20 million “Do Anything, Do Everything, Do AC” campaign to reposition the destination’s image and to boost visitation. The campaign showcases the destination’s wide offerings for visitors and groups, including world-class entertainment, fine dining, luxury accommodations, vibrant nightlife, gaming, the beach, and the famed Boardwalk.
Successful Meetings asked Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, what she feels will surprise planners about holding events in Atlantic City.
Her response: “There is an overall ease of planning an event here, with so many spaces and options it is easy to plan a huge variety of event types.”
SM also asked her what a few of her favorite venues are for holding events. “Each of the major resort properties have fun and unique meeting spaces with pools, restaurants, and function space that frequently offer ocean views although the pool at Harrah’s and Revel’s garden are particularly unique,” she said. “In addition, there are unique spaces like the Absecon Lighthouse, Boardwalk Hall, or the historic Knife and Fork.”
Atlantic City was mostly untouched by Sandy's wrath
After Hurricane Sandy, many TV networks broadcast images of what appeared to be the famed Atlantic City Boardwalk destroyed. The reports failed to mention that the damaged section was not near the tourist area with its casinos, souvenir shops, and salt water taffy stands.
“The area that was damaged was in the Inlet section, more of a residential area, that was already closed to pedestrian traffic as it had been damaged in the past,” explains Jeffrey Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.
“There was damage in the residential areas, and several homes were lost in the low-lying areas near the bay, but the tourism district came through without a problem. Even Steel Pier, which juts into the water, was not damaged.”
Atlantic City struck back with a “we’re open for business” ad campaign. The ads featured scenes of the boardwalk and other attractions with the caption: “Taken November 17, 2012” (after the storm). The ads had phrases like, “Doing What We Do,” a spinoff of the popular “Do AC,” campaign and, “Our boardwalk is still standing strong” and, “We welcome you back as the Jersey Shore makes its comeback.”
The “Do AC” campaign has successfully focused on shopping, dining, entertainment, spas, golf, and beaches. Gaming has not been a part of this marketing effort as a result of intense competition from surrounding states. The focus is on the wide diversity of experiences Atlantic City has to offer.
Many industry analysts agree that for Atlantic City to rise above the competition, diversification and reinvention will be vital. Artlantic, a five-year public art project, is a first step. This $3-million public arts installation will activate vacant spaces near the Boardwalk. Overseen by curator Lance Fung, the free installations by both well-known and local artists are meant to evoke Atlantic City’s history and reflect its proximity to the ocean.
Atlantic City’s 486,600-square-foot convention center is well regarded among meeting planners. The next biggest center is the 63,000-square-foot Mark G. Etess Arena in the Trump Taj Mahal.
“There has been a huge void in the middle,” says Vasser. That is about to change. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority recently approved a $45-million contribution to a 200,000-square-foot addition at Harrah’s Atlantic City, half of which is slated to be conference space. “This new conference center at Harrah’s should be ready by early 2015. It will give us a little more diversified product for the meetings market,” adds Vasser. He also points out that Atlantic City is a value destination for meeting groups from Sunday through Thursday.
Atlantic City has become even more economical for groups since the Atlantic City Alliance, in collaboration with the Atlantic City CVA, created a $1-million program to attract groups and meetings to the destination this year. The funding comes from the private sector, namely the 12 casino resort properties.
Under the program, new conventions or other groups must meet in Atlantic City this year. The business must generate at least 1,000 room nights at a casino hotel, and priority will be given to midweek, nonsummer, and first-time business — a way to fill in the gaps during normally slow times of the year. Meetings or groups may use facilities at the Atlantic City Convention Center, Boardwalk Hall, or the 12 casino hotels. This $1-million incentive program will be utilized to provide support for many groups, says Alliance Spokesman Jeff Guaracino.
Meeting- and Incentive- Quality Properties
A popular resort for meetings and incentives is the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, a Las Vegas-inspired destination resort, and one of the largest hotels and tallest buildings in New Jersey. Shortly after the $1.1-billion, 43-story golden monolith opened in 2003, with 2,022 guest rooms, 70,000 square feet of meeting space, 12 restaurants, and a 53,000-square-foot spa, there were expansion plans. In July 2008, The Water Club, a $400-million tower with 800 guest rooms and suites, 18,000 square feet of meeting space, retail shops, culinary creations from the likes of Geoffrey Zakarian, and a two-story, 36,000-square-foot spa, opened.
Revel, a $2.4-billion casino resort, opened last April with 1,399 rooms (each with a view of the Atlantic Ocean; 55,000 square feet of retail space; 14 restaurants; two nightclubs; a 31,000-square-foot spa; two theaters — one with 5,500 seats and another with 700 seats; 10 pools; a 150,000-square-foot casino; and 160,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting, convention, and event space. Tourism officials hoped this would be the shot in the arm that the city needed. Although two of its three core business segments — leisure and group — have been successful, the gaming segment has struggled. The resort recently obtained $150 million in new financing to help keep it going.
Commenting on the announcement, Kevin DeSanctis, chairman and CEO of Revel Entertainment said, “We appreciate the continued support and confidence of our investors, who have demonstrated a strong belief in our business model. This additional funding will enable us to execute our strategic build-out of exciting new gaming, food and beverage, and entertainment amenities. These new offerings will allow us to enhance and improve both the gaming and leisure experience for our customers.” Revel plans to build a high-limit slot lounge, an expanded players club, a three-meal restaurant, and an expanion of its quick-serve food options.
“Our existing product offering has allowed us to drive significant non-gaming revenues, particularly in the group and leisure segments. In terms of performance, the gaming segment is clearly the area where we need to see improvement and is our primary focus. We believe these new and expanded gaming offerings, combined with newly appointed leadership, specifically in our slot marketing area, will generate significant improvement in our overall gaming volumes, particularly as we enter into the spring and summer seasons,” added DeSanctis.
One of the new leaders at Revel is Dirk Schavemaker, who served previously as senior vice president of resort operations for Marriott Vacations Worldwide in Orlando. This is the first time he has worked in Atlantic City and he says the city suffers from a lack of confidence. “Atlantic City could be so much more if it just gave itself more credit. It needs to look at the silver lining, not the clouds,” says Schavemaker. The potential is there, he says, and was displayed after Hurricane Sandy. “The city pulled together and showed the tristate area we were open for business. The way the city worked together is something I’d like to see a lot more of in the future.”
Even though Revel has been open for less than a year, it is already getting repeat group business. “We’ve had some groups come back for the fourth, fifth time. There have been companies such as Verizon who have had their high-caliber Northeast kickoff meetings at Revel. Thirty-five to 40 percent of this business would have not come to Atlantic City in the past,” he says.
Wastin’ Away in Margaritaville
Slated to be unveiled Memorial Day is Resorts Casino Hotel’s Margaritaville-style makeover. The $35.5 million casino complex under the Margaritaville brand will feature a themed gaming area, the Margaritaville Restaurant, year-round beach bar, Five O’Clock Somewhere Bar, the LandShark Bar and Grill, retail stores, and a coffee shop.
“The Margaritaville project at Resorts is an amazing step forward for Atlantic City,” said Morris Bailey, owner of Resorts Casino Hotel. “Our investment coupled with the Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville brand is a huge coup for the city.”
At present, the 942-room Resorts Casino Hotel has a casino, a 1,350-seat showroom, a 300-seat theater, six restaurants, an indoor-outdoor swimming pool, dance club, lounges, health club and spa, retail shops, and 39,000 square feet of convention facilities including seven meeting rooms and a 13,000-square-foot ballroom.
“There was a common misconception that Atlantic City was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy but the city is very much up and running. Plus, new hotels such as Revel, and A-list entertainment like Lady Gaga, Kanye West and the music industry’s power couple: Jay-Z and Beyonce have all helped to establish Atlantic City as much more than just a gaming destination,” said Reid Webster, Atlantic City destination expert and regional director for Orbitz Worldwide. His comments came after Orbitz named Atlantic City the comeback kid of 2013. With all that’s going on in the destination, it’s easy to see why.
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