Atlantic City is making waves these days with a host of new expansion projects and developments that are attracting meeting groups not just regionally, but nationwide.
The projects primarily responsible for boosting business include Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center, Resorts Casino Hotel’s new conference center, The Playground entertainment venue, Borgata Festival Park, Gardner’s Basin marina district and a renovated and revitalized Steel Pier.
“We increased booked business by 39 percent year over year,” says Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC. “Our objective is to increase future booked business by an additional 15 percent this year. Our goal is also to grow the group market while continuing to build on improving Atlantic City’s perception nationally. The casino resorts have a strong commitment to growing the group market by the addition of meeting space.”
“Our goal is also to grow the group market while continuing to build on improving Atlantic City’s perception nationally. The casino resorts have a strong commitment to growing the group market by the addition of meeting space.”
— Jim Wood
Under Wood, Meet AC also is expanding its online presence to aid in marketing to groups. The organization launched three new websites in 2015, and is introducing three more this year. The three new available websites are www.meetiniac.com, www.atlanticitysports.org and photos.meetinac.com. This year, Meet AC will introduce three more sites for group motor coaches, the Atlantic City Film Commission and one that focuses on market research.
Atlantic City could possibly have some in-state competition in the future. New Jersey may expand casinos beyond Atlantic City. In November, the state will vote on whether to approve construction of new casinos in northern New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Wood is pleased with the progress that Atlantic City is making in transforming itself into an increasingly popular convention and meeting destination. “I am very pleased with the accomplishments that Meet AC and the Atlantic City Sports Commission have achieved in a short amount of time,” says Wood. “The meeting and convention industry is vital and helps support the overall tourism industry in Atlantic City.”
While Atlantic City seeks to boost the number of groups from outside the Northeast, the city still has plenty of room to grow its market from the region. A company based in Philadelphia recently held an incentive sales meeting in Atlantic City for the first time. The meeting for 250 attendees took place at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Location and cost were two prime reasons for choosing the hotel and the destination. “The group found that the location was ideal since it was near its headquarters in Philadelphia, and the overall rates for rooms and food and beverage were low,” says Larry Huttinger, CMP, owner of D. Lawrence Planners and Destination Philly A.C., a DMC with operations in Atlantic City and Philadelphia. “The group did receive concessions that involved suites and upgrades, and also received access to areas in the hotel that added diversity to their program. This included restaurants and other unique spaces inside the hotel.”
The group enjoyed many activities within the Borgata and at offsite venues. “The activities included after-dinner gaming (poker, blackjack and craps using funny money with dealers and legal tables) for fun in meeting space at the hotel, along with a private dinner booking offsite at the Landshark Bar & Grill Restaurant,” says Huttinger. “They also used the hotel’s Mixx nightclub for an event. They enhanced the space with décor and branding with the company logo for signage.”
The group raved about the Borgata’s service. “The company believed the hotel offered the best amenities for their employees,” says Huttinger. “The group felt they received top level services and were able to host this event during a great time of year that included activities during the weekend.”
The group would consider returning, partly because of value, says Huttinger. “One of the significant gems about Atlantic City is that its price point is as much as 25 percent to 35 percent lower than other convention destination locations in the Northeast including rooms, food and beverage.”
Value is a big reason that one corporate group found Resorts Casino Hotel’s combination of a new conference center and all-inclusive package to be very attractive. The company held a two-day meeting in January this year for 21 area managers and sales representatives. The group met at Resorts Casino Hotel for the first time after having met at other Atlantic City properties three times over the last four years.
The meeting’s corporate planner began her search for a property online, looking at several hotels. “When I found Resorts’ meeting page, I was shocked to see that they offer an all-inclusive package,” says the planner. “I kept reading through everything the package included and was blown away by the overall price. I immediately requested more information and received a call shortly after from the senior sales manager. I gave her the (meeting) logistics, and we picked a date that I could come down and check everything out.”
The site visit was impressive. “The meeting rooms are newly renovated and high-tech,” says the planner. “The overnight rooms have also been renovated and are bigger than any rooms in Atlantic City. The package included all meals throughout the day as well as things like valet parking, early check-in and free Wi-Fi.”
The group held all of its functions, entertainment and activities on the property. The planner wanted it that way. “As a group, we don’t have to worry about going out, getting a taxi and meeting up somewhere for dinner,” she says. “It makes more sense to run upstairs after a meeting, freshen up and meet downstairs at a restaurant. Then the group can break up and go have fun within the same property. As the planner for my team, I like to keep it fun and always have something to do instead of staying at any hotel just because they have a conference center.”
The group’s experiences at Resorts Casino Hotel’s restaurants were memorable. The first night, the group ate dinner at Gallagher’s Steakhouse. “Since the dinner was included in our all-inclusive price, any additional items we purchased like drinks were billed to my master account. This was another small perk that made a great impact (in value and convenience.)”
Attendees raved about Gallagher’s service. “With a large group, sometimes you have to wait for food,” says the planner. “But they were waiting for us when we arrived. The waiter was unbelievable. He was quick and got everything just right. The food melted in your mouth. Many people in our group came to me after dinner and praised Gallagher’s.”
The attendees received similar service when they dined onsite at Capriccio’s restaurant. The planner also was pleasantly surprised during breakfast each day at Breadsticks. “I assumed it was a grab-and-go type of restaurant but, to my surprise, I was completely wrong,” she says. “They had a table waiting for us each morning, and we were able to order whatever we wanted. Our team really enjoyed that since breakfast is usually served buffet style or grab-and-go.”
The planner was impressed by the several ways that Resorts’ staffers went out of their way to provide excellent service. “It’s a very important area for me,” says the planner. “They made us feel special. When we needed a refrigerator on hand for a new mother, our request was answered immediately. When we needed a bellhop, one was there within two minutes. Each night at dinner, the senior sales manager checked to make sure everything was running smoothly. We had a personal catering assistant checking every 15 minutes during meetings to refresh our snacks and beverages.”
The excellent service and all-inclusive package combined to provide great value. “I let the hotel know that the all-inclusive package and pricing is such a great idea,” she says. “Not only does it make things easier for someone like me who has to plan several events throughout the year, but also the price point cannot be beat.”
Attendees had a memorable experience at Resorts Casino Hotel. “Many have already said, ‘We know where we want to have our next meeting,’ ” says the planner. “I have no desire to look anywhere else.”
Many planners feel the same way about Atlantic City in general. A planner for a private manufacturer has held several meetings at various Atlantic City hotels over the last seven years because it offers so much for attendees. “The availability of first-class restaurants within walking distance of hotels and the convention center contribute significantly to after-hours activities,” says the planner. “It’s easy to get to whether you drive, fly, or take a train. Atlantic City provides a destination that allows (drive-in attendees) to park their car and not have to use it again until they head home.”
In February, the manufacturer held a meeting and conference for about 2,000 managers, salespeople and contractors at the 600,000-sf Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC), the largest facility of its kind in New Jersey.
The ACCC was the perfect choice for the meeting. “The state-of-the-art facility along with the ease of working with the staff is a combination for success,” says the planner. “The ACCC provided for every need, from the amount of meeting space and easily accessible exhibit halls to the extensive service and attention to details. Department managers were visible and became a part of our team. They reported in regularly to make sure that our needs were met.”
Facilities at the ACCC were a good match for the meeting’s needs. “They offer an area called the Tree House (a meeting room with gorgeous views of Atlantic City) where smaller receptions were held,” says the planner. “This area offers a fabulous view of the city at night and the ocean during the day, and the receptions were always popular events.”
Atlantic City’s eight major casino hotels are upping their game to appeal to the East Coast meetings market and beyond.
Harrah’s Resort’s new Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center expanded the property’s meeting space from 20,000 sf to 170,000 sf while adding two 50,000-sf ballrooms and a 25,000-sf ballroom. The expansion made Harrah’s, a Caesars property, the largest hotel conference center complex from Baltimore to Boston and paid immediate returns. The facility’s opening last September generated 90,000 additional guest room bookings for Harrah’s for the ensuing 12 months.
Bally’s, another Caesar’s Entertainment Atlantic City property, offers 1,760 guest rooms, many with ocean views, and 147 guest rooms in Bally’s Tower have recently been renovated.
The 1,144-room Caesars Atlantic City, which has 28,000 sf of meeting space, will complete renovation of 286 guest rooms in the Temple Tower in May.
Debuting in summer 2015 was the multifaceted convention and event space at Resorts Casino Hotel that added 12,000 sf of meeting space and 12 more conference rooms all on one level. The 12 completed meeting spaces, named the Atlantic Rooms, include mobile partitions, modular lounge areas with outlets and USB ports, prefunction spaces with snack and coffee areas, and state-of-the-art AV and lighting controls. The showpiece of the conference center is the Atlantic Ballroom, a 6,500-sf function room with a multiuse prefunction area and views of the Atlantic Ocean. The new conference center brings the total offerings at Resorts to 24 meeting and function rooms with more than 64,000 sf of usable space.
Tropicana Atlantic City recently announced a $25 million renovation that primarily will encompass upgrades to 500 guest rooms in the Havana Tower. Completed last year was a $50 million renovation that included Boardwalk façade improvements, hotel room upgrades and property-wide expansion. The property recently opened the multimillion-dollar AtlantiCare LiveCenter, which the Tropicana touts as the most advanced gym facility in Atlantic City.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa recently announced plans to invest more than $50 million into the improvement of its property throughout 2016: Borgata Festival Park will be transformed into an outdoor pool beginning this summer, featuring more than 400 chaise lounges, daybeds and cabanas, a full-service canopied bar, entertainment stage, and a variety of lawn games and activities, all centered on a 3,200-sf Roman-style pool. Debuting this spring is Premier, an 18,000-sf nightclub offering “a theatrical experience for partygoers.” Also coming are a casual dining area and a new fine-dining concept by chef/partner Michael Symon. The hotel also will add 25,000 sf of conference space by the end of 2016. Still in the planning phase, the space will include two levels, with a 7,000-sf ballroom, four meeting rooms, one boardroom, one office and a prefunction area on each level.
The Golden Nugget Atlantic City added 78 new slot machines that join four blackjack tables, a roulette table, bar and eight TVs. The property also introduced a new menu and head chef, Carmine Favuzzi, for Grotto Ristorante, an Italian restaurant.
The iconic Steel Pier will reopen March 26 after a $14 million restoration. The amusement park will feature a 220-foot-high observation wheel offering riders views of Atlantic City and the ocean from inside climate-controlled gondolas.
Gardner’s Basin, located in the marina district, will launch an expansion and redevelopment project by the end of this summer. The project will include additional restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. In addition, the Boardwalk between Gardner’s Basin and Revel will be reconstructed.
The Playground, a 464,000-sf entertainment venue featuring eight live entertainment clubs and restaurants, plans to add more amenities including a bowling alley, sports bar and outside pool on the beach with cabanas.
In addition, Boardwalk Hall, a multipurpose facility located on The Boardwalk, features a 14,770-seat arena and the 23,000-sf Adrian Phillips Ballroom with 3,200-person capacity.
Atlantic City continues to offer even more of everything that planners need for the perfect meeting or incentive. Planners can expect more meeting space, entertainment, meeting venues and attractions as Atlantic City continues to strengthen its reputation as a top meetings destination. C&IT