It is home to the nation’s original Boardwalk, setting of the celebrated Miss America Pageant and within a day’s drive of one third of the country’s population. It is Atlantic City — and it answers to the name, America’s First Resort.
“We are rich in American history,” says Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC, 2014’s replacement of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. “Our mission is to grow the meetings and convention business as Atlantic City continues to diversify its mix of non-gaming business,” he explains. A hospitality industry veteran who began his career with Marriott in 1980, today’s CEO honed his CVB skills in previous positions with Tampa, Providence and Louisville’s bureaus.
In addition to Atlantic City’s prolific history and around-the-corner proximity (60 miles from Philadelphia, 125 miles from New York and 175 miles from Washington, DC), are its familiar lures — beachside location, seasonal weather, world-class dining, top-name entertainment and tax-free shopping. When paired with such lesser-known enticements as sport fishing, water activities, noted wineries and breweries and 20 blue-ribbon golf courses — all complemented by a variety of hotel and casino properties — the result is a magnet for meetings.
Using numbers to tell the tale, Wood cites stats: “Our convention numbers are up 40 percent (2014 versus 2015), and over the past three years we have seen a 150 percent increase in bookings as Atlantic City continues to reposition itself as a more vibrant and robust meetings destination.”
A city of firsts — the country’s first passenger airliner landed here, the board game Monopoly was created here and the first convention hall in the U.S. is found here. However, as touted in MPI’s recent promotion: “Though Atlantic City is the home of America’s first convention hall, Atlantic City is anything but conventional.”
Made-only-in-Atlantic-City experiences include tours of The Boardwalk on one of its famous rolling chairs, scavenger hunts along the renowned promenade, classes with the Viking Cooking School at Harrah’s and environmental teambuilding activities, such as bay and beach cleanups.
Adding to this lineup is late summer’s debut of the live-action, team-based “escape” game called Escape AC, Tropicana Atlantic City’s latest contribution to the ever-changing resort scene. Described as “Clue meets Beat the Clock,” the game is designed for groups of two to 10, with the goal to escape from a themed room — the Poker Room, the Boardwalk, the Casino Cage and Backstage. Requiring attention to detail, critical thinking, communication and teamwork, Tropicana General Manager Steve Callendar explains Escape AC’s creation: “We are always looking for ways to offer our guests more.”
When planning group events, Barbara Flamenbaum, DMCP, president and owner of destination management company Atlantic City Ambassador (ACA), takes prime time advantage of her city’s idiosyncratic opportunities. From recreational gaming to solving murder mysteries, one recent ACA client, an international cable company specializing in college campuses, fused several homegrown happenings into its annual 2014 and 2015 Global Meetings. Both held at the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, the goals of each — to unite 50 employees with 100 clients for training, sales and technical workshops and to offer face-to-face collaborations — were deemed successful.
With the group’s additional incorporation of a night of bowling at a local alley and a chef’s demo at the Golden Nugget, diversity ruled. “Each year we did different offsite dinners, activities and events,” says Flamenbaum of the distinct destination — a destination she describes as a city with “lots of group options during all seasons of the year.”
Drawn to Atlantic City because of its convenient location for many attendees of the cable company headquartered in Connecticut, additional pulls were Golden Nugget’s selection of restaurants, nightlife, good hotel rates and great reputation for service, shares Flamenbaum.
It appears attendees agreed, as evidenced by this evaluation: “Thank you and your team for a fabulous conference — the best ever! …It was great to be back and to see all the hard work going into Atlantic City and its efforts to revitalize your fantastic destination.”
“The appeal of Atlantic City was clear when we began to explore possible event spaces in the area,” states Abby Kahn, vice president of global events, Numerix, a New York-based FinTech company, servicing more than 700 financial institutions in 26 countries. “The ‘change of pace’ was refreshing and different from traditional New York City meeting spaces.”
Called Kickoff, Numerix’s annual January sales meeting of 150 to 200 attendees has been held in Atlantic City at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa for the past five years, with plans to return in 2017. As one of its primary meeting objectives is to unite employees through teambuilding activities, Kahn details an especially successful Borgata-hosted group activity during the year themed “Crossing the Bridge.”
“We broke into groups, and each group was responsible for building a portion of a bridge. Once assembled, it formed a giant bridge and all employees were able to physically walk across it.” She adds, “It tied perfectly with our overarching theme of working as a single team to accomplish our goals. It was also the perfect approach for us to get all employees involved, no matter what their function within the company.”
In addition to teambuilding, Kickoff also is about celebrating employees for their contributions. The highlight of 2016, centered on the theme “Back to the Future,” was the reveal of the movie’s original DeLorean car at the annual awards night. The climactic finale was almost derailed, however, when the space regularly used for the awards dinner was already booked by another group. “This was going to make our setup very difficult, if not impossible,” says Kahn. Due to the efforts of Catering Manager Dena Bakley (who, in the spirit of continuity, works with the group year after year), in conjunction with other staffers, the required space was eventually secured and the evening went forward flawlessly. “Start to finish, the Borgata helped us to create a seamless event for all,” concludes Kahn.
Larry Huttinger, CMP, owner of Destination Philly A.C., a DMC operating in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, explains Atlantic City’s appeal to his client, a Fortune 1000 medical equipment company. “The primary decision was due to Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center, completed in fall, 2015. The space was large enough for this group of around 1,200, a group that had never been in Atlantic City before its April 2016 meeting.” Another consideration regarding the selection of Harrah’s Resort and its conference center was the great value offered by both, explains Huttinger.
Taking advantage of Atlantic City’s lower profile pursuits, activities included a day on the links at The Bay and The Pines Courses at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club located in Galloway, New Jersey, for a group of approximately 150; a beach outing near Resorts Hotel Casino, complete with ladder ball, horseshoes and volleyball for a smaller party; a shopping opportunity at The Walk outlet mall for more than 100 retail enthusiasts, and fishing for 50 on two ocean-bound boats where the catch was bluefish, tautog, stripers and sea bass.
The largest event, however, was held at The Playground at Caesars, an exciting nightlife, retail and dining destination, on The Boardwalk built atop a 900-foot pier. Huttinger details the event: During this three-hour getaway, the third level’s bars and four restaurants were dedicated exclusively to the group of 1,200 with signature drinks, specialty foods, gourmet desserts and a variety of entertainment, even dueling pianos.
Beyond the fun of food and drink was the reward of the CSR endeavor. Pairing with the global project Helping Hands, 47 participants built 17 prosthetic hands for donation to amputees in developing countries during this philanthropic teambuilding event.
Huttinger’s advice to planners considering this meetings destination: “Compared to other Northeast destinations, Atlantic City offers tremendous value with respect to the cost of rooms, food and beverage, and overall experience.”
In addressing emerging trends, Jim Ziereis, assistant vice president of hotel sales, Tropicana Atlantic City, concurs with Huttinger and underscores the importance today’s meeting planners place on their return on investment. “There is increasing emphasis on ROI that I believe is here to stay. Corporations are expecting more for their spend and are looking for hotels who will be good partners and share their vision. Making suggestions that will enhance the attendees’ experience in a cost-effective way is just one example of being a trusted hotel partner,” details Ziereis.
Great golf, strolls on The Boardwalk and exceptional service at Harrah’s Atlantic City are all Greg Diehl needs to bring his group back to AC year after year. As a senior sales engineer for HC Nye Company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a provider of HVAC equipment for schools, universities, health care, casinos and others, Diehl’s own positive experiences at Harrah’s prompted him to initially arrange for his engineering department’s continuing education classes at the resort. This year, the company marked their seventh consecutive meeting at Harrah’s Atlantic City, and they are already booked for 2017.
Diehl’s objective is to provide his group with a meaningful learning experience in an entertaining environment, and Atlantic City certainly fits the bill. The group, which usually spends about 80 percent of their time on-property in classes, also makes free time available for a few visits to the Loft, a fabulous gathering spot overlooking The Pool at Harrah’s Atlantic City. Diehl looks forward to conducting the same successful meeting at Harrah’s Atlantic City next year.
Its future bright, this summer Atlantic City will hold six beach concerts, and the world-famous Boardwalk continues its expansion — eventually extending into Gardner’s Basin, “the hidden gem in the marina district,” whose own redevelopment will transform it into a working harbor and entertainment complex.
“Optimism is the one word I would use to describe the current status of Atlantic City,” says Wood of his destination. “We are seeing new investment come in to the city. Closed casino resorts are reopening…and we are enjoying record hotel occupancies this year.”
What is the best description of today’s Atlantic City? “A city reinventing itself for the 21st century,” concludes Meet AC’s top executive.
Serving up 15,600 first-class hotel rooms, within eight casino hotels and several non-gaming properties, all with meeting and banquet space, the three largest include Borgata’s 2,800 rooms, Harrah’s 2,590 rooms and Tropicana’s 2,079 rooms. But large or small, the commitment to continual renovation revives them all.
The latest news at Bally’s Atlantic City is two-fold: the $3 million facelift of its Gold Rush-themed Wild Wild West area, a 60,000-sf renovation; and the remodel of its Jubilee rooms — now luxury accommodations featuring ultra-modern and sleek design and complemented by premier views of the Boardwalk.
Caesars Atlantic City also tempts its guests with recent renovations in its Forum Tower, with the new Forum rooms sporting a modern interior design enhanced by warm neutral palettes and accented with a pop of yellow. Custom artwork throughout pays tribute to Caesars’ rich history of Roman-inspired architecture and sculpture.
Giving a nod to its guests who adhere to the emerging wellness trend of seeking fresh, healthful food and beverage options when on the road, Harrah’s Atlantic City, which is known for its rooftop herb garden, serves up a strong farm-to-table program.
The Showboat Atlantic City and Revel Atlantic City, two of the destination’s four casinos that closed in 2014, are reopening. Though both will be sans casinos, future plans call for the gaming floors to be utilized in some capacity. Showboat, which opened in July, plans to add a $40 million event center, while Revel, which will open soon, will feature new non-gaming, of-interest-to-the-meeting-planner amenities, such as a ropes course.
The iconic 1929 Claridge Hotel, host of such celebs as Marilyn Monroe and Princess Grace of Monaco, ups the ante in its appeal to today’s crowd with an additional 15,000 sf of meeting space, plus a rooftop bar, and Resorts Casino Hotel’s $5 million conference center adds 15,000 sf of meeting space within its 12 rooms.
In addition, Resorts Casino Hotel offers Atlantic City’s only All-Inclusive Meeting Package (AMP) in 2016. This new, state-of-the-art, all-digital conference center’s AMP includes: upgraded guest room (Atlantic City’s largest at 525 sf); three meals daily (dinners can be at leisure or as a group in any Resorts restaurant such as Capriccio and Gallagher’s Steakhouse or themed events in Margaritaville and LandShark Bar & Grill at no additional charge); a.m./p.m. coffee breaks; Wi-Fi in meeting and guest rooms; meeting rooms (most with natural light and ocean views); AV in the primary meeting room (screen or 90-inch 1080p LED display, sound, LCD and microphone); parking; gratuities, taxes and resort fees; personalized conference planner. For more information, contact Maribeth Grandpre, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The latest at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is its brand-new-to-the-scene Borgata Beer Garden, which sits adjacent to its newly debuted 3,200-sf Roman-inspired outdoor pool. Termed “a refreshing concept unique to the Marina District,” the beer garden is a full-service canopied bar, featuring more than 15 craft and domestic beers and showcasing live entertainment every Friday through Sunday. “With the launch of Borgata Beer Garden & Outdoor Pool, we are thrilled to present our hotel guests with an excellent outdoor amenity, offered seven days a week, that effectively reinforces the resort as the summer destination in Atlantic City,” summates Borgata’s Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations. Looking toward the future, next year’s Borgata will see the opening of a signature restaurant by chef/partner Michael Symon, and the addition of 25,000 sf of meeting and convention space.
On the heels of last year’s $50 million property renovation to Tropicana Atlantic City comes another $40 million enhancement with such inclusions as redesigned Havana Tower hotel rooms, Luxe Hair Salon and Ivan Kane’s Kiss Kiss a Go-Go. Atlantic City’s newest nightclub experience, Kiss Kiss, is described: “a trip down the rabbit hole into the neon-fueled nights of Bangkok.” The icing on this hotel’s cake is the unveiling of five all-new, fantasy-themed multimedia light and sound shows playing nightly on The Boardwalk.
Future plans for the Golden Nugget Atlantic City include the transformation of an unused restaurant into two 2,400-sf villas with views of the marina district.
Mere footsteps from the world-famous Boardwalk, the 502-room Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel not only offers 20 meeting rooms, as well as its 11,618-sf Crown Ballroom, but also showcases the past. Among its tributes to the city’s history are the Tea Garden’s bronze statue of Miss America Pageant’s beloved host Bert Parks (it plays his rendition of the iconic melody, “There She Is, Miss America”), the lobby collection of replica Miss America dresses and the self-guided Road to the Crown walking tour (complemented by a companion brochure, as well as an online mobile map accessed by scanning the hotel lobby’s QR code). C&IT