Atlantic City just keeps getting better. It’s long been a preferred destination for East Coast cor- porate events and meetings and with new addi- tions and/or upgrades to a slew of hotels, the convention center and the city itself, AtlanticCity continues to meet and exceed the needs of planners and groups. When it comes to entertainment and dining options in particular, Atlantic City shines.
Perhaps most notably, the city’s famed Boardwalk — more than 5 miles of continuous walkway and bikeway with new sections recently completed — stands out, along with the 227-foot-high The Wheel at Steel Pier. But there’s so much more.
“Atlantic City is the jewel of the East Coast in so many different ways,” says Larry Huttinger, CMP, director/owner of Destination Philly A.C., the only DMC with offices in Atlantic City itself. “One is that being a small community, the level of options for entertainment within the 48 blocks that make up the city can’t be replicated anywhere else. Between gaming of all levels, dining, shopping and great outdoor experiences during core spring, summer and fall seasons, you can enjoy the beach, boardwalk sights, fishing, boating and local golfing to name a few activities.”
In fact, Huttinger notes, the city has excelled at drawing visitors for well over a century. “The city is rich in history going back to the early days when Atlantic City became the go-to place for high society of Philadelphia in the late 1800s and on to the Roaring ’20s and Prohibition when gaming and drinking were tucked away behind hidden doors of parlors and dining establishments. Some of the grand hotels built in the 19th century and doomed due to the wooden construction and resulting fires were eventually rebuilt with more substantial materials and still exist.”
“Atlantic City is on par being one of the most value-oriented places in the United States at this time. It has plenty to offer without breaking the budget or sacrificing the experience.” Larry Huttinger, CMP
Huttinger says attendees have a wealth of ways to take advantage of what the city offers. “Visitors can enjoy the history of Atlantic City on tours of different sites. Boardwalk Hall houses the largest instrument in the world, a massive pipe organ. There are the grand hotels, such as Resorts, and Bally’s is located in the old Dennis Hotel. Additionally,” he says, “We cover the seafood industry — clams — and Atlantic City is home to the largest fishing fleet in the Northeast, supporting commercial accounts including Campbell Soup. Another site is the Absecon Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey and dating back to the 1800s.”
Water views? Absolutely. “The city’s current hotels/casinos all offer incredible views of the ocean or back-bay area,” Huttinger says. “And though it’s hard to pin down specific hotels, in general corporate groups will find the level they want in Atlantic City, with a range of possibilities for budget-conscious groups as well as groups that have significant money to spend. And many experiences are in walking distance both on the boardwalk and in the marina area.”
The city overall provides excellent options for the money. “Planners should know that the Atlantic City opportunity is one that really goes far with the money spent. The room rates can easily hover below $200 for properties year-round and certainly during shoulder season. Winter rates get into the low $100-plus range. The value you receive with this is just the beginning,” Huttinger notes. “Also we’ve found with our work experience that F&B costs are lower by 20% to 30% compared to other New Jersey-based hotels outside Atlantic City. You get real value with both the room rate and F&B. In addition, thanks to the smaller size of Atlantic City, getting around is quick and you have transportation options with train and air-service to get to this city, along with live entertainment, casino shows, dinning and shopping.”
Huttinger also points to many options for that “wow” experience planners look for. “A ‘wow’ opening could be an evening event at one of the beach bars in season with a theme such as a clam bake or other enhancements. Several hotels offer wonderful beach bars including Hard Rock, Resorts and Bally’s. Several others are located in front of Tropicana where attendees can enjoy the beach experience with excellent food and drink. Landshark at Resorts has a great deck overlooking the ocean with a private beach area featuring beach games, a bar and fire pit. Another option,” Huttinger says, “is to have an event on Steel Pier in one of two tent venues. Catered food with bar is available privately in both locations along with passes to go on all the rides on the pier.”
Team building is also easy here. “Attendees can explore the city via an Amazing Race experience that includes challenges set up across town,” Huttinger says. “They can include go-cart races, arcade-game competitions, salt water taffy tastings, pizza eating, identifying beers at an historic pub, climbing the steps of the lighthouse, listening to show tunes played by the pipe organ at Boardwalk Hall and so much more.”
Huttinger has high praise for the Atlantic City Convention Center. “It’s a place that provides incredibly large space for all types of events. The meeting space is on two separate floors and includes a 500,000-sf exhibit floor on the second level. Most of the staff have been at the center from the beginning when the building opened 22 years ago. They’re always ready to support any type of event and very helpful with a great attitude for any request.”
For those planners who think they know Atlantic City, Huttinger says the city has evolved in amazing ways in recent years. “The location has rebooted to show its expanded offerings with new casinos — two last year, Hard Rock and Ocean — and new restaurants, shopping areas and entertainment. Also, urban experiences in the Orange Loop branded with the North Shore location off the boardwalk have opened a trending vibe for the entire area.”
In the final analysis, Huttinger goes back to budget, among a planner’s most pressing concerns when choosing a destination. “Atlantic City is on par being one of the most value-oriented places in the United States at this time. It has plenty to offer without breaking the budget or sacrificing the experience. And when you’re here during the warm-weather season, you get even more by getting outside to enjoy the ocean and beach at the seashore.”
Radwell International Inc. held an employee event for 500 last year, using both the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel and the Atlantic City Convention Center. Shannon Lehmann, assistant marketing manager, says, “Atlantic City is a great destination for our event because the employees like to make a weekend out of it due to all the other attractions Atlantic City has to offer, whether it be the casinos or the outlets.”
Like Huttinger, she says one draw is that the city has so many options from which to choose. “Our event was held at the Atlantic City Convention Center, which has a great staff to work with. Once our decision was made and we discussed what our vision was, the staff worked with us and made that vision a reality. Everything worked out the way we wanted it to.”
She continues, “We chose the Sheraton because of its convenient location. The Sheraton is connected to the convention center, making it extremely easy for our employees to attend our event.”
Although they didn’t use any space at the Sheraton for this particular event, Lehmann says they have in the past. “The Sheraton is great to work with for any conference or meetings. The staff is great and will do whatever they can to make sure your event is a successful one.”
Lehmann says there were no major challenges in planning last year’s event, “and any little hiccups along the way were taken care of immediately,” she says. “Since AC has so much to offer, I truly feel you can’t go wrong. Each time we have been in AC, whether at the convention center or the Sheraton, the staff has always been wonderful to work with. They want your event to be successful just as much as you do.”
When it comes to describing Atlantic City as a superb meeting destination, Kelly Clark, DMCP, account manager with Roberts Event Group, a Hosts Global Member, points to many of the same attributes listed by Huttinger and Lehman.
“Atlantic City is a strong destination for meetings and conventions all year round. It has proximity to the Philadelphia Airport, the Newark Airport and has its own Atlantic City airport with international flights,” she says. “During the offseason, hotel rates are incredibly reasonable and with the concerts, nightlife and casinos there is still so much to do. The spacious hotel properties are ideal for hosting meetings and conventions.”
A compelling history and the beach also rate high in Clark’s assessment. “Atlantic City has a rich history. We love to take our groups on combined scavenger hunts and tours. The group can have fun in a competitive atmosphere while learning about the city they’re in. Having the beach at your fingertips allows for tons of creative team-building options,” Clark adds. “We’ve hosted beach clean-ups so groups have opportunities to give back. We have also hosted beach Olympics and beach yoga.”
It’s hard to pick just one hotel as ideal for groups. It depends on what the group is looking for. “Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center is the newest, largest, most technologically advanced meeting facility,” Clark says. “The conference center brings another 100,000 sf of meeting space to Atlantic City. Another ideal retreat and place to meet is Resorts Casino Hotel, which recently added 64,000+ sf to its conference center. Resorts offers a total of 24 meeting rooms, including four ballrooms.”
She continues, “Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has added a bi-level, 18,000-sf conference center to its luxurious property, which is situated in the city’s Marina District. With the newest Ocean Casino Resort and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Atlantic City continues to renovate and improve on its meeting space options.”
Clark also notes that the convention center “has lots of areas to host events and meetings. I’ve had great experiences working with the staff, catering and trades.”
But it’s the city itself that commands high praise. “Atlantic City is a full destination,” Clark says. “From golf outings to happy-hour cruises to beach activities and tours, your guests will be able to get out of the hotel and enjoy the city — though with all the freshly renovated spaces they may not even want to.”
Who should planners depend on? Experts point to the CVB and hotel meeting staff. “Your CSMs will be able to recommend the best of the best for your guests,” Clark concludes. “They are knowledgeable of the area and the local vendors.”
Accolades notwithstanding, Atlantic City continues to evolve, a boon to groups that have previously visited and those who have yet to experience all this city offers. In Atlantic City, what’s old is new again.
The former Taj Mahal Casino reopened last year as the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, complete with a new brilliantly conceived restaurant and entertainment experience among other attributes. And the long beleaguered Revel is now the inviting Ocean Casino Resort with 1,399 guest rooms, 160,000 sf of indoor/outdoor space, the blissful Exhale Fitness Spa and a Topgolf Swing Suite — the largest in the country — perfect for a VIP experience. Recently, it celebrated its one-year anniversary with events, shows and more. In its first year the property generated $320 million in gaming revenue. This year it opened the Balcony Bar, a new upscale F&B outlet overlooking the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Just off the boardwalk is the Orange Loop, a reference to Monopoly’s orange streets: Tennessee Avenue, St. James Place and New York Avenue. The Orange Loop includes a beer hall and a new distillery — the city’s only one.
Atlantic City’s convention center, which is now LEED Gold Certified, is getting a $9.1 million refresh to be completed later this year, and Boardwalk Hall is undergoing a $10 million renovation. Coming later this year: a combo microbrewery and axe-throwing venue — ideal for team-building competitions that require a little edge.
As for existing hotels, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City is wrapping up its $56 million Coastal Tower renovation. The tower features 507 tech-rich guest rooms and suites that will appeal to planners and business attendees alike. The tower renovation is the latest facet of the $250 million Caesars Entertainment has invested in its Atlantic City properties in the past four years, including the $125 million Waterfront Conference Center, the revamped Pool After Dark nightclub and the opening of a Gordon Ramsay Steak restaurant.
Included within Tropicana Atlantic City’s $200 million investment in upgrades and renovations is the skybridge, which connects the Tropicana to Chelsea Tower — the destination for those attendees and other guests who want non-gaming amenities. Chelsea Tower offers renovated guest rooms, pools and restaurants. Of particular appeal may be the Cabana Five Bar & Pool Deck, a rooftop pool with full-service bar, poolside dining, cabana rentals and live entertainment for ages 21 and older. Last year the resort wrapped up a complete renovation of the South Tower.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened its Central Conference Center, an $11 million project featuring two stories of customizable event space with meeting rooms and boardrooms along with a 6,500-sf, clear-span ballroom. That brought the resort’s meeting and convention space to more than 106,000 sf. Later this year, the resort is opening the Moneyline Bar & Book — the venue opened originally in Las Vegas at the Park MGM — as well as the Level One Cocktail Bar & Lounge, adding another $12 million in development to the resort. The all-new Level One Cocktail Bar & Lounge is an intimate gaming and entertainment venue with experiential cocktail programming.
Atlantic City is bound to have what planners and groups need — whatever their meeting, F&B, guest room and entertainment requirements are. C&IT