Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City has recently upgraded its rooms and its Waterfront Conference Center.
Atlantic City carries the nickname “America’s Playground,” which is fitting since there’s plenty of fun things for people to do, which is something that those planning meetings and conventions appreciate about the New Jersey hot spot.
While many people consider Las Vegas to be the gaming mecca in the U.S., heading west can be a chore for those on the East Coast. Thankfully, Atlantic City contains some of the biggest and most luxurious casino resorts around, and they offer plenty of world-class dining and fabulous entertainment. “Atlantic City is a beach resort destination that offers world-class entertainment, dining and shopping, as well as being the second-largest gaming destination in the country,” says Sandi Harvey, vice president of sales for Meet AC, the city’s DMC.
That’s why those planning corporate events or company-wide meetings are gravitating to the area more regularly, especially since the area has rebounded strongly following the devastating “Superstorm Sandy” in 2012.
“Attendees can do it all under one roof — meet, eat and sleep,” Harvey says. “Attendees are also able to utilize the added amenities the casino properties offer, such as the gym, indoor pool, spa and much more. In addition, attendees can explore the array of dining and entertainment options just steps from the meeting room.”
Atlantic City also offers a variety of attractions, such as the Steel Pier amusement park, which added The Wheel a few years ago; the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum; the Absecon Lighthouse; plus arcade games up and down the world-famous Boardwalk.
Allison H. Sargent, founder and CEO of Allison Sargent Events in Montclair, New Jersey, has spent the last 28 years planning meetings and events nationally, with a client base that includes customers from the corporate and nonprofit world. “It’s a historical place for meetings in New Jersey because, 35 years ago, there wasn’t really anywhere else in the state for big corporate meetings,” she says. “It’s really stayed a consistent place for groups to go and be entertained.”
That history, which starts with the Boardwalk that everyone enjoys, helps draw groups as well, says Paul Steinmetz, director of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based The American Meetings Network, a global meeting planning organization that does about 700 meetings a year, many of those in Atlantic City.
The company represents a lot of pharmaceutical companies, which choose to hold their annual meeting in Atlantic City because they are on the East Coast. “Atlantic City has gone through the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs,” Steinmetz says. “I think the amount of space in both meeting and convention space, as well as the number of rooms and the quality of those rooms has made it a popular place again.”
You can’t talk Atlantic City without mentioning gaming, and plenty of meeting guests are still attracted to the area because they like to play a slot machine or sit down for a poker game, or now legally bet some football or place a wager on the ponies. “With sports gambling now legal in New Jersey, there are new sports books in Atlantic City and there’s certainly some growth there,” Steinmetz says. “These are new gambling options and they are definitely catching the eye of some people when they start talking about where to host a meeting.”
A Strong Meeting Segment
Looking back at last year, Meet AC had another record-breaking year. “We booked 394,029 hotel room nights last year, which will bring over $400 million back into our local economy,” Harvey says. “This is the fifth year in a row that Meet AC has exceeded its booking room night goals for the year. 2020 will be no exception as we are well positioned to have another stellar year of definite bookings. We expect to book more than 375,000 room nights in 2020 with a continued stretch goal of 400,000 room nights.”
Meet AC uses an industry tool called the Trends, Analysis & Projection (TAP) Report which provides a yield management forecast for the meeting and convention market in Atlantic City. “Last year, Meet AC exceeded the tentative room nights by over 1 million,” Harvey says. “This report also reveals that Meet AC is currently outpacing its competition with a 38% conversion from tentative to definite for meeting and convention business. Based upon the monthly results of the TAP Report, it shows that Meet AC continues to book meetings and conventions up to eight years into the future.”
The organization’s focus this year will be top-producing vertical markets such as trade shows, education, automotive and social affairs. Meet AC will also strategically go after industry-related events such as American Express INTER[action], PCMA and others for future years.
Running an Event
Joan Wright, president of the Middlesex County Education Association & the New Jersey Retirees’ Education Association (NJREA), has arranged NJREA’s annual convention at Resorts Casino Hotel since 2014, and they are already booked to return this year. “We keep going back to Resorts because they have been most amiable to our every wish,” she says. “The whole staff is very welcoming and they are spot on. They anticipate any problems that we may have come across. They are only a phone call or text away from answering a question and helping to solve what might have been a problem.”
And the staff is quite nimble in an emergency. “Last year, we had a last-minute workshop about health benefits and we didn’t anticipate how many people would show up, but the staff was right there to help and lend a hand with the overflow.” Wright explains that they didn’t even need to wait for more chairs because the Resorts staff anticipated their needs as people were coming in, and no one felt as if they were not welcomed.
Another time, there were more guests at the cocktail party than anticipated, and the food was gone in no-time; but, again, the director had an entire pasta station set up and no one had any knowledge that there was any problem with having too little food. “In five years there, we have encountered no problems at all with them,” Wright says. “The members never see any problems. When something comes up, they take care of it quickly and quietly,” she says.
With a lot of its members in New Jersey or remaining on the East Coast, it makes sense to hold the annual convention in Atlantic City, but other members come from as far away as California to attend. With 30,000 members in all, the NJREA is an important group.
“We have members all over the United States, and even some foreign countries, and we get attendees coming each year from multiple states, and they all enjoy everything Atlantic City has to offer,” Wright says. “We are an inclusive association. Some people think we’re a teacher’s association, but it’s really everyone who works for the Board of Education — the secretaries, bus drivers and other professionals.”
Susan McGonigle, a 40-year independent planner who handles the annual meeting for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), returned to Resorts Casino Hotel this year and notes it was the largest meeting FCA held in the past 15 years. “The staff bent over backward to give us even more than promised, and that’s something that you appreciate being in this business,” McGonigle says. “When you need something done and you don’t have to wait for it, that’s what we look for. It’s a trust factor that makes events run smoother.”
What McGonigle looks for when deciding on where to host a meeting is a venue that’s ready when they’re supposed to be, that someone is there coordinating and the quality of the food is tops. These are all things that she finds in spades at Resorts Casino Hotel.
Attracting Groups to the Area
The Atlantic City Sports Commission, which is the liaison between Meet AC and the city’s sports facilities, continues to flourish, and most anticipate exponential growth in the years ahead.
“Currently, we are pacing to hit over 100,000 room nights with sports groups,” Harvey says. “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series and Pickle Ball are just a few of the new groups that will take place this year. The sport courts continue to be a game changer for these types of events and have certainly shown a return on investment.”
Due to the governor’s expansion of the film tax credit program, The Atlantic City Film Commission has received several major production inquiries. Meet AC anticipates that these opportunities will result in additional room nights and economic impact for Atlantic City, and provide incremental exposure to the destination in the coming year.
Plus, there are endless activities and experiences for attendees once the meetings end. Being on the Boardwalk is popular with meeting guests, Steinmetz says, because it has access to the beach, offers dining and retail opportunities, an aquarium and the Steel Pier amusement area.
“They can visit the Orange Loop; take in a show at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City; ride The Wheel at Steel Pier, the third-tallest wheel in the U.S; climb the 228 steps at the Absecon Lighthouse; or watch with the locals at famous eateries with unique dining experiences,” he says.
Wright says people enjoy getting away, and the ambiance by the water makes Atlantic City such a great destination.
“It always evokes memories from when many of us were growing up, and it’s like going back home,” she says. “There are a lot of great shows, plenty of nice shops, and the casinos are actually a low priority for many of us. People like to go to unwind in a pleasant atmosphere.”
Steinmetz sees the opportunity for other businesses to come to the area and expects high-end dining and entertainment options to be a part of the Atlantic City landscape in the years to come. The latter is already starting to come through as the city is becoming more of an East Coast Las Vegas. “If you’re a gambler and want to play poker, where 10 years ago you had to go to Atlantic City, now you probably have something local or at least close to you, so they needed to bring in more things to attract people.” Steinmetz says. “From an entertainment and dining standpoint, it’s upped its game.” That, he says, is among the reasons why people want to go there now.
The one negative he hears about Atlantic City concerns getting there, because, although Atlantic City International Airport is about 9 miles from downtown, it’s an hour’s drive if someone is flying into Philadelphia and a couple of hours to drive from New York City. But, while airlift can be a challenge, Steinmetz thinks that the reality of going almost anywhere else will still have similar time problems, and it’s worth the ride to experience so much.
Credit: Architectural Photography Inc
Located within a few hours’ drive of nearly 33% of the nation’s population and 20% of the country’s business addresses, the Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC) is easily accessible for conventions, trade shows and meeting attendees. The ACCC boasts 486,600 sf of meeting space, five spacious exhibit halls, 45 meeting rooms, 29 covered loading docks and plenty of CVB support. Over the last year, TD Bank held its annual Merchant Service Sales Conference there and numerous association meetings are scheduled in the ACCC this year.
Steinmetz notes that the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, the Ocean Casino Resort and the renovation of Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City has brought all three resorts to the top of the desired list among associations and companies holding meetings in the area, as everyone likes to go to the new and shiny hot spots.
“They all have some fabulous meeting spaces and we’ve been able to put some meetings at each in the past year,” he says. “It’s not just about the gambling anymore. While table games and slot machines are certainly a part of the attraction, the other offerings that these resorts offer — the shows, restaurants and spas — are really what make people want to come in to these great places.”
The Mid-Atlantic Society of Association Executives’ annual meeting was held recently at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, with a theme of “Reaching the Peak of Association Leadership.” Others with meetings this year at the resort, taking advantage of its 2,000 rooms and more than 150,000 sf of meeting and event space, include the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management and the Delaware Valley and New Jersey Chapters of HIMSS.
This past year, Ocean Casino Resort welcomed the New Jersey Education Association convention, the largest annual gathering of educators around the world. Ocean Casino Resort offers 160,000 sf of private, flexible meeting space complete with a fully equipped business center and an onsite technical support team. There is an Event Center that encompasses 70,000 sf and, if you’re looking for expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean, the resort also offers 90,000 sf of outdoor spaces. Activities include the largest Topgolf Swing Suite in the country, concerts or comedy shows at Ovation Hall, HQ2 beach club and nightclub, and slots, blackjack and other gaming at the casino.
Sargent says each venue has its own theology, and her clients can pick a place that fits their needs and demographics best, citing the vista of the beachfront at the property or the cachet of the boats on the water at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Tropicana Atlantic City features more than 122,000 sf of meeting space and 2,400 rooms, making it one of New Jersey’s largest hotels. Its meeting and event space includes 5,600 sf of total meeting space at the Chelsea Tower; the Tropicana Showroom, a Broadway-style theater that seats 2,000; the Havana Tower, with more than 37,000 sf of meeting space; the nearly 20,000-sf Grand Exhibition Center multipurpose room; and The Ballroom, which offers 18,000 sf that can be divided into four individual meeting rooms.
The Quarter at Tropicana, which features an Old Havana theme, features 200,000 sf of retail, dining, entertainment and spa experiences, including an IMAX Theatre. This past year, PriorityOne Group sponsored the New Jersey Medical Group Management Association’s Practice Management Conference at the Tropicana. The New Jersey Society of Health-System Pharmacists also held their annual association meeting at the resort last year.
Steinmetz recently planned a meeting at Harrah’s, which debuted a more than $80 million renovation to upgrade to its rooms and suites. It’s part of a $300 million investment Caesars Entertainment has made into its three Atlantic City properties over the last four years, which includes the Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center (WCC).
The WCC, the largest hotel conference center from Baltimore to Boston, offers unbeatable ocean views. The 100,000-sf center has two 50,000-sf ballrooms and allows events to take place in one location. “New Jersey has some very bold, ambitious goals for the number of visitors they want to come in, and I think they are making moves to achieve those goals, bringing in a lot of meeting planners and making a strong push from a marketing and advertising standpoint,” Steinmetz says. “Now that there’s enough quality room nights to support that, you can see the trend of Atlantic City’s rebirth.” | AC&F |