There was once a perception that Atlantic City was in a slump due to closing resorts, fewer meetings and visitors and an over-dependence on gaming. However, these days nothing could be further from the truth.
This year alone, two new casino properties opened. Resorts are renovating, expanding and adding more meeting space. And, Atlantic City is also opening new attractions, entertainment venues and dining experiences.
According to Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC, the sales and marketing force supporting the Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC), Atlantic City’s resurgence is attracting more meetings. “Though our audience is primarily from the Mid-Atlantic region, we are starting to see more national growth in the meetings segment,” says Wood.
“Investors are buying properties and meeting space is expanding, such as Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center and meeting space additions at Resorts Casino Hotel, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and The Claridge, etc.”
Atlantic City is also broadening its variety of entertainment and attraction options to draw families and young adults.
According to Wood, “Headline entertainment continues to grow with the Hard Rock Casino opening and a commitment to bring midweek entertainment back to Atlantic City,” says Wood. “We also envision Atlantic City growing its beach concert series each summer and attracting massive crowds to the beach. Another example is the recently opened Observation Wheel at Steel Pier. And with the Boardwalk being expanded and connecting to the Marina District, great things are in store.”
Atlantic City’s upgrades ensure that it will continue to entice repeat visitors, such as the Tri-State Metro Operating Unit of Coca-Cola Bottling Company. In June, Tri-State Metro held a meeting at Tropicana Atlantic City for more than 100 employees. It was one of several Tri-State Metro meetings at Tropicana over the last eight years for groups ranging from 20 to 150 attendees.
According to Don Barsalou, director of sales and planner for Tri-State Metro, Tropicana’s national sales manager is a big reason for the company’s repeat visits. “She is great to work with, and she is able to keep my costs under control,” says Barsalou. “She is consistently checking in with me during our meetings and is only a phone call away if any issue arises. She was also able to have someone pre-check-in our group so everyone could get their room keys at the end of our day-one early meeting and go directly to their rooms.”
“We are starting to see more national growth in the meetings segment. Investors are buying properties and meeting space is expanding.”
— Jim Wood
Tri-State Metro is also attracted by Tropicana’s constant improvements, including its acquisition and $200 million renovation of The Chelsea Hotel, a non-gaming facility.
The Chelsea, which is connected to the Tropicana via a skybridge, increases the total number of meeting rooms to 2,730 and adds more amenities, some of which Tri-State Metro attendees enjoyed. These include Chelsea Towers’ Cabana Five Bar & Pool Deck with poolside dining and live entertainment; Oasis Pool; Whiskey Five bar; Chelsea Five Gastropub; and Gilchrist Restaurant.
More than ever, Barsalou notes, Tropicana has everything Tri-State Metro needs for its meetings. “It’s truly a value property,” says Barsalou. “Sleeping rooms are renovated, meeting rooms are close and can fit any size group. They also have ample room for large meetings, and boardrooms are great for smaller meetings. For this last meeting, we had brand groups jumping from one room to the other to make presentations, and the boardrooms at the Havana Tower were perfect for this.”
Tropicana’s several dining experiences are also popular among Tri-State Metro attendees. “We usually use the Tropicana’s restaurants for our food and beverage,” says Barsalou. “The food and service are always great.” He noted that popular restaurants among attendees include Il Verdi, which offers Italian cuisine, oceanfront experience Olon, and Palm Restaurant, a steakhouse.
Offsite activities for Tri-State Metro attendees included a teambuilding event of competitive beach games at Bally’s Beach Bar, located on the Boardwalk a short distance from Tropicana. “It was our first activity at the Beach Bar, and it was a hit,” says Barsalou. “Afterward, we had drinks and food and enjoyed a DJ and local band. Our meeting was also a hit, and we will be returning to the Tropicana.”
Tropicana is not the only Atlantic City property renovating and upgrading. Two new properties, Ocean Resort Casino and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, opened this year.
Ocean Resort opened in June after acquiring, rebranding and then upgrading the former Revel Casino Hotel. As part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt portfolio of properties, the 1,399-room Ocean Resort Casino is the tallest structure in Atlantic City and presents scenic ocean views. The resort offers planners a complete package of meeting space necessities, including 160,000 square feet of indoor event space and 90,000 square feet of flexible outdoor space. Entertainment and activity options include six swimming pools and 138,000-square-foot of gaming space.
Groups seeking a variety of cuisine experiences under one roof will enjoy Ocean Resort Casino’s nine dining concepts. These include Zhen Bang Noodle & Sushi, American Cut, Italian seafood concept Dolce Mare and Chef Jose Garces’ Distrito (Mexican fare) and Amada (tapas) restaurants. Other amenities include the world’s largest Top Golf Swing Suite, six pools and the 40,000-square-foot Exhale spa.
The Hard Rock brings its signature rock ‘n’ roll glamour to Atlantic City following its opening in June with 200 nights of music featuring more than 50 shows and events with top acts. Located on the site of the former Taj Mahal, the Hard Rock underwent a $500 million makeover. Renovations included guest rooms and suites, meeting and convention spaces, performance venues and an indoor pool.
Refurbished spaces also include the Hard Rock Casino, Hard Rock Café and the Rock Spa. The many dining options at the Hard Rock include Italian restaurant Il Mulino, seafood experience Council Oak Fish and Robert’s Steakhouse. In addition, Hard Rock promises to offer entertainment every day of the year in venues that include two 7,000-seat arenas.
New and expanding resorts are driving Atlantic City’s growing number of entertainment activities. “With the Hard Rock looking to offer so many entertainment options over the next 12 months, it’s believed this may be a trend in providing entertainment with which other casino hotels may have to compete,” says Larry Huttinger, CMP, owner of D. Lawrence Planners and Destination Philly A.C.
All of Atlantic City’s new activities provide more options for planners. “We create events at clubs such as the Pool at Harrah’s and Premier at Borgata, which gives planners incredible space to create events and at lower price points,” says Huttinger. “We also use the third floor of the Playground Pier connected to Caesars, using the restaurants operating in that location for evening dining with entertainment throughout the space.”
Options for family-oriented activities are multiplying in Atlantic City. A highly anticipated attraction, the 350-foot-high Polercoaster roller coaster, is scheduled to debut in 2019 on the site of the former Sands Casino. Additional attractions planned to open near the Polercoaster include a zip line, extreme ninja course, skydiving simulator, and bar and retail space. Attendees also can find fine shopping at fashionable outlets on resorts such as Caesars, Borgata and Tropicana, as well as offsite outlets.
Atlantic City is also underrated when it comes to golf, offering about 25 courses that attract corporate groups from throughout the Northeast, including the New York area.
According to Karen Shackman, president, Shackman Associates, a New York City DMC specializing in domestic and international corporate meetings and incentives, “Because the Atlantic City region is an outlier against a national trend of golf courses closing, we know this is a huge plus for attracting corporate meetings and incentives.”
Shackman has worked with corporate groups that have held outings at some of Atlantic City’s top golf courses, including Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club and Galloway National Golf Club. “Both are located a short drive from most of the resorts,” says Shackman. “Seaview is considered one of the most exclusive ‘old school’ clubs in the area, and it’s even more valuable to attendees to add on an intimate dining opportunity there or at a resort.”
Borgata Hotel Casino illustrates how even Atlantic City’s premiere casino resorts are reinventing and upgrading. Planners can hold larger-than-ever meetings and events at Borgata due to its new 18,000-square-foot Central Conference Center (CCC), which offers customizable event space with five meeting rooms and two ballrooms encompassing a 6,500-square-foot ballroom. The CCC increases the Borgata’s total event space to 106,000 square feet including The Water Club at Borgata and The Event Center.
Away from the meeting spaces, attendees at the 2,000-room Borgata Hotel can enjoy some of the finest dining options in Atlantic City, including some headed by famous chefs, such as Wolfgang Puck American Grille, Bobby Flay Steak and Izakaya Modern Japanese Pub.
Caesars Entertainment Corporation — owner of Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesar’s and Harrah’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino — continues to set a standard for enhancing its properties.
Upgrades at Caesars Entertainment include more than $30 million in improvements to Harrah’s Resort. Enhancements include a redesign of 450 guest rooms and suites in the Bayview Tower and a facelift of The Pool After Dark pool and nightclub.
In addition, several new restaurants expand the variety of Harrah’s dining experiences, such as Martorano’s Italian Restaurant, Coastal Craft Kitchen + Bar and Mexican restaurant Veracruz. Culinary options at other Caesars Atlantic City resorts include Guy Fieri’s Chophouse at Bally’s and Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars.
The culinary additions at Harrah’s follow the premiere of its 100,000-square-foot Waterfront Conference Center (WCC), one of the biggest hotel-conference centers in the Northeast with two 50,000-square-foot ballrooms. Planners wanting green meetings can consider the WCC’s Leed Silver Certification status. Meanwhile, Harrah’s sister property, Caesars, offers 28,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 17,135-square-foot Palladium Ballroom and 10 meeting rooms.
All of Caesars Entertainment’s properties follow the company’s philosophy of “One company. One contract. Countless options.” as expressed on its website. It’s the idea behind Caesars’ program that allows planners to conveniently book properties through a single contact with one contract and one minimum. Planners can even mix and match properties within a destination.
Another Atlantic City property, Resorts Casino Hotel, has renovated its Ocean Tower’s 480 guest rooms and suites and completed a $35 million enhancement of the Jimmy Buffett-inspired Margaritaville entertainment complex, which includes Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant and Landshark Bar and Grill. The improvements are part of Resorts Casino Hotel’s ongoing $100 million renovation and expansion to complement its three-year-old modern convention center, which offers 64,000 square feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms.
Planners see new and expanded properties that attract groups from its Northeast base as keys to Atlantic City’s continued resurgence, and expect to see value rise along with more growth in the years ahead. “If you have a group local to the New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey area that is budget conscious, Atlantic City is a good fit,” says Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM, president, New York-based Strategic Meetings & Events.
In order for value to continue rising, notes Lamagna, “It’s not just a few hotels that have to be open, it’s the surrounding area that has to be attractive for groups. Continuing to share that message and showcase the new energy and opportunities in Atlantic City will help change its image. New Orleans is open for business again and Detroit is becoming more relevant, so we know it can be done.”
Atlantic City’s improvements are boosting business. According to Meet AC, sales of the Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC) will reach $10,493,488 in 2018, up from $9,517,000 in 2017. Enhancements to Exhibit Hall A , Wi-Fi upgrades and the creation of a welcoming marquee atop the ACCC will also help to draw more business to the facility, which is located just blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and offers 600,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit and function space.
Sales will get an added boost from Meet AC’s new virtual reality (VR) marketing tool. The program, provided by YouVisit, is designed to attract planners, convention business and visitors. The tool allows anyone to virtually visit each room of the ACCC, Boardwalk Hall and surrounding area. Another tool, available in the Apple iTunes Store or Google Play Store under the title of Meet AC, provides interactive floorplans of the ACCC.
The ACCC is also a draw for planners seeking a large meeting space with sustainable efforts, having reduced the facility’s energy consumption every year since opening in 1997. For example, in 2017, the ACCC’s solar roof panels produced 28 percent of the building’s total electrical consumption.
In all, the ACCC expects to save $4.4 million in electricity costs since opening through 2029. The savings result from the ACCC’s strategy, which considers “going green” a main operating objective, and has a “Green Team” which focuses on five issues — energy efficiency, recycling, water usage, client communication and composting preparation. In addition, Atlantic City’s gaming industry is expanding and diversifying. Gaming revenue increased 2.4 percent by the end of November 2017. While online gaming accounted for most of the increase, additional growth is expected from the approval of sports gaming.
Borgata recently became the first Atlantic City casino to launch sports wagering as a result of new sports betting regulations in New Jersey. The regulations follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a federal law banning sports betting and leave it up to state legislatures. Borgata’s sports wagering area, known as Race & Sports Book, features 100 seats, 40-inch color betting machines, 10 betting windows and a video wall. At least three betting windows are dedicated to sports wagers.
Atlantic City’s new activities, resort additions and makeovers are improving value for planners. According to Huttinger, “Atlantic City offers more value due to its location and sizable casinos and meeting space. Room rates compared to other New Jersey and regional cities, such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, NYC and Boston, means planners are looking at prices 40 percent to 60 percent less during most seasons. That, along with low rates or complementary rates for meeting spaces, depending on the size and spending of the group, make for an ideal location for planners.”
While Atlantic City now offers about 7,000 guest rooms and 1 million square feet of meeting space, the destination is not one to rest on its accomplishments, no matter how big they are or how fast they come. Atlantic City will continue to add more of everything that planners need get value for large and small meetings alike. C&IT