HB ON THE SCENE: The tide is turning in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—From famous boxing matches to the Miss America pageant, this city on the ocean has a long history as a host of events. Now, with new properties and new meeting spaces, it is revitalizing itself as a destination for all types of gatherings.

“Atlantic City is invested in the meetings and conventions industry, and they see how important it is to Atlantic City,” said Sandi Harvey, VP of convention sales with Meet AC. “We have noticed a renewed interest in Atlantic City. We are getting several meeting inquiries per week.” She noted that the mindset has changed for “meeting planners, tourists and the community.”

This summer alone, Atlantic City saw the openings of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino. “Atlantic City is revitalizing itself with new properties, attractions and dining, which gives visitors a new experience; they want to come visit Atlantic City,” Harvey said. Entertainment, festivals and sporting events are a big portion of what drives tourists to Atlantic City. Our dining establishments, from local to celebrity chefs, along with beach bars, also give the ultimate experience (life-size games, unique cocktail and food menus, etc.) eSports will be a big game-changer in the near future for Atlantic City.”

In recent years, Mohegan Sun’s Resorts Casino Hotel, which this year is celebrating its 40th anniversary, has made a number of modifications to the property to attract meetings.

In 2014, the property closed its buffet to add a new conference center. The property now has 24 meeting rooms, including four ballrooms and two theaters with more than 64,000 sq. ft. of usable space, most featuring natural light and ocean views.

The property has more than 64,000 sq. ft. of usable event space.

The plans to update the property, which was the first casino in the U.S. outside of Nevada in 1978, began when it was purchased by Morris Bailey in 2010. “This property has stood the test of time,” said President/CEO Mark Giannantonio, who was brought to the property in 2012 after working in Atlantic City since 1982. “It was built in the 1920s to serve many purposes. When I got here, we brought some new management in and we evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of our property. It had such great bones and architecture. The one thing that was really lacking was the ability to attract meetings, conventions, trade shows and things of that nature. We knew we had to do something, so we looked at this space.”

Although the buffet had been around since day one and had served millions of customers, the space would be better suited for attracting conference business. The timing was right for the change because management was planning a new food court for the casino floor—which would have a financial benefit in more ways than one. “We put five outlets on the casino floor,” he said. “The beauty of that is that it kept the food component downstairs. We were able to see a dramatic increase in the time our consumers spent playing slots. Before, they would walk up to the buffet, wait in line, spend an hour and a half. With the food court on the casino floor, it really enabled them to enjoy a meal within about 30-40 minutes. They got back to whatever they wanted to do. That was a benefit.”

The new conference space also created a benefit for the hotel in an increase in meetings business. “It has been dramatic from the minute this opened,” said Giannantonio. “We’ve more than doubled the number of convention rooms we’ve booked. It has been great—not only from a financial standpoint, but it really helps this property attract people in the offseason, the shoulder season, the winter months. It has been very good for us.”

With a career in Atlantic City spanning more than 35 years, he has seen the changes in the city and the rise of new competition—and why there’s a need to attract visitors beyond gaming. “For so long—and I go back a decade or so—we were so dependent on our gaming revenue,” he said. “About 12 years ago when the Pennsylvania casinos opened and we immediately began to lose some market share of gaming revenue, we really had to diversify as a city. Some properties did do that. I used to work at Tropicana. We put up all kinds of towers and meeting rooms. It is instrumental in being viable.”

He continued, “You have to have the ability to attract more than just gaming customers. That is what we did here. We are kind of independent. We have worked really well with the convention authority and Meet AC, but at the end of the day, we have a team that is very focused on bringing business to our property.” HB

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