From Foxwoods’ 25th anniversary to MGM Resorts International’s growing Maryland to Massachusetts footprint, celebration, anticipation and revenue generation are watchwords for 2017 and beyond as all major East Coast casino-resorts report rising bookings from corporate, association and incentive groups.
Another hot topic is competition. Having announced its interest in Pennsylvania’s Sands Bethlehem, MGM is facing partners Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods and their plans for a casino in East Windsor, Conn.—close to the Massachusetts border and MGM’s new $950 million Springfield property, slated to open in 2018.
Amid the maneuvering, East Coast properties continue to invest in the future and unique brand appeal in this ever-evolving market.
Among the all-star Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) panelists in Atlantic City last month was Caesars Entertainment Chief Sales Officer Michael Massari, who pointed to the significance of leaders such as Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO, and Paul Van Deventer, MPI president and CEO and Meetings Means Business Coalition co-chair, attending the event.
“That would not have happened before,” he said. “The changes here are real.”
Now in undeniable turnaround mode, Atlantic City beams with positive signals.
Spearheaded by Massari, the $126 million Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center continues to drive significant meetings growth, including from major corporations that previously would never have looked at the destination. For example, summer 2017 bookings include 1,000-delegate meetings from Caterpillar and Olympus, and 2,000 from Ernst & Young.
Meet AC President and CEO Jim Wood shared more good news during the GMID events.
“With a record 171,000 room nights in 2014, we finished 2016 at around 280,000 rooms,” Wood said. “From that banner year, our 2017 meetings outlook, currently at 107 percent of pace, is very strong.”
The strategy includes driving business and demand through long-term selling and multiyear agreements.
“We are booking major conventions up to seven years out, versus two just three years ago,” he said. “Eighty-eight percent of room bookings are midweek, which helps casino properties manage their mix and yield management.”
Openings, not closings, dominate the headlines. The day before GMID, Hard Rock International confirmed its purchase of Trump Taj Mahal and an all-encompassing $375 million makeover of the property, scheduled for summer 2018. Plans call for the $135 million transformation of the closed Atlantic Club Casino Hotel into a waterpark and entertainment complex. The failed Revel is slated for rebranded rebirth in late 2017 as TEN. This summer sees the anticipated debut of a 200-foot observation wheel with climate-controlled gondolas on the Steel Pier. More jobs are coming back via the $220 million Gateway project, including South Jersey Gas’ headquarters and a new Stockton University campus.
Meetings mean continuing growth for casino properties, too.
At Tropicana Atlantic City, Jim Zieries, assistant vice president of hotel sales, reported “tremendous uptick in short-term corporate meetings, which fits nicely over core and repeat business from larger state and regional association conventions.”
With North and Havana Tower room renovations complete, other upgrades include a refresh of the 20,000-square-foot Grand Exhibition Center; renovation of 21 Havana Tower meeting rooms this July; and three dining concepts from Philadelphia-based celebrity chef Jose Garces.
With one beachhead in Maryland at the $1.3 billion MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino and another slated for Massachusetts in 2018 with MGM Springfield, MGM Resorts International centered its place in Atlantic City by acquiring market-leading Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
“With 95 percent of our business in Las Vegas, adding Borgata and its already strong brand aligned with our strategy of leveraging our meetings set and addressing inventory lag in other markets,” said MGM’s Chief Sales Officer Michael Dominguez at GMID. “It is the right fit for our growing East Coast footprint.”
Offering value-driven pricing, particularly midweek, which is unrivaled on the East Coast, Borgata’s meetings growth is as buoyant as ever.
“First-time Borgata groups increase approximately 10 to 15 percent in attendance and exhibitors,” said Vice President of Hotel and Property Operations Mark Vanderwielen. “With Atlantic City working to evolve beyond gaming, the overall market outlook is positive for 2017 and beyond.”