How did America’s resurgent coastal playground perform in 2018? Kevin Ortzman, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and regional president for Caesars Entertainment, deemed the summer season in particular “the best in recent years" for Atlantic City.

Speaking with the Press of Atlantic City, Ortzman said, “Casinos saw significant gains this summer in employees, visitors and gaming revenue.

This growth demonstrates that the casino industry’s investment in Atlantic City’s transformation into a first-class resort and business conference destination is working.”

Sparkling newcomers including Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Ocean Resort Casino and Stockton University’s new beachfront campus, focused on hospitality and tourism education, also have Meet AC President and CEO Jim Wood talking optimism.

“Market share and room nights are up overall, driven by the added inventory and new business at our properties and the Atlantic City Convention Center,” Wood said.

“Continuing benefit from hosting MPI’s 2016 World Education Congress includes positive meeting planner perception and interest from major brands and companies that we haven’t seen in the past," he added.

Along with enhancing its website, meeting planner guide and online RFP system, Meet AC has expanded its partnership with virtual reality (VR) provider YouVisit. Also available via the free Meet AC app, the immersive VR technology showcases the convention center, Boardwalk Hall, hotels, beaches and more.

“Meeting planners have evolved a new outlook when it comes to site selection, and this platform of virtual interaction will make their decision easier,” Wood stated.

They like what they see. As of September 2018, Meet AC reported 41 bookings attracting 219,721 attendees with 110,954 room nights and generating nearly $105 million in delegate spending for the year.

Adding Boardwalk Hall, group tour and hotel bookings, those numbers grew to 159 bookings, 338,438 attendees on 221,796 room nights, and $197.5 million in spending.

On track to exceed booking goals for the year, Atlantic City, on a major group breakout, means serious business.

New Jersey Casino Resorts Go Beyond Tradition

In 1978, New Jersey state law required casinos to offer mainstage entertainment every night of the year. The regulation did not last, but its spirit rocks on at the new 1,972-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, which opened in June 2018 with 300-plus acts already booked.

“We’re going to focus on entertainment; we’re not going to be a traditional 90 percent gaming, 10 percent non-gaming model,” stated Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen during the pre-opening press conference.

Along with 20-plus restaurants and musically-themed Rock Spa and Salon, the $500 million transformation of Trump Taj Mahal features the newly expanded 7,000-seat Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, plus beachside Sound Waves venue and additional stages including the attached Hard Rock Cafe.

Unique features include Rocktane, an on-site gas station, car wash and convenience store.

Offering 150,000 square feet of flexible space, meetings are also on the set list. “Our brand is in 75 countries; we truly understand convention and MICE business,” added Allen.

Atlantic City Convention Center, Credit: Meet AC
Atlantic City Convention Center, Credit: Meet AC

When Bruce Deifik wired $10 million toward his eventual $200 million purchase of Atlantic City’s failed $2.4 billion Revel Hotel and Casino, he had yet to visit Atlantic City or see the property.

Instead, he relied on images and assurances from a close friend—and instincts honed over three decades in commercial real estate development and investment.

“Due diligence came after the fact,” Deifik said.

For the founder of Denver-based Integrated Properties, Inc., his extensive dealings in Las Vegas provided another reliable barometer.

“The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s concerted effort in uniting the resorts to bring in groups and conventions, while adding entertainment, food and beverage and other attractions, has given the destination global iconic value,” he said. “The same opportunity is there for Atlantic City.”

Deifik has a photo of Atlantic City from 1929 (when Boardwalk Hall opened as one of America’s first convention centers).

“The area’s population was far less than today and getting there was a challenge,” he recalled. “Yet, there’s the Boardwalk, packed with people having fun. That’s what Atlantic City, presently attracting 24.5 million annual visitors, is capable of in 2018 and beyond.

“There’s 75 million people within a five-hour drive or one-hour flight,” Deifik added. “We should be getting 30 million visitors—and conventions coming here instead of shipping their people elsewhere.” 

Deifik lived at the Tropicana Atlantic City during the 6.4 million-square-foot Revel’s transformation into the 1,399-room Ocean Resort Casino, which offers 160,000 square feet of indoor space and 90,000 square feet of outdoor space.

“Hands-on is the only way a project like this works,” he said. “We are a small family running a major property, but with partners like Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, dedicated team members, and a philosophy of welcome and respect to our guests, people already want to come here.”

Exhale Spa, Ocean Resort Casino, Atlantic City
Exhale Spa, Ocean Resort Casino, Atlantic City

Exemplifying that openness, the resort offered complimentary accommodations to those affected by Hurricane Florence in September 2018. That followed Meet AC assisting the National Association of Elevator Contractors in bringing their 2017 Convention and Expo to Atlantic City due to Hurricane Irma. The convention returned this September.

With another $200 million in enhancements including New Jersey’s first Exhale Spa and world’s largest Topgolf Swing Suite, bookings are underway. In October, the property hosted the 28th annual Atlantic City Metropolitan Business and Citizens Association awards gala in its grand multipurpose Ovation Hall.

“With peer properties, politicians and other community members among the 900 attendees, we had ‘flawless’ reviews for the event,” said Deifik. “Groups want to meet here. And the growing optionality is great for the whole destination, raising the bar for everybody.” 

Introducing nearly 3,400 rooms and 400,000 square feet of sellable space into the market, the two new properties generated more than $105 million in gaming and nongaming revenue in their first two months.

And, of highest local significance, the duo support nearly 8,000 new jobs.

Atlantic City Hotel Upgrades 'a Hit' With Groups

Memorial Day 2018 kicked off with Resorts Casino Hotel’s 40th anniversary and the debut of Tropicana Atlantic City’s new 330-room Chelsea Tower. Updating the former boutique Chelsea Hotel, the skybridge-connected tower features five new F&B outlets and event-capable Cabana Club rooftop pool.

Also unveiled were the South Tower’s newly refreshed 479 rooms and suites. With $200 million in property-wide upgrades since 2010, the resort now offers just under 2,400 rooms.

“The Chelsea Tower is a hit with groups,” said Jim Zieries, vice president of hotel sales, who reported another strong year for Tropicana. “Close to 500 groups occupied 41,000-plus room nights mostly from Sunday through Thursday. Demand is up, notably in corporate meetings and especially positive in the food service and retail segments.”

Chelsea Tower Cabana at Five Bar Pool, Credit: Tropicana AC
Chelsea Tower Cabana at Five Bar Pool, Credit: Tropicana AC

Zieries is “very encouraged by the amount of new business on the books for 2019. We continue to thrive with repeat group bookings, while the city’s increased inventory means increased competition for valuable meeting and convention business; 2019 is definitely time for groups who have not tried Atlantic City to give us serious consideration.”

Caesars Entertainment highlights include continuing positive impact from Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center, now attracting Fortune 500, blue-chip corporate business.

After the $40 million renovation of its Bay View Tower rooms, Harrah’s is investing $50 million to refresh the Harbor Tower rooms. By spring 2019, the company will have revitalized nearly 1,000 rooms over the past year-plus. Opened in 1979 as the Boardwalk Regency, Caesars Atlantic City turns 40 in 2019.

Celebrating 15 years this summer, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa became the first Atlantic City casino to launch sports wagering under New Jersey’s new sports betting regulations. Placing the first bet was basketball legend Julius Erving, on the Philadelphia Eagles to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

In Galloway Township, Seaview, A Dolce Hotel closes this winter for a $17 million renovation. Opened in 1914, this Jersey Shore heirloom is refreshing all 296 guest rooms and suites, and 27,000 square of meeting space in 21 rooms. Plus, the lobby and public areas, outdoor pool, and new restaurant within the legendary Oval Room.

The golf course remains open during the project, slated for completion in in March 2019.

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