Atlantic City needs to move beyond the perception that it is a “one-note town” dominated by casino gambling if it wants to revive its tourism economy, top marketing executives and government officials said Wednesday.
Instead of focusing on gambling, the city must also promote other attractions — restaurants, shopping and entertainment — to develop an entirely new brand identity, said Liza Cartmell, chief executive officer of the Atlantic City Alliance.
“We need to create a story that is about Atlantic City more broadly,” Cartmell said in keynote remarks to the East Coast Gaming Congress at the Revel resort.
The ACA, a marketing arm of the casino industry, has launched a $20 million advertising campaign designed to reshape Atlantic City’s image and draw more visitors from throughout the Northeast.
Cartmell stressed that the “Do AC!” campaign deliberately excludes any images or mention of the casinos while promoting an array of nongambling attractions as well as the beaches and Boardwalk.
Prints ads, TV commercials, radio spots and billboards circulating in Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore portray Atlantic City as a spontaneous, high-energy getaway destination that allows visitors to “Do everything.”
The goal is to reverse Atlantic City’s declining visitor base. With casino competition increasing in surrounding states, the city has suffered what Cartmell characterized as a “somewhat precipitous” slump in visitor trips in recent years. The number of visitors peaked in 2006 at about 35 million, but has since dropped to below 29 million annually.
Cartmell warned that Atlantic City is hampered by the perceptions it is a “one-note town.” Surveys of potential visitors illustrate the belief there is little to do other than gambling, she said.
“The typical response is, ‘No, I don’t gamble,’” Cartmell said of tourists who are not interested in Atlantic City.
Focusing on how nongaming attractions can be successful in a casino environment, a compilation of the developers and business owners behind Revel spoke later in the day about what attracted them to the $2.5 billion megaresort, which is set for a full opening Memorial Day weekend.
Washington, D.C.-based chef Robert Weidmaier said that a few years ago he never would have wanted to open up a restaurant in a casino environment. From the ambiance to the smell of cigarette smoke, it all felt wrong. But Revel changed his mind, in part because of its focus on nongamblers and its nonsmoking environment.
“If you can’t afford to drive here because the gas is too expensive or you can’t afford the parking, you really shouldn’t be gambling,” Weidmaier said. “I really believe that the casino market and the resort market is going to have a major change.”
Curt Huegel, founder and principal of LDV Hospitality, which brought the American Cut and Azure restaurants to Revel, stressed that the face of fine dining has changed, and people are no longer interested in going to three-hour diners that require 10 pieces of silverware.
“You have to be able to be approachable,” Huegel said. “The world has changed. People don’t have those three hours anymore. People don’t want to wear a jacket and tie to dinner anymore. … That’s the biggest dining trend, not only in New York but in America right now.”
Weidmaier also said the resort needs to focus more heavily on advertising the city in the Washington, D.C., area, which is within the focal area of ACA’s new marketing campaign. New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, however, are the campaign’s primary targets.
“If you talk to most Washingtonians about Atlantic City, they don’t even think about coming here,” he said. “I think Washington, D.C., is a big market that needs to be capitalized on.”
The push for more nongambling attractions, which copies the Las Vegas model, is supposed to make Atlantic City a more appealing tourist destination. Cartmell noted that Las Vegas gets 60 percent of its overall revenue from nongambling attractions, while Atlantic City’s share is just 25 percent.
Key attractions for expanding the market include new hotel rooms, restaurants, retail shops, nightclubs and spas. New airline service and more conventions also are needed, Cartmell and other conference speakers said.
George H. Ladyman Jr., managing director of the consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle, gave a blunt response when asked what type of nongambling investment he thought would help rejuvenate Atlantic City’s economy.
“A lot,” Ladyman said during a panel discussion titled “Tourism in a Gaming Market.”
Jones Lang LaSalle was the consultant that helped the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority craft a new master plan to guide the city’s hoped-for evolution into a multifaceted tourist haven.
Even one of the casino industry’s top government regulators agreed the city must diversify its attractions beyond gambling.
“Atlantic City has to get to the next step. It can’t be all about gaming,” said Linda M. Kassekert, chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
“Casinos alone cannot be the sole driver of growth,” added Tom O’Donnell, a senior associate at Spectrum Gaming Group and moderator of the “Tourism in a gaming market” panel.
Ladyman suggested developing a marketing and development strategy that is a “happy medium,” combining elements of the casino scene with exciting nongambling amenities.
The East Coast Gaming Congress, one of the casino industry’s top conferences, concludes today with a daylong agenda of panel discussions, presentations by casino CEOs and keynote remarks by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
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