Atlantic City is known for its beaches and Boardwalk. Chicago boasts the Magnificent Mile and Lake Michigan. Houston has the Johnson Space Center and a Texas-size skyline.
Those three distinct cities are scattered across the country, yet soon they will all have something in common: They will be linked by new flights offered by United Airlines.
With the launch of those flights only two weeks away, a cross-country, multimedia promotional campaign is unfolding to attract travelers in each of those markets.
United will begin serving Atlantic City International Airport on April 1 with daily flights from its Chicago and Houston hubs. Service will start modestly, with only one flight per day from each city using small, 50-passenger jets.
Although United is cautiously entering the Atlantic City market, a coalition of government agencies and the casino industry is planning an ambitious marketing campaign, costing more than $1 million, to promote the flights. The goal is to showcase Atlantic City and make it appealing enough for scores of tourists and business travelers to want to fly here.
“It’s an introduction campaign — ‘Here’s the Atlantic City market,’” said Jeff Guaracino, spokesman for the Atlantic City Alliance, the marketing arm of the casino industry. “The real opportunity is to open Atlantic City to the rest of the world.”
The alliance is best known for creating the “Do AC” advertising campaign, a splashy, high-energy attempt to portray Atlantic City as an upscale tourist destination that offers far more than casino gambling. Do AC’s advertising push has been limited to the Northeast so far, but now the concept will be exported to Chicago and Houston to stir interest in the United flights.
“Our close-by markets pretty much know Atlantic City through the Do AC campaign the past two years. The Chicago and Houston markets, in particular, and the travelers who use the airport facilities in those cities, do not,” Guaracino said.
The alliance is kicking in an undisclosed amount of money for its part of the marketing campaign. It will fly media representatives from Houston and Chicago to Atlantic City, hold a press event in Chicago and promote the flights through social media. DJs from radio stations in Chicago and Houston will be brought to Atlantic City to tell their listeners about the resort’s tourist attractions.
One ad that will run in the Chicago and Houston markets features a scene of the crowded Boardwalk with the beaches and ocean as the backdrop. Underneath the photo is a listing of Atlantic City attractions, headed by the beaches, the Boardwalk, the Miss America Competition and casino gambling.
Guaracino said the bulk of the promotional campaign for the Chicago and Houston markets will be $1 million in Atlantic City-themed advertising this year financed by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the state agency that oversees the Atlantic City Tourism District.
Other government agencies will have a role in promoting Atlantic City and the United flights, but their efforts are aimed at New Jersey travelers. The idea is to make New Jersey airline passengers aware they will be able to fly nonstop to Chicago and Houston and make connections through United’s national and international route systems.
Already, new billboards and newspaper advertisements catering to the New Jersey market beckon travelers with the words, “Need to get away? Fly United from Atlantic City.” The newspaper ads depict all the connections that are available through Chicago and Houston. Radio spots and television ads will also tout United’s presence at Atlantic City International.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Atlantic City International, is teaming with the airport’s owner, the South Jersey Transportation Authority, for the local part of the marketing campaign. E.J. Mullins, the Port Authority’s interim general manager for Atlantic City International, said the SJTA plans to spend about $120,000 to promote the outbound flights to Houston and Chicago.
“When we talk to airlines, they’re looking to know and understand what the community is like and what the community can do to bring passengers to that airline,” Mullins said.
A strategy meeting for the promotional campaign was held Feb. 12 at the Port Authority’s Newark office. It included representatives of the Port Authority, the CRDA, the Atlantic City Alliance, United marketing executives from Houston and Chicago, and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, Mullins said.
Mullins said the Port Authority and SJTA have been working closely with the casinos, a golfing association, shopping malls and other Atlantic City-area businesses to capitalize on the United flights.
“It’s unprecedented cooperation between the airport and the community it serves,” he said. “It’s going to be a model going forward as we talk to other carriers.”
Separately, United will be doing its own promotions. The airline is also making a multimillion-dollar investment in aircraft, computer equipment and staff to get the service started, Mullins said.
United is collaborating with the casinos for hotel and air packages. One special offer includes discounted airfare for casino customers, Mullins said.
“They haven’t offered that to any other cities, including Las Vegas,” he said of the discounted casino fares.
United’s flights are being counted on to expand the Atlantic City tourist market beyond the typical daytrippers who arrive by car or bus and spend only a few hours in town, usually at the casinos. Currently, the airport supplies only about 1 percent of the city’s nearly 27 million annual visitors. Atlantic City tourism officials hope the Chicago and Houston flights will bring more conventioneers, business travelers and vacationers who want to stay a few nights.
The Atlantic City Alliance has a $1 million annual subsidy program to entice conventions and meetings to town. Overall, the convention subsidy, the United flights and a promotions campaign for Atlantic City’s special events will be a catalyst for more business, Guaracino said.
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