Catering to international visitors by adding direct flights from abroad to Atlantic City International Airport could increase tourism and business for the region, those gathered for the Jersey Shorecast conference were told Friday.

“People want to be able to travel easily to get to the destination that they are having their convention in,” said Larry Sieg, vice president of marketing with for Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.

Sieg was among the panelists Friday morning during the fifth annual conference at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township, which addressed marketing campaigns for Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties to attract tourists to the region as it recovers from Hurricane Sandy.

Sieg said the need for international visitors to fly into Philadelphia and make additional arrangements to get to Atlantic City can make reaching the resort seem impossible.

“It is a perception we struggle with on a daily basis,” he said.

Still, Sieg said, the region is seeing an increase in visitors from the United Kingdom and Canada, due in part to a grant from the state Office of Travel and Tourism to attract people from the two countries.

Additionally, there is an increase in interest in the Chinese and Latin markets, he said.

“I don’t want to completely focus on feeder markets and domestic (markets), because we need to look at the international visitors as well. Which, of course, takes me to the air service again,” Sieg said.

Diane Wieland, director of tourism for Cape May County, said an aging baby-boomer population, along with a large Canadian tourist population, requires a change in marketing.

A survey last year revealed that more than 430,000 Canadians, mostly from the province of Quebec, visited New Jersey — and 70 percent said their destination was Cape May County, Wieland said.

Canadians were responsible for a growth of 20 percent in lodging and 22 percent in spending in the county, she said.

The reason stems from the economic decline. Wieland said the stronger Canadian dollar has contributed to making visits to the United States more appealing.

“We will definitely see an increase in the retail market,” she said.

Additionally Friday, panelists discussed diversifying marketing angles to promote activities beyond gambling and going to the beach.

Though about 88 percent of visitors to Cape May County come for the beach, Wieland said baby boomers — who are no longer bound to school schedules — will visit the area during the off-season and require more activities for adults and couples.

Jeff Guaracino, spokesman for the Atlantic City Alliance, discussed the Do AC campaign’s targeting of various markets.

Guaracino said the campaign avoids the “vacuum” of gambling.

Lori Pepenella, director of the Long Beach Island Region Destination Marketing Organization, said there are no promises that the area will be completely ready for summer, because it is still recovering from Sandy, but the island is reporting 90 percent occupancy for the summer.

Information from representatives in all three counties indicated at least 80 percent of visitors will return to the shore area, as they have for the past 20 years on average.

“This is because we have developed the relationship,” Wieland said.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Grace Hanlon, executive director of the state Division of Travel and Tourism, said 2012 was an amazing year for tourism, with $80 billion in revenue returned to the state.

She added that the shore has seen the best of humanity in times of sadness throughout the recovery from Sandy.

“People worked very hard over the winter to get ready, and so now it's our job to get that message out,” she said. “I wish everyone luck this summer. You know, I'm pulling for you, (as are) the governor and lieutenant governor.”

Hanlon said positive publicity will include NBC’s “Today” show airing live from Seaside Heights with Gov. Chris Christie on Memorial Day weekend.

Friday’s event was hosted by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute for Gaming Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

An award for Press of Atlantic City columnist and WOND-AM 1400 radio host Pinky Kravitz started off the day. Israel Posner, executive director of the host institute, said Kravitz is “as iconic as the Boardwalk.”

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

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