By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
In an encouraging sign for Atlantic City tourism on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, new polling results show a big drop in the number of people who mistakenly believe that the Boardwalk was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
The Atlantic City Alliance, a marketing coalition funded by the casinos, has been fighting public perceptions and erroneous news reports that the iconic Boardwalk was swept away and much of the town was heavily damaged by the Oct. 29 hurricane.
A new poll conducted for the alliance by the New Jersey-based Russell Research indicates a significant decrease, both nationwide and in key Atlantic City feeder markets, in people who still believe the Boardwalk was destroyed.
Nationwide, the impression that the Boardwalk was destroyed is down from 41 percent to 15 percent and has dropped from 53 percent to 14 percent in feeder markets along the Northeast corridor, the poll found.
Jeff Guaracino, an alliance spokesman, said the polling results represent good news as the city prepares for the holiday weekend, the traditional start of Atlantic City’s peak summer tourism season.
“It was urgent to correct people’s perception about the status of our Boardwalk,” Guaracino said. “Shortly after the storm, 53 percent of the people in our core feeder markets believed our Boardwalk was destroyed. Today, that is down to 14 percent, an incredible shift in perception. This is the result of aggressive recovery campaigns from every casino, plus ACA’s recovery marketing campaigns that included TV, radio, public relations and social media.”
Gov. Chris Christie noted that Atlantic City and other Jersey Shore communities are building strength in Sandy’s aftermath and will be ready to welcome tourists this summer.
“New Jersey is back,” the governor proclaimed during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for the $35 million Margaritaville project at Resorts Casino Hotel. “We’re ready for summer. There’s nothing that will keep this state down if we all work together.”
The Atlantic City Alliance initially conducted polls in November and then in January to gauge the effectiveness of its post-Sandy tourism campaigns. The latest poll was done from May 17 to 20 to coincide with the arrival of Memorial Day weekend.
On behalf of the alliance, Russell Research polled 1,238 people online. Included was an additional sample of 200 people in the Northeast to reflect the tourists who live close to Atlantic City and would be more likely to visit. In the latest results, just 9 percent of the respondents mentioned that they had heard about the hurricane in Atlantic City, compared to 20 percent in January’s poll.
“Comments about the superstorm related to Atlantic City are now at whisper level,” Guaracino said.
Most of Atlantic City escaped the brunt of the hurricane, although the casinos were closed for a week while the governor maintained an evacuation order to assist in recovery efforts. Many homes were flooded, but the main tourist attractions — the casinos, the Boardwalk and the shopping areas — had little damage.
Some national TV news outlets mistakenly reported that the entire Boardwalk was destroyed. They showed footage of a small section of the Boardwalk, in an area far away from the central tourist district, that had been damaged by previous storms and was already condemned.
The alliance has been working to reverse perceptions of hurricane damage while trying to lure back tourists to town with its widely publicized “Do AC” advertising campaign.
“The effort was swift, focused and, yet, the job is still not done,” Guaracino said. “We will continue to use every opportunity to promote not only an open Atlantic City, but a better and more fun Atlantic City with more to do.”
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