Atlantic City is by no means past its problems, but tourism industry indicators point to some small gains in the first quarter of 2013, a report released Monday shows.
The latest data provided by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming Hospitality and Tourism at Richard Stockton College show money collected for the resort's luxury tax is up 2.3 percent over the first quarter of 2012, while the Atlantic County hotel occupancy tax collection is up 11 percent. Parking fees collected in the resort, however, were down nearly 8 percent.
Officials touted the data as reason to be "cautiously optimistic" that performance will continue to improve in the coming months, as the resort may finally be seeing relief from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. The storm caused a city shutdown and the second evacuation in the resort's history.
The improvements come for different reasons, said Brian Tyrrell, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management at Stockton, who worked on the report. Growth in the luxury tax - levied at 3 percent on alcohol sold by the drink and 9 percent on other sales, including entertainment purchases - suggests discretionary spending has rebounded somewhat from the hit it took immediately after the storm.
The nearly 11 percent gain seen from the hotel occupancy tax, however, is mostly attributed to gains still seen in January as people displaced by Hurricane Sandy still were staying in area hotels. March saw almost no change compared to the same month last year, with the hotel occupancy fee money increasing less than 1 percent.
"Overall, the hotel occupancy tax is up, but it's kind of an end to the Sandy-induced bump we've seen," Tyrrell said. "We're nearly flat in March, and that may give some indication that the worst is over."
Stockton developed the report, largely based on Casino Control Commission data, earlier this year as a way to help better gauge the overall health of the resort outside gambling revenues.
Monthly figures released by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement on Monday showed casino revenue in May down 4 percent compared to the same month last year. Casino revenue dipped in each of the first five months of 2013, paving the way for a seventh consecutive year of casino revenue declines.
Israel Posner, executive director of the Levenson Institute, said the luxury tax indicator, specific to Atlantic City, is currently one of the best indicators of how many people are coming to the resort to enjoy entertainment other than gambling.
"It's a sign of what Atlantic City can become rather than a focus on just the casinos," he said.
Tyrrell, however, however, acknowledged while the luxury and hotel occupancy taxes have remained constant, the report does not take into account any adjustment for inflation.
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Tourism Industry Indicators
Source: First Quarter Report by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey