Aviation enthusiasts are expected to crowd Atlantic City for the much-anticipated airshow later this week, but how long they will stay and how much money they will spend remains a question.
For the first time in its 10-year history, the Atlantic City Airshow, which draws hundreds of thousands of people, will be held on a Friday.
Past years have seen the spectacle held on a Wednesday. Given the event’s popularity, a few hospitality officials said they believed the event should have remained a midweek show rather than an early weekend one because Atlantic City already draws summer Friday crowds.
“Fridays are already pretty strong,” Tropicana Casino and Resort President Tony Rodio said.
Still, the event is expected to net profits for the tourism and hospitality industry. For instance, while many hotel rooms are already booked for Friday, resorts are able to charge more money due to their higher demand.
Other business sectors also have reported higher than usual interest in the Friday show compared with past years.
Starr Tours offered a $44.95 special bus package to customers in Trenton and Philadelphia who want to travel to the Atlantic City Airshow. Both buses, which hold 56 people each, had sold out last week with more than two dozen people on a waiting list should Starr decide to run another bus, Sandy Borowsky, a spokeswoman, said.
“It helps this year that the show is on a Friday,” Borowsky said. “It seems more people are going down to the shore.”
The buses never sold out last year, she said.
Atlantic City’s airshow has a good reputation in the industry. It is one of the few not held on a weekend. It also always features an elite military jet team, such as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds; in fact, the show was moved to Friday to accommodate their schedule. The Thunderbirds’ inclusion automatically ratchets the show into an elite event among the hundreds of airshows held every year across the country.
“That kind of moves it into a higher level of popularity,” Virginia-based International Council of Airshows President John Cudahy said of the military teams. “They represent the very best of airshow flying.”
Even without the airshow, the city was expected to be busier than typical. In addition to the summer crowd, many came out for last week’s Nik Wallenda high-wire act, and the Atlantic City Convention Center will play host to Football Fantasy Fest this weekend, a convention estimated to draw 25,000 sports fans Saturday and Sunday.
Many of those attendees presumably will head to the casinos to gamble.
“The fantasy football will speak to a good casino demographic,” said Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations for Borgata Hotel, adding that the combination of airshow and fantasy football convention “might make it a powerhouse weekend.”
Lupo also said Friday mornings are slower than Saturday, so having the airshow scheduled for that morning may be advantageous. It may encourage attendees to stay overnight several days, particularly because the practice run for the airshow is scheduled for Thursday. That practice itself draws crowds.
“We’ll see a lot of visitors Wednesday and Thursday,” Lupo said.
In either case, the airshow will undeniably bring in more crowds and tourism dollars than if it were not held.
“It can’t be worse,” said Richard Perniciaro, an Atlantic Cape Community College professor who is preparing an economic impact study of the airshow on behalf of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce. “It can only be better.”
In 2008, when Perniciaro last conducted an economic study, he and others estimated the airshow generated $56 million in revenues that would not otherwise have come to Atlantic City. That figure was based on a loose estimation of the crowds who come to see the show and daily visitor spending rates developed by a separate study that looked at how much money trade show participants spend.
Although watching the airshow is free — visible from the beach, Boardwalk, rooftop or other perch — some businesses are preparing package deals or using their locale to their advantage.
Last year, One Atlantic — which operates on the top floor of The Pier Shops at Caesars — drew several hundred people for a $30 promotion that gave airshow attendees an unparalleled view of the jets. This year, organizers revamped the promotion into one that charges $100 per person but capped the total number of people at about 200.
Interest has remained strong and the “Under the Thunder” promotion already has sold out, said Deanna Coppola, corporate sales manager for One Atlantic.
She said that in years past, once the airshow has ended, traffic on the roads would build as crowds would start to dissipate. But this year would appear to be different as many people seem to indicate an interest in staying, Coppola said.
“This year, the people I’m talking to seem to be staying,” she said. “We’ll see when we’re driving out on Friday,”
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