Statistics and numbers regarding last week’s Atlantic City Airshow have yet to be tallied, but public and private officials said the move to a Friday appears to have been a success.
Returning the show to Wednesday, however, appears to the the preference.
“Every indication we get is that it will be back to a midweek schedule the next couple of years,” said Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, which coordinates the airshow.
Dave Schultz, whose Dave Schutlz Airshows company coordinates the show, said it is very likely the show will return to Wednesday next year.
This year’s show was held on Friday to accommodate the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the show’s main attraction. But is a Friday a better show day than a Wednesday?
“We’re asking the same question,” Kelly said. For that reason, the chamber has commissioned a study by Richard Perniciaro, director of the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College, who will update a 2008 economic impact analysis of the show.
“I think we’re right on track,” Kelly said. “Without the benefit of a study, my opinion is that it was very consistent with last year. ... We had a strategy to put in place on different fronts so that the midweek business would piggyback off of the Friday show.”
Thanks in part to Wednesday’s Atlantic City Salutes the Armed Forces Parade and Thursday’s practice day, he said, “From the soundbites I’ve heard, mid-week throughout the city, a lot of (hotels) sold out. I can’t validate that yet, but that’s the soundbite. ... We’ve been very successful in driving mid-week business even with a Friday (date), with people coming Wednesday and Thursday and extending their weekend.”
Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority President Jeff Vasser had predicted that the show would lead into a “record weekend for Atlantic City”, including Saturday’s Marc Antony concert at Boardwalk Hall and the fantasy football event at the Convention Center.
“Hopefully, fantasy football people came early for the airshow and people who came for the airshow stay for fantasy football,” Vasser said. “It’s a great synergy of a weekend kick-off.”
As for the future, though, “All things being equal, you’d love to have the show mid-week,” he said. “There’s more capacity mid-week. ... If you ask people, ‘Would you rather have it on a Wednesday, as normal?’, they’d say, ‘Yeah, probably.’ A spike mid-week is even more appreciated. But it wasn’t to be. It’s more important to have the best show we could have.”
The plan, Vasser added, is to have a discussion sometime this week about a return to the mid-week date, “to sit down and talk about what makes sense.”
Airshow organizer Schultz was a little more solid on the date, saying that “the plan for next year, right now, would be for a Wednesday event next August. In ’13, that’s what we’re going for. In ’14, it’s still up in the air on a potential date. That depends on some coordination of efforts with the chamber.”
As for how those numbers are broken down, Israel Posner, the executive director of Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, said that it was not the total number of “eyeballs looking in the sky” but actual revenue that is important.
“Every hotel room in town is booked,” Posner said, “but then they’re always booked on weekends. The difference with the airshow is that the average daily rates are significantly up. It’s not a question of occupancy, it’s a question of rates.”
This year’s airshow, he said, “is basically a Super Bowl-type weekend overlaying what is a great weekend generally. This weekend in August is a peak weekend for a lot of vacations. ... What we have here is a significant opportunity for enhanced revenue from a much greater demand. At the end of the day, what matters is not the number of people in town, but the spending level of the people in town.”
Posner added that they won’t know what those specific revenue and occupancy numbers are until the chamber’s study is released, which won’t be for some time. South Jersey Transit Authority spokesman Kevin Rehmann also cautioned that its numbers for travel and ridership also wouldn’t be available until at least Monday, but anecdotal reports did not reveal any major issues for the Friday date.
“After every report I got, and everyone I spoke to, there’s no issues I’m aware of,” Rehmann said Friday evening. “Everything seems to be running as smoothly as can be. This is conjecture, but that may be because a lot of people made it an event, a weekend-(long) thing.”
One interesting detail, he added, was that “Anecdotally, I didn’t think there was a big traffic spike on Thursday for the practice. That’s really surprising. Maybe people couldn’t get off from work, but that’s the best day to go.”
As to whether a Friday show brought increased traffic than in past years, Schultz, for one, said that the area “definitely had more folks on the road on a Friday, though I don’t know if they were trying to get into Atlantic City or were going through to other shore points.”
Schultz, at least, seemed very positive that the number of boats watching the event from the water was more than usual.
“I have never seen so many boats off Atlantic City, and that can be attributed to (being on a) Friday,” Schultz said. “There were well over 700 boats out there. Last year, there were about 480. By noontime it was amazing to see.”
Whatever day it is, the planning for future shows is an ongoing process.
“Shows of this magnitude don’t take 30 days to plan, or six months, they take years to plan,” Schultz said. “And we’re looking to bring in other performers that haven’t been seen in Atlantic City in some time.”
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