Conventions play a key role in filling hotel rooms and keeping restaurants busy in Atlantic County outside of the summer vacation season.

Starting Friday and through Sunday, 30,000 people are expected to make their way to the 45th annual Atlantic City Auction and Car Show at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

More than 400 cars will be on display, and vehicles will be for sale inside the car corral.

It is the first big industry show of the year that is also open to the public, and one of the largest conventions the Convention Center will host.

“Midweek, off-season conventions are very important to the marketplace,” said Joseph D. Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

Particularly at this time of year, these events can introduce people to Atlantic City, said Brian Tyrrell, professor of hospitality and tourism management studies at Stockton University in Galloway Township.

A 2013 survey showed about 11 percent of Atlantic City visitors’ primary reason for coming to the resort was to attend a special event, such as a convention, Tyrrell said.

A more recent survey showed for an additional 10 percent, the convention or special event was the secondary reason they came to Atlantic City, he said.

“That’s one in five people coming to Atlantic City,” Tyrrell said. “I think they (conventions) are very important to the city, especially when we can use the hotel occupancy.”

The 30,000 people who will be in town this weekend for the car show are expected to have a $4 million impact on Atlantic County, said Jim Wood, chief executive officer of Meet AC, the sales and marketing body that supports the Convention Center.

The car show is the first of the four conventions between now and June that will attract at least 20,000 people each and be open to both industry professionals and the public.

The Progressive Atlantic City Boat Show 2018 will take place Feb. 28 to March 4. The 33,000 people expected to attend are estimated to generate $5.2 million in the county, Wood said.

The Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival on March 23-24 is estimated to bring 24,000 people into town, who will have a $3 million economic impact on the county, Wood said.

The AnimeNEXT convention June 8-10 should attract 30,000 fans. They are expected to spend $4.9 million within the county, Wood said.

During this month, the combined estimated economic impact is expected to reach more than $20 million, with more than 7,450 hotel room nights contracted over the course of the month due to six conventions.

Madeleine Henry, assistant manager at Dock’s Oyster House, a 121-year-old institution, said conventions have a “100 percent positive” impact on business, especially during a month such as February, when shore tourism is slow.

The car show has been held at either the Convention Center or Boardwalk Hall for decades.

Some attendees stop at the restaurant to eat dinner every time they come to the convention, Henry said.

“We do see a lot of repeat business during these larger conventions,” Henry said. “I would say probably 60 percent of the reservations that we have this weekend are for the car show. I think the conventions help the city all around.”

The Convention Center will host about the same number of conventions this year as last year, Wood said.

Convention Center revenue is expected to increase this year because Wood sees some conventions being able to attract more people this year than last year, such as bringing in 15,000 people this year compared with 10,000 people last year.

Many of the conventions that come to the Convention Center are under multiple-year contracts and have been coming for years, if not decades.

AnimeNEXT is one of the newer ones. Its arrival in June will only be its third appearance in Atlantic City, said Dean Dennis, the Convention Center’s general manager, who was hired in January 2017.

One of the new conventions brought to the Convention Center during Dennis’ short tenure was the industry-only trade show Pizza and Pasta Northeast Expo, which he said would return this October.

Conventions are also held at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, but the Convention Center is the destination when maximum gross exhibit space is needed, Wood said.

“The clients, some of them want to be in a hotel environment, a casino environment, and some don’t,” said Dennis about the people who do the booking of the convention. “Some need a larger space. We’re pretty flexible, so we can fit a lot of different people.”

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Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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