Last updated: 12:21 PM ET, Fri April 22 2016

Atlantic City Market Report: Travel Agents See Bookings on Rebound

Destination & Tourism | Lisa Iannucci | April 22, 2016

Atlantic City Market Report: Travel Agents See Bookings on Rebound

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority

Walking around Atlantic City, New Jersey is a traveler’s bag of mixed emotions. There are a bunch of empty buildings, from the once bustling Showboat Hotel & Casino to the little boarded up retail shops on the boardwalk.  Even on a gorgeous spring day, there isn’t a lot of pedestrian traffic cluttering that boardwalk the way there once was, even a decade ago.

It’s not news that Atlantic City is suffering. The New York Times reported this week that the city’s government is on the verge of running out of money (any day now actually), even after persuading its employees to defer their paychecks for four weeks. It’s a political standoff as legislation is introduced to help Atlantic City, but Governor Christie said he wouldn’t sign (as of this writing, AC seems to have a little breathing room and might be getting some assistance).

READ MORE: Beyond the Casinos: Strolling Atlantic City’s Famous Boardwalk

Four of the City’s 12 casinos already closed in 2014 and there is noticeable drop in gamblers. According to reports, the casino industry revenue has plunged in this beachfront community from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.56 billion last year.

Travel writers who are interested in visiting and writing about the city will have to rely on their own dime and not expect any courtesies from the hotels. This writer was told by an Atlantic City rep that there is an apprehension from the hotels about any negative publicity, so most are reluctant to host travel writers until things, hopefully, improve.

Suzanne Wolko, a luxury travel advisor with Arden Road Travel, said that she hasn’t done bookings for AC, but has traveled there for personal vacations. “I go to Atlantic City for the concerts, food events and spa at The Borgata and Water Club,” she said. “It’s a nice weekend away.”

Justin Wolfson, an independent travel consultant with Chubit Travel, does a great deal of client bookings in Atlantic City and said that his business is good.

“My Atlantic City bookings are focused more on younger guests, ages 21-30, who want to get away for the weekend or for a night,” he said. “I don’t see less people going to AC and I do think it is still a great place to send guests.”

Wolfson says that the hospitality market in AC is moving. “Revel is anticipated to come back soon with possibly a waterpark inside and I think it will give AC more activities for families to do and attract more families than gamblers and partiers,” he said.

Soon, he revealed, the Claridge Hotel is also scheduled to also open. “The Claridge is actually an older hotel that has been there for years,” Wolfson said. “Bally’s bought the property a couple of years ago and just as recent as two years ago, Claridge began to run as its own hotel again. It is a less expensive hotel to send clients. It does not have a casino like other hotels in Atlantic City are known for, but it is attached to Bally’s and Caesars.”

In other news, per a release, since its grand opening six months ago, the Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center has nearly doubled its booked meetings and conventions through 2019, and expects to bring nearly 300,000 conference attendees to Atlantic City. Total room nights booked is currently approaching 200,000 — up from 140,000 in September 2015 in its 2,590-room hotel.

“We heard a lot of excitement around the Waterfront Conference Center when it opened, and we’re really excited to see that translate into bookings that bring new customers to Atlantic City,” said Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events. “I’m confident that the Waterfront Conference Center will continue to be a game-changer for the meetings industry, grow non-gaming revenue and breathe new life into Atlantic City.”

While some doors close, others are opening. Small businesses such as Rita’s Ice Cream is opening on the boardwalk. Last year, Gordon Ramsay opened an outlet of his Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill inside Caesars and, according to the official website, it seats 250 and business has been bustling.

This past week, the film crew of “Wetlands,” a drama about an ex-Philadelphia cop who relocates down the shore in hopes of connecting with his estranged family, was filming scenes on the boardwalk. The movie, set to be released in 2017, will star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Thor: The Dark World”, “Suicide Squad”), Heather Graham (“Boogie Nights”), and Christopher McDonald (“Happy Gilmore”).

READ MORE: Christie Wants NJ to Take Control of Atlantic City’s Finances

From a traveler’s perspective, there is still a lot of fun stuff to do in Atlantic City outside of the slots and the poker tables, including visiting the Absecon Lighthouse — the third largest lighthouse in the country (take the challenge and walk the 250 spiral steps to the top), the iconic Lucy the Elephant, Boardwalk Hall Pipe Organ Tours, The Great American Variety Show, and of course, the beach. There’s always the beach.

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