Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read June 2021 — Meet AC, Atlantic City’s Convention Visitors Bureau, is a non-profit organization whose mission is convention development, helping to generate economic activity through the bookings of meetings, conventions, sporting events, film production and group tourism in Atlantic City. In an interview with Larry Sieg, president & CEO of Meet AC, he discussed the current demand for events at the Atlantic City Convention Center as well as his outlook for tourism and hospitality in Atlantic City.
What is the importance of the Atlantic City Convention Center to Atlantic City?
It’s a great generator of economic activity for Atlantic City. The economic impact of conventions and events at the Atlantic City Convention Center, such as the great number of room nights we bring to the city, are truly important to our industry partners. Meetings and conventions are the economic driver for many cities, including Atlantic City where casinos, restaurants, hotels, and retail benefit from the activity.
What differentiates Atlantic City from other regions in South Jersey?
Gaming is a big part of our community. We are the only gaming destination that sits on a beautiful beach on the Atlantic Ocean. That’s something that separates us apart from everybody. The rich history of Atlantic City also sets it apart from other destinations. For instance, people used to come to Atlantic City because the water was known to have medicinal purposes.
How does demand for the Convention Center today compare to pre-pandemic levels?
2019 was the best year for Meet AC, producing about 397,000 room nights for the local area. We were on pace to easily break 400,000 room nights in 2020 before COVID-19 hit. Now what we’re seeing is the pent-up demand for in-person meetings is becoming greater and greater.
We are on pace to do really well this year. We’re not going to have any problem meeting our goals. We have 169 events booked right now, which is on pace to 2019 levels. We’re actually booking through 2025, and we’ve even had requests for bookings in 2032.
We’re hosting the 2021 TEAMS Conference & Expo in September, an INTER[action] 2021 with over 800 American Express meeting professionals from across the world, and we’re also the host in 2022 for the annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Convention. We have some huge events coming, and we’re seeing a significant increase in the sports market with hopes of bringing some very large sporting events to the area.
What have been some silver linings of the pandemic for Meet AC?
There were some really positive things that came out of the pandemic. One, we realized that we can do hybrid meetings, and that’s going to enhance individual experiences and attendance for the meeting. Another area we’re excited about regards the national convention landscape. I think for a while we’re going to see larger national conventions break down into smaller, regional market meetings and conventions. That’s a perfect opportunity for Atlantic City because we are positioned well within driving distance of a third of the U.S. population. Smaller regional meetings work perfect for Atlantic City as we still are primarily a “drive” market.
Can you elaborate on the importance of sustainability to Meet AC and the Convention Center?
Over the past year, we’ve changed our narrative to talk more about sustainability in Atlantic City. We’re going to be hosting the Business Network of Offshore Wind Conference in 2022. We have the largest solar array panels on the east coast on top of the Atlantic City Convention Center. Sustainability is very important to us and we welcome the opportunity to create meaningful meetings together.
Ecotourism was a buzzword years ago, and it has now become regenerative tourism. We’re finding that meeting planners who want to come to the city don’t just want to host an event, but give back to the community as well. They may decide to do a beach clean up day or volunteer at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. They want to leave this world and region better than they found it. Corporate social responsibility will continue to be at the forefront of conversation.
What is your outlook for Atlantic City over the next 18-months?
Tourism is shaping up to perform well. A lot more people are vaccinated and feel comfortable going out. We actually saw a really good summer last year, and going into 2021 we’re seeing significant numbers of people on the boardwalk every day. This summer for Atlantic City is going to be booming, and we’re already seeing it starting.
There is significant investment coming to Atlantic City right now. AtlantiCare is building a brand new Medical Arts Pavilion. We’re working on bringing our first true supermarket to Atlantic City and should be breaking ground soon. The Showboat Hotel opened the Lucky Snake Arcade and Sports Bar, which is the largest arcade on the east coast. Showboat Hotel will also be breaking ground on a $100 million indoor and outdoor waterpark in the near future. Casinos are investing heavily into their properties as well. Caesars Atlantic City is doing a $400 million renovation and expansion. There are some other non-gaming amenities that will also be coming onboard soon, such as a miniature golf course and a new tiki boat departing out of Gardner’s Basin.
Now that New Jersey has legalized cannabis, new opportunities are being opened. We already are being contacted with regards to cannabis-focused conventions.
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