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Report by Vantage Strategy Indicates Tourism Spending in New Jersey is Down by 9 Percent

By Michael Clark, The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

March 26, 2011--ATLANTIC CITY -- When it comes to tourism revenue, there's Atlantic City, and then there's everyone else.

A study of last year's revenue shows New Jersey's tourism industry outside Atlantic County seeing more improvement than the gambling region in almost every spending category, including accommodations, food and entertainment.

One of the largest disparities between Atlantic County and the rest of the state came in retail spending, where Atlantic County slipped about 11 percent, while the rest of New Jersey saw a near 5 percent increase. Food spending in Atlantic County was down about 11 percent, compared with a 1 percent increase in the rest of the state.

"They really are two dramatically different destinations," said Kenneth McGill, executive vice president of market research at Vantage Strategy, the Maryland-based marketing consultant that drafted the report.

However, McGill's data also showed that the average amount of money a tourist spends per day in New Jersey drops from $80 to $55 if Atlantic County is excluded from the equation.

"It's all about how you spin the statistics," said Janet Wagner, dean of the business school at Richard Stockton College. "They're still spending more in Atlantic City than anywhere else."

Total tourism spending across the state, including Atlantic County, Vantage data show, was down more than 9 percent, which McGill said was on par with national trends.

Some within Atlantic City's tourism industry refuted Vantage's findings.

"That goes against everything we've been seeing," said Don Marrandino, president Atlantic City's Caesars Entertainment Corp. casinos: Bally's Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah's Resort and Showboat Casino Hotel.

Marrandino has been a chief advocate for diversifying the city's tourism offerings beyond gambling, including increasing the use of Boardwalk Hall as a concert venue and drawing more sporting events to the city. He said data that he has seen show those efforts are paying off in the form of favorable ticket sales at The House of Blues in the Showboat and a rise in conventions in Atlantic City.

Some of those efforts also have been prompted by the Strategic Planning Committee, a group of Atlantic City residents, business owners and community and political leaders assembled by Mayor Lorenzo Langford that meets every six weeks to plan events and initiatives to re-energize the resort.

The only category in which Atlantic County performed better than the rest of the state is transportation spending, decreasing by only 0.2 percent, while transportation spending throughout the rest of the state dropped by about 8 percent. McGill said that was primarily the result of a decrease in air travel.

Jeff Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, said Atlantic City saw an increase in visitors last year, while McGill said overall visits to New Jersey were down 9 percent.

McGill's presentation was part of the final day of the Governor's Conference on Tourism, which began Wednesday. The conference included guest speakers, seminars, presentations and networking opportunities for industry stakeholders, with the goal of boosting tourism in New Jersey.

Topics included ecotourism, niche marketing, a pending bus tax, social media-driven promotional strategies and an in-state college scholarship for students pursuing careers in the tourism industry technology

The event also featured a speech by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who pledged the administration's commitment to Atlantic City to avoid the resort falling behind Pennsylvania in casino revenue.

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Copyright (c) 2011, The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.

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