|By Donald Wittkowski, The Press of
Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 11, 2012 --Atlantic City's casino-funded marketing coalition is offering a $1 million cash incentive to attract new conventions to town next year in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Although the casinos and other major tourist attractions largely escaped the hurricane with little or no damage, at least nine conventions and other groups canceled their bookings because of the storm. Most events have been rescheduled for 2013, according to the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.
As an added incentive, the Atlantic City Alliance announced Monday it has started a $1 million incentive program to entice more conventions and group business. The program is part of the alliance's "Do Anything, Do Everything, Do AC" publicity campaign.
"This program is an example of our commitment to planners and buyers that Atlantic City is a profitable place to do business," the alliance said in a news release.
Under the program, new conventions or other groups must meet in Atlantic City in 2013. The business must generate at least 1,000 room nights at a casino hotel. Priority will be given to midweek, nonsummer and first-time business -- a way to fill in gaps during normally slow times of year.
Meetings or groups may use facilities at the Atlantic City Convention Center, Boardwalk Hall or the 12 casino hotels. Priority will be given to groups that hold events at the convention facilities.
Other guidelines, including a formula for distributing the money, are under development, alliance spokesman Jeff Guaracino said. He said the money could be tailor-made for a single convention's needs, although he also noted the $1 million will likely be distributed among multiple groups.
"It really depends on a group or a meeting to make it successful. It's very individualized," Guaracino said. "That money could be divvied up any number of ways. We will look toward those groups that will generate economic impact for Atlantic City in the most immediate way.
"The whole goal is to get as many meetings and conventions in here as possible," he said. "It's really designed to get business here now."
Liza Cartmell, the alliance's president, said the program demonstrates a more comprehensive approach toward helping "the business side of tourism." Early on, the casino executives who make up the alliance's board of directors recognized the importance of conventions and group business for Atlantic City visitation, she said.
The convention incentives could be used in any number of ways to defray expenses that "can get in the way of a meeting planner," Cartmell said. Transportation from the airport, receptions, rent, electric bills, and food and beverage expenses are some of the costs that might be subsidized, she noted.
The alliance, a private marketing arm financed by the casino industry, has launched the incentive program with the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. Guaracino and Gary Musich, the authority's vice president of convention sales, are scheduled to be in Toronto today to make a presentation to an advisory group of travel and meetings planners created by American Express.
"The bigger point is to get this out there in an aggressive way to people who can buy travel or make decisions in the group and meetings business," Guaracino said.
The new incentives program is part of efforts to repair damage to the city's image. Atlantic City continues to crawl back from the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, including what the alliance denounced as incorrect reports by the national media that claimed the Boardwalk had been destroyed.
"Atlantic City's national image took a hit due to sensational, out-of-context and erroneous news reports about the famed Atlantic City Boardwalk, which is still intact and as beautiful as ever," the alliance said in its release. "Atlantic City's recovery campaign seeks to promote Atlantic City as 'open for business' while being sensitive that nearby towns along New Jersey's shoreline did sustain serious and long-term damage."
Casinos are giving the alliance $30 million per year over a five-year period. Up to this point, the alliance has focused on marketing and advertising campaigns to promote Atlantic City tourism. It has also helped to finance special events and public art projects. The convention incentives program broadens its reach.
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