Air, convention stats looking up for Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - November 28, 2010

Atlantic City International Airport expects to see more than 1.4 million passengers by the end of this year, the most ever.

And people who made reservations this year to attend conventions in Atlantic City in the next few years are up a whopping 73 percent, to nearly a half-million. Those conventioneers are forecast to spend more than $169 million.

"Current trends are for shorter trips closer to home, and that bodes well for Atlantic City," said Jeff Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. "We are ideally situated to capture that market because we're so close to New York, Philly, Washington and Boston. We are definitely seeing upticks."

The projected increases are encouraging for Atlantic City, which is in the fourth straight year of a casino revenue decline caused by the emergence of casinos in neighboring states and worsened by the recession.

The airport had handled more than 1.2 million passengers as of the end of October, an increase of more than 31 percent over the first 10 months of 2009.

The increase is attributed mainly to the addition of AirTran shuttle service connecting to its Atlanta hub, which makes Atlantic City more accessible to far-flung markets, as well as an aggressive marketing campaign.

Plans are being finalized to break ground on a Federal Inspection Station that will expand the airport terminal with the facilities necessary to process international flights. Airport officials envision service to the Caribbean, Mexico and other leisure destinations.

While 2010 was a tough year for the Atlantic City Convention Center, the good news is that many more people have made plans to attend a convention here in the next few years.

Through the end of October, more than 440,371 attendees had signed up for conventions to be held over the next five years. That's up 73 percent from the nearly 254,000 who had done so in the first 10 months of 2009.

Those convention attendees are projected to spend more than $169 million while they're here, according to industry formulas used nationwide in the convention industry.

One group that signed up to hold a convention here in 2013 is the International Code Council. Focusing on building safety and fire prevention, the group develops the codes and standards used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools.

Its convention is expected to bring 1,500 attendees who have booked 6,350 hotel room nights. They are projected to spend more than $3.6 million while they're here.

Richard Weiland, the council's CEO, said the group chose Atlantic City for a number of reasons.

"We are impressed with the convention center site's strong commitment to energy conservation and green practices, and the revitalized promenade connecting the conference location to the famous Boardwalk," he said.

Even the struggles of the convention center this year have a silver lining in that the worst seems to be over - and it wasn't all that bad, according to Gary Musich, the visitors authority's vice president of convention development.

Through October, the number of attendees was 253,535, down 14 percent from the same period last year, and delegate spending was down 13 percent, to $96.4 million.

Those numbers reflect reservations made mostly in 2008-9, during the height of the recession, Musich said.

"We knew 2010 was going to be the toughest year," he said. "We weathered it pretty well. We've bottomed out, and we're starting to see growth again. The market is definitely coming back."

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