Jeff Vasser, executive director for the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, told the Press of Atlantic City this week that the beachfront casino town is the state’s best asset in increasing visitation.

When the governor comes in and says ‘I want 150 million visitors,’ he knows it has to come from Atlantic City. The only way we’re going to get there is a strong Atlantic City,” Vasser stated.

According to the state agency, New Jersey welcomed nearly 111 million visitors last year, who spent more than $22 billion. Atlantic City was responsible for 43 percent of the overnight guests.

Atlantic City Fueling Surge

The 111 million people who ventured to New Jersey last year was a 7.4 percent premium on 2017. The June 2018 openings of Hard Rock and Ocean Casino – respectively the former Taj Mahal and Revel properties on the northern end of the Boardwalk – helped attract more visitors.

The two casino reopenings increased room supply by 25 percent, and people came to see the renovated properties.

In the first quarter of 2019, the number of occupied room nights totaled 951,017. That’s 151,140 more room nights than in the same three-month period in 2018.

However, the overall occupancy rate has dipped from 77.9 percent to 72.6 percent due to Hard Rock’s 1,971 rooms and Ocean’s 1,399 occupancies. But the average nightly rate has increased from $121.47 to $125.78.

Atlantic City continues its resurgence and stabilization following the closure of five casinos between 2014 through 2016. Gross gaming revenue from land-based and online casinos totaled $2.8 billion in 2018. With sports betting revenue, total win eclipsed $2.9 billion – a 9.2 percent year-over-year increase.

Tourism Outlook

New Jersey has seen visitation climb in each of the past five years. The state welcomed 89.24 million people in 2013, meaning last year marked a 24 percent jump in just five years.

Murphy wants another 25 percent gain by 2023. The Democrat took office in January 2018 and announced the tourism goal as one of his main missions.

Vasser says one area Atlantic City can improve on is the convention business. “There are very few destinations in the state that are focused on the meetings and conventions market,” he said.

That, Vasser believes, could be a big draw for Atlantic City. The days where people in neighboring states needed to travel to Atlantic City to find a slot machine are long gone, and diversifying the gaming town is viewed as one way to keep luring in travelers and businesspeople.

Meet AC is tasked with bringing such events to town. The agency says 238 meetings and conventions were booked last year, which will generate an estimated 371.996 hotel room nights in the coming years.

Meet AC’s annual review concluded, “Convention business in Atlantic City has been and continues to be on a steady rise. Meeting planners are showing an increased level of confidence by signing multi-year agreements with the Atlantic City Convention Center. Also, the sports segment has grown since the Atlantic City Sports Commission launched in 2015, along with the interest in esports.”

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This article was originally written by Devin O’Connor for Casino.org