I travelled to Atlantic City this week to appear on the popular Harry Hurley talk radio show on WPG, which stands for World’s Play Ground, a leftover moniker from a time gone by. Since I had to be up early in the morning, I was put up in Resorts International.
My father was born and raised in Atlantic City, but I am not an “AC guy,” meaning I don’t gamble and I have a family. Ocean City is my shore resort of choice. I’m not certain anyone in the area chooses Atlantic City for the summer or for the week, just for the night or a wild weekend. But I checked and found there was a pool at Resorts and so I brought the wife and kids. They could stay safe poolside, while I made my radio appearance, and then we would head to Ocean City for the rest of the day.
At least that was the plan.
We ended up staying in Atlantic City for another night. We went to the beach, hit the rides on Steel Pier, walked the boardwalk and ate at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaretville to hear live music.
Resorts Hotel was perfect. The pool was kid-friendly and the place was spotless. It is no wonder that Atlantic City’s first hotel-casino thrives while others come and go. Resorts has shown a profit the past six months, while other casinos operate in the red and three may be closing.
My experience gives a glimpse at both the problem and the solution for Atlantic City, as it struggles to reinvent itself. Most cars packed with suitcases, boogie boards and beach toys take the turn at 7s on the Atlantic City Expressway, avoiding Atlantic City for the Garden State Parkway South and a coast full of more family-friendly communities from Margate to Cape May. Like me, most have probably not stepped foot into Atlantic City for years. And if they do, they go to their meeting, show, or casino and then get the hell out of dodge. But their perception of Atlantic City as dirty, crime-ridden and all-adult may be wrong, or at least changing, based on my 48-hour stay in AC.
Based on the two-day stay, I humbly make the following suggestions to Atlantic City, in its attempt to rise once again.
Show Families Having Fun
You already have the Casino and Nightlife image, but that appeal is limited and short-lived. Casino goers have more options, and the party crowd grows older, gets married and joins the crowd making the turn at 7s. Start marketing Atlantic City as a family destination. Run commercials showing families holding hands on the boardwalk and having fun in hotel pools. Show kids building sand castles on the beach and riding the boardwalks rides. Those images are powerful and will help change the city’s image.
Show Golfing and Shopping for Dad and Mom
In the ads, show the parents golfing and shopping. Some of the best golf courses in the area are minutes from Atlantic City, including The Atlantic City Country Club, rated the state’s best public course by Golf Styles. The Pier Shops at Caesars has Gucci, Luis Vitton and Tiffany’s. The Tanger Outlets, as you drive into town, have Coach, Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole. Nothing comes close down the shore.
So to sum up the above two suggestions, an Atlantic City commercial would show kids on the beach, a family on the boardwalk, golfing, shopping, diving into a pool, parasailing, a helicopter ride, dinner at great restaurants, live music and dancing, a big concert and at the end Mom and Dad sharing a glass of wine on a deck over looking the ocean. And not once do you show gambling (because they already know its there.) Now more…
Get Back to Basics
Resorts International Atlantic City has figured out the secret to success - clean hotel and rooms, friendly staff and prompt service. It’s not brain surgery. Resorts AC President and CEO Mark Giannantonio agrees, “We need to get back to the fundamentals, the blocking and tackling of the hotel business, to change the perception of what an Atlantic City Casino looks like.” Color my perception changed.
Market Four-Star Quality at Discount Costs
If you rent a house for a week in Ocean City, Sea Isle, Avalon, etc, it can cost thousands and there are no extras. At Resorts, for instance, you can get a room for about $130 dollars a night and sometimes less. It comes with a pool, shops, beach, restaurants and boardwalk access and it is steps from the rides and games at Steel Pier. The Taj Mahal next door is right across from the rides and has a walkway above the boardwalk. No laundry or cleaning for you, either, as the hotels, of course, come with laundry service, maid service and room service. And parking is $5 dollars.
Build a Water Park
Atlantic City should have the biggest, best water park in the United States back by the bay. I suggest that because the first thing my 10-year old asked when we were driving there was, “Do they have a water park?” I answered, “Of course they do.” They don’t. Why not? A water park would attract families from all over and they would see that Atlantic City is a family destination.
Change the Boardwalk Stores
Get rid of some of the fortunetellers and massage parlors and replace them with shore food and snacks, arcades and miniature golf. Atlantic City doesn’t have to become the Ocean City boardwalk, nor should it try. Ocean City’s moniker is America’s Greatest Family Resort, Atlantic City should have the best of both worlds, family and adult entertainment. Right now, it is still a little short on the family part.
Implement Beach Tags
This is the most controversial of the proposals, but important. If the beaches are to be family-friendly, you need to get rid of the homeless sleeping on the beach and the drunken men who come off the boards to dive in the water with their jeans on. Checking for beach tags is an easy way to do just that. It will also raise extra revenue for a cash-strapped city. Casino-hotels could buy tags in bulk at a season rate and give them to guests with a room deposit. The biggest problem is that poorer families who live in Atlantic City year-round deserve free access. To solve that problem, there should also be designated city beaches, much like city parks, open to all for free.
Atlantic City hurt Las Vegas when Resorts opened in Atlantic City on May 26th, 1978. Other AC casinos quickly followed. It took Las Vegas years to change its image and regain its title as king of casino gambling. A Las Vegas Sun article reminds, “After flirting with family-friendly attractions in the 1990s, Las Vegas embraced its roots as an adult playground, cementing its image as a brief, whirlwind escape for adults rather than a place to spend a leisurely week with a family.” Atlantic City tried to play catch-up with shows and shops, but it’s not working.
It is time to change strategy.
The concept that failed for Las Vegas in the ’90s can work for Atlantic City now. Families were never going to head to Nevada, but they already head to the Jersey Shore by the tens of thousands. They just avoid Atlantic City. In reality, the city is already family-friendly and becoming more so, but that’s not the perception of most. My perception has already changed and my family is already planning a return for an extended visit. Maybe with a few changes and a new marketing campaign, Atlantic City can make perception match reality for everyone else too. Or just drive past the Garden State Parkway exit and see for yourself.
Maybe I’ll see you poolside.
Heading to A.C.? Tell @LarryMendte on Twitter.