A.C.'s Borgata is betting on the upscale visitor

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ATLANTIC CITY -- A monolithic glass structure now towers over this seaside casino city, dominating the skyline. Set to open this summer, the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa may also change the landscape of the tourism industry here.

"Our opportunity is to provide a trade-up destination for the current Atlantic City visitor and at the same time provide a welcome and wanted opportunity for the people who have rejected the Atlantic City product," said Borgata's CEO, Robert Boughner. "We believe there is a substantial amount of potential business among these people."

The Borgata is similar in appearance to the MGM Grand, the largest hotel in Las Vegas, which towers over the Nevada skyline. But the resemblance is more than surface. The Borgata is a joint venture between Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage -- and management said its goal is to attract a more upscale market for Atlantic City, a la Las Vegas.

"People were looking for a Las Vegas-style resort property in Atlantic City, but they weren't finding it," Boughner said. "The room product, the dining experience, the spa experience didn't meet their minimum standard."

When it opens in July (the exact date has not been announced), the Borgata will be the largest hotel in New Jersey with 2,002 rooms. It will be the first new hotel in Atlantic City in 13 years.

The Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa is set to open this summer.The $1 billion property will have 135,000 square feet of casino space, 11 restaurants, 11 retail shops, a European spa, a pool and garden, 70,000 square feet of events space, 145 gaming tables, 3,650 slot machines and 6,300 parking spaces.

The $15 million landscaping project is designed in a style that people have learned to associate with Las Vegas properties like the Mirage and the Bellagio, according to Boughner.

"There is a very fanciful entranceway, for a very fanciful and fun hotel," he said.

Although the Borgata is expansive, it was designed for easy internal navigation, Boughner said.

"The front desk is 100 steps from the valet parking front door," he said. "There are 15 high-speed elevators and five service elevators. The guest-room elevators are 70 steps from the front desk. No guests need walk more than 100 steps from the elevator to their room."

Rooms are designed in a contemporary European style in six categories, from the 460-square-foot Classic rooms to the largest, 5,000-square-foot Residences, with four styles of suites in between.

The Borgata was designed to do a large convention and meetings business -- and this expectation appears to be panning out, in spite of the troubled economy.

"We've done extremely well with the meetings market," Boughner said. "We've booked more than $16 million in [just] a few months."

The Borgata will open up new opportunities here for travel agents, said Boughner.

"The travel agent community has had little involvement with Atlantic City because [hoteliers] mainly market to their consumer databases," he said. "We believe, given the high level of advertising the Borgata will initiate this summer, there will be strong interest among the consumer market, which has no loyalty to a particular Atlantic City hotel. Accordingly, the travel agent is very important to us."

The Borgata will launch with a $15 million multimedia campaign in July and plug travel agents in its ads, Boughner said.

The customer care center will begin taking phone bookings at (866) MY-BORGATA after June 1. Commission is 15%. For more information, see www.theborgata.com.

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