Atlantic City looks to move beyond gambling

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Tourism representatives from the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority (ACC&VA) want to get the message out that it's not only about gambling here.

Speros Batistatos, president and chief executive officer, and Jim Zaleski, vice president of communica-tions for the ACC&VA, are out to change the image of an Atlantic City vacation.

"We want to offer more and different experiences for visitors so people will stay longer," Batistatos said.

The ACC&VA is planning advertising campaigns that focus less on the convention center and the resort's 12 casinos and more on what the consumer can do in the greater Atlantic City region, specifically in Cape May and the Wildwoods.

"We are exploring a cooperative television ad campaign with the South Jersey Transportation Authority," Zaleski said. "We are also looking to move into more consumer-oriented publications and market-specific daily publications within the next year or so."

The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority is promoting the many recreational opportunities in the region. Additionally, the South Jersey Transportation Authority and Continental Express announced an agreement to begin service between Cleveland and Atlantic City.

The service is slated to launch June 14 with three roundtrips daily. The flights will provide connections to cities throughout the Midwest, Southwest and the West Coast as well as Florida.

According to the officials, there is much to do in the Atlantic City area, from the nearby Brigantines, where bottlenose dolphins are sighted from May to October, to Cape May at the Jersey shore's southern tip, a 45- minute drive on the Garden State Parkway.

Cape May is rich with history. Victorian homes, many used as bed-and-breakfasts, line the streets that lead to the beach, an outdoor shopping mall and restaurants. Dolphin- and whale-watching excursions also are available. "We want to make sure people are aware of the eco-tourism opportunities that exist," Zaleski said.

There also are golf courses and art galleries in the area.

Between Atlantic City and Cape May lie the Wildwoods, which boast five miles of beaches, a two-mile boardwalk with amusement rides, water parks, shopping and dining.

"People need to want to come [to the Atlantic City area] for more than just their convention," said Zaleski.

According to the ACC&VA, Atlantic City hosts 33.8 million visitors a year and is the fourth most-visited destination in the U.S.

The ACC&VA brings together the region's varied components to create travel agent packages, according to Zaleski.

"With our hotel and casino partners, we also host a number of fams for travel agents," he said.

There are 16,000 hotel rooms in Atlantic City. By 2005, the ACC&VA expects that number to rise to 20,000. According to Batistatos, the average occupancy rate here is between 90% and 94%.

"The city itself is changing, but it's not being told nationally," said Zaleski.

Among the changes that could influence tourism are increased funding for rebuilding the city's neighborhoods and a $13 million project to enhance the resort's sidewalks and thoroughfares.

In addition, the historic Boardwalk Convention Hall, home of the Miss America Pageant, is undergoing the final phase of a $95 million rehabilitation. Scheduled to open in the fall, the building will accommodate 12,000 people and host some 150 events a year.

Atlantic City is one hour from Philadelphia, two hours from New York and two-and-a-half hours from Washington.

For more information, call (609) 449-7126 or visit the Web at www.atlanticcitynj.com.

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