The host city of a pool and spa trade show has suffered negative media mentions for the past few years. Recent headlines from major news organization include “The Last Hand: The Epic Bust of Atlantic City’s Gambling Economy,” “Atlantic City on the Brink,” “The Anatomy of Economic Aid to Atlantic City,” and “5 Charts That Show Just How Screwed Atlantic City Is,” to name a few. At about the same time, the name of the Atlantic City Pool & Spa Show, the regional convention for the Northeast industry, was changed to exclude the historic destination. In 2014, the event became The Pool & Spa Show, powered by the Northeast Spa & Pool Association, causing some to wonder if organizers were less committed to the venue it has occupied for more than 30 years.
But Atlantic City, N.J., officials are doing their best to stem the tide of negative press.
“Two and a half years ago, we actually announced that we were going to start to evolve as a destination, with less reliance on gaming, and more on other amenities,” said Gary Musich, vice president of sales for MeetAC and the Atlantic City Convention Center.
It’s true that the locale saw multiple casinos close and experienced a significant decrease in tourism, partly because gambling became legal in more jurisdictions across the United States, causing more competition to spring up in various locations.
In response, Atlantic City officials scrambled to find solutions. A few former casino properties have been purchased, and several renovated and reopened as non-gaming hotels.
“There are still eight major hotels, there are still 15,000 rooms, and we’re still going to have 24 million visitors here this year,” Musich said.
In total, more than $785 million worth of projects are under way, he said.
Weighing those developments against attendee and exhibitor interests is a concern for NESPA.
“For us, a lot of the fun summer stuff that you see on TV — that doesn’t apply to us,” said Trish McCormick, show manager for NESPA. “We have to make sure that January in Atlantic City is a fun place where our ... professionals want to be.”
One project that will benefit show attendees opened in June — the first phase of renovation of The Playground, which used to be The Pier Shops at Caesars.
“I am really excited about this because it’s something that impacts our [attendees] in January,” McCormick said. “An inside place with new features, restaurants, new family fun features, new musical venues.”
Atlantic City Convention Center enhancements also are on the horizon. Currently, a $1 million technology upgrade, focused on boosting the Wi-Fi in the exhibit halls, is being made. Other enhancements have included new concessions areas and new tables and chairs, and the bathrooms are scheduled for an overhaul.
The developments don’t guarantee that NESPA’s show will remain in Atlantic City forever, or even in the near future, despite the benefits that come with the long relationship show management has with the city.
“We’re not willing to talk beyond 2016 because we will re-evaluate that every single month,” McCormick said. “We are not making a long-term commitment to anything.”
Attendee registration will open at the beginning of September.