November is usually a flurry of activity for Atlantic City. During the month, the city hosts 2 multi-day conventions, which bring with them hordes of midweek visitors that spend money at the city’s casinos, restaurants, and bars, as well as in other businesses in the city. But this year is different, to say the least.
The city and organizers in the convention business have been forced to forfeit millions in business as a result of the outbreak. As the winter weather slowly sets in and tourism rates to the city start to dwindle even further than they have, local casinos and businesses are concerned that the state’s reduced capacity for indoor activities will have an even more dramatic impact on the leisure and hospitality industry.
To cushion the blow, casino operators are asking the government to bring back conventions, as well as increase indoor dining capacity from 25% to 50%. This will make it possible for meetings, conventions, and trade shows to resume. This also means that restaurants, bars, clubs, and other entertainment venues in the city to accommodate more attendees, which will reduce continued job loss and aid the road to economic recovery in the Garden State.
But the government is not likely to allow conventions let alone increased capacity. The request comes at a bad time. Pandemic cases have spiked statewide and if the numbers continue to rise, indoor dining might be eliminated again. A shutdown may also be imminent, which will bring the industry back to square one and on its knees once again.
The Atlantic City conventions business has already been through so much
Restrictions on mass gatherings, as well as reduced business travel, have placed the convention business in a tough predicament. More and more events in Atlantic City are getting canceled with the majority of the events being rebooked for the coming year 2021.
Hosting a convention typically brings in millions upon millions of dollars for local businesses. Conventions also offer invaluable marketing opportunities for the cities hosting them. However, health risks and social distancing requirements have forced states to enact safety measures that have left the convention’s business all but dead.
The loss of business has harmed the state economy and all businesses in the city, most especially casino resorts. This situation will likely spill over into 2021 or until a vaccine is found and it will be much longer before the market recovers. Things aren’t as bleak for AC as they are in other parts of the country though.
Unlike Vegas, which relies primarily on air travel to fuel its convention business, AC has the upper hand in that it remains a drive-in convention market. This means that it should recover a lot sooner than most of these other fly-in destinations.
In Atlantic City, more than 20 major events have had to be canceled as a result of the contagion. Several more events remain on the books, but the Atlantic City Convention Center is yet to hold any events. Across the pond in Vegas, an estimated 17 shows with an approximate attendance of more than 350,000 have been canceled.
These cancelations and reschedules have had a devastating effect on not just the event organizers themselves but also on other parties such as the contractors, the hotels that host the conventions, the audiovisual companies that curate the perfect ambiance, the florists, and the entire conventions business ecosystem.
This uncertainty in both Vegas and Atlantic City has sparked interest in teleconferencing, with many people considering virtual events as the best alternative to remedy the situation. Although these virtual conferences have stepped in to save the day, they are nowhere as close to the real thing. For customers that are used to the hype and upbeat atmosphere of some of these conferences, virtual options remain a poor choice and last resort.
As such, although teleconferencing may help to soften the blow, they will not make a sizeable enough difference to be felt in the conferencing industry. Despite the bleak outlook today, the future looks bright for the convention’s business. 2021 is already showing a lot of promise because individuals will be eager to return to in-person conventions when the vaccine is finally found.
So what is the convention’s business doing to ride the storm?
For businesses that have chosen to go ahead with their conventions plans despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, things look very different. Conventions that are taking place are occurring in a highly modified manner with limited capacity at open-air venues. In most, participants are required to pass a test before entry is granted.
As you can expect, hand sanitizers are being distributed. Tables that originally sat 8 individuals now only handle 2. And rather than hosting these conventions in traditionally popular densely populated cities, organizers are opting to hold them in remote, sparsely populated locations in a bid to keep all participants safe and protected.
Most convention organizers have opted to go digital. Virtual exhibit halls are being rendered to represent the original location, to make things more realistic for participants. While nothing can replicate the feeling of an in-person attendance, these virtual conferences do have their benefits.
For one, organizers aren’t dealing with as many overhead costs as before. Attendees and exhibitors also have the benefit of reduced rates and it is much, much easier to book highly sought after speakers, who don’t have to spend hours or days traveling to the convention centers. Since it is not exactly known when this global health crisis will come to an end, these virtual conferences will have to do.
Eventually, the business of the convention in AC, Vegas, and the rest of the world will rise again. It will rebound, but it will be some time before it does. So for now, the best thing that individuals in the convention business can do is wait for things to stabilize. Until then, virtual conferences will have to do.
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