N.J. looking to get more from tourists Casino industry finds that it takes money to make money

March 26, 1997|By knight-ridder news service

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The total spent by tourists in New Jersey was up by more than $1 billion last year, a record, yet talk at a recent Governor's Conference on Tourism centered on how to squeeze more profit out of the state's second-largest industry.

And the pressure point was identified as the Atlantic City area, where visitors spent $8.2 billion in 1996, up from $7.5 billion in 1995, according to a study conducted for the New Jersey Department of Commerce by Longwoods International of Toronto.

But it takes money to make money.

During the first 17 years of the city's gaming era, developers spent a total of $5.8 billion on casinos, hotels and other attractions.

Now, with the state helping subsidize a new Convention Center and a $330 million road and tunnel project, Atlantic City is enjoying a $7 billion development renaissance. And that growth is not just a good roll for gamblers.

In the last two years, outlets such as a new family skating center on the Boardwalk, the reopening of Steel Pier, Starbucks coffee shops, a Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum, a Planet Hollywood, a Hard Rock Cafe, and a Warner Brothers Studio Store have added to the new family-oriented image being promoted by the city.

'What better proof?'

"What better proof is there than the renaissance right here in Atlantic City that with teamwork, between the private and public sectors, we can see incredible growth," Gov. Christine Todd Whitman told more than 600 people gathered for her keynote address. "Our slogan is 'What a Difference A State Makes,' but what a difference three years can make."

Travel expenditures for visitors to New Jersey have been growing steadily over the last few years. They totaled $24.6 billion in 1996.

In 1995, the figure was $23.4 billion, up from $22.8 billion in 1994 and $19.2 billion in 1993. The travel industry in the state supported more than 584,000 jobs in 1996, 8,000 more than in the previous year, according to figures released last week as the three-day conference ended at the Trump Taj Mahal.

"The figures from 1996 show that tourism remains an economic powerhouse for the state," Whitman, a Republican, said.

"We were committed to meeting our goal of visitors staying longer and spending more, and apparently we met it," she said.

But attaining that goal isn't stopping the state's Division of Travel and Tourism from attempting to produce an even greater economic gain in the future.

Conference attendees - mostly public and private promoters who work to bring tourists into the state - were told of New Jersey's first tourism "master plan" in 17 years.

Plan being prepared

The plan, to be released in May, will provide a blueprint to chart the course of tourism development during the next 10 years, according to Stewart Rog, national director of Deloitte and Touche LLP, a travel and leisure industry consulting firm hired by the state.

It will focus on building the image and awareness of New Jersey as a tourist destination, promoting awareness of the state among international travel wholesalers, highlighting New Jersey's cultural and historic assets and encouraging the packaging of the state's tourism "products," Rog said.

Among the coming attractions are six new "mega-casino" resorts. The number of hotel rooms is expected to triple, from about 9,000 to more than 27,000 by the end of 1999. The city's $268 million Convention Center is slated to open in May and will feature nearly 500,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The study also reported that overnight trips to the state rose by more than 3 percent to 37.3 million from 36.1 million in 1995, while tourism expenditures rose to $15.14 billion from $13.77 billion in 1995.

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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