Atlantic City Casino Execs Say Reliable Air Travel Would Improve Visitation

Atlantic City Skyline and Plane
Atlantic City currently has a lot on their wish list of things they want fixed in order for business to begin booming in the seaside resort town again. From tearing down former casinos to restoring old casinos to their former glory, to making necessary city-wide fixes to keep the town feeling safe and looking beautiful for visitors and residents alike.

One big way Atlantic City’s top casino executives all agree could help drive visitation, is providing more reliable means of transportation for people to get to the city, namely air travel.

Increasing direct flights to Atlantic City International Airport from more major cities will make it more convenient for travelers to get there. This is especially necessary with the addition of more casinos being added in nearby locations, to help drive away any competition for travelers to play elsewhere.

“I think, if we had air service, it would make a big difference.” said Steve Callender, president of Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Eldorado Resorts.

Marcus Glover, president and COO of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said the lack of convenient travel means to the city “is really what crippled this market and took it from a $5 billion market to right around a $3 billion market.”

Spirit Airlines is the Airport’s Only Carrier

Currently, Spirit Airlines is Atlantic City International Airport’s sole airline carrier.

James “Sonny” McCullough, commissioner of the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA), said that the authority has been working for years to try to bring other airlines on board, but the attempts have been unsuccessful.

“The problem is this, an airline looks at a location for what it’s going to cost them to operate at that location, but, primarily, they look at what is the customer base in a geographic area,” McCullough said. “When you go 12 miles east of the airport, all you have is fish, and fish don’t fly.”

Why Other Airlines are Keeping Away

Unfortunately, geographic location and lack of demand have been key preventers in either encouraging other airlines to fly to/from Atlantic City, or in keeping them coming back.

Back in the summer of 2014, United Airlines flew passengers to Atlantic City from its Chicago and Houston hubs. It was a short-lived route option, as the last United flight touched down in AC in December of that same year. The reason service was cancelled was simply due to demand not meeting the expectations.

United wasn’t the only airline to back out. Continental, US Airway, Delta, Northwest, WestJet, AirTran have also stepped away from being providers for the airport.

Trying to Incentivize New Airline Deals

As of last year, the SJTA has been offering tiered marketing incentives in an effort to draw more airlines to the region, in a deal they hope will land. The marketing incentive ranges from $25,000 – $140,000.

According to Bob McDevitt, an SJTA commissioner, this isn’t the first incentive they’ve tried to reel additional airlines in with, but this package is more general and not directed at any one specific airline. The new incentives are being tiered depending on the number of seats a carrier can provide and then turn around and sell within a year.

“The more seats you provide to and from, the more money you get for marketing, and the more passengers you put on the plane, the more times you get an additional incentive,” McDevitt said.

The incentive is centered and structured more around performance, rather than providing money to the airlines for simply giving them access.

Here’s how the marketing incentive is tiered for domestic flights and what the carriers would earn:

3,000-5,999 seats per year = $25,000

Up to 27,000 seats per year = $125,000 (+ $5 per passenger who returns through the airport for another domestic flight)

The incentive is even higher for international flights: Their first tier earns carriers $40,000 in marketing incentives, with top tier earnings of $140,000 (including the $5 per passenger bonus who returns through the airport).

The incentive is proposed for a year, with an option to renew for one more year after that.

If the incentives work, it would bring new customers to the area, not just for the airport but “a tremendous boost for the convention business,” McCullough said.

Drop in Annual Number of Visitors

Atlantic City casinos executives hope the airlines can work out some type of air travel compromise to get more passengers touching down in their city and walking through their doors.

In its heyday, Atlantic City was welcoming in over 35 million visitors annually. According to recent industry data, that number is down to a reported 22 million annual visitors, a 13 million drop in the figures.

“It’s really hard to grow the market if you don’t have a convenient means for people to get here,” Glover said.