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Marketing your loyalty program: Take a fresh look

Gaming destinations aren’t just for gambling anymore.

For those groups that have avoided their favorite one-armed-bandit towns during these lean economic times, it may be time to take another look.

“Atlantic City had the first boardwalk in the world. Originally built in 1870 to keep sand out of the hotels and entertainment venues, our boardwalk is still the place to shop for funky or fine items, eat saltwater taffy or the finest seafood, and come aboard a helicopter or dinner boat for a sight-seeing adventure,” said Elaine Zamansky, media relations manager for the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority.

Although this gaming mecca has 11 casinos, with another megacasino slated to open in the spring, casinos are no longer the main attraction, according to Zamansky.

“It’s the shopping at a variety of venues, including at the Pier Shops at Caesars, two levels of luxury retailers on a pier jutting 900 feet into the ocean. It’s the dining in places like Gardner’s Basin, where three restaurants have dockside views of the fishing and dolphin-watching excursions that leave from here.

“It’s the places like the Absecon Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey, that not only has a museum spotlighting our maritime history but 228 steps that buff boomers take pride in climbing.
“It’s our annual events that celebrate everything from classic cars to antiques to beer.”

Get the blues in this Delta small town
Tunica, Mississippi, known as the Casino Capital of the South, is now positioned to also be the entrance to the renowned Mississippi Blues Trail.

“Our visitors center, appropriately located on historic Highway 61, will be a true attraction in itself with the Gateway to the Blues Museum and Visitors Center, slated to open in late 2012,” said Webster Franklin, president and CEO of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Visitors will first walk through an original train depot — which is appropriate because trains and train stations have always played an important role in the story of the blues — before entering the 4,000-square-foot blues museum. More than 500 blues artifacts, including legendary photos, guitars and more, will be on display.

“For the thousands of group travel leaders who stop by this visitors center annually, they will now have the opportunity to introduce their travelers to the Delta culture,” said Franklin.

Tunica, temporarily disrupted by the historic flood in 2011, will also see a complete renovation of the Tunica RiverPark Museum. Adjacent to the Mississippi River, this iconic structure had won numerous tourism and architectural awards in its six-year existence prior to the flood.

“Always the best place to learn about historic Mississippi River floods, the museum, slated to reopen in the second quarter of 2012, will now have a new story to tell — one that it had a part in,” said Franklin.

Although groups will also find major renovations to Tunica’s nine casinos, Franklin suggested that no one miss time in downtown Tunica, the quintessential picture of a small Delta town.

“From the Veteran’s Memorial to the ice-cream shop to antique stores, this is a great tree-lined boulevard to just let a group loose for a leisurely afternoon or take a guided walking tour,” Franklin said.

History, art and ice cream
Located 25 miles from Chicago’s downtown along the southern shores of Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana, the South Shore has become a top-ranked gaming destination, according to Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.

Unlike many gaming destinations, this area was well rooted as a group travel favorite long before its four casinos came to town.

“Our cultural attractions include the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, which features 40 life-size bronze statues with listening stations; the Community Veterans Memorial in Munster, not an ordinary memorial, as it is dedicated to all those who fought for our country; and our South Shore Arts, whose regional, national and international artists have ongoing exhibitions in three locations,” said Batistatos.

And just for the fun of it, the Albanese Confectionery in Hobart offers tours and thousands of fresh confections, including award-winning gummy products.

“Tours are also offered at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks. This milking facility features not only a cheese and ice cream shop, but a birthing barn,” said Batistatos.

“And for sports fans, the Hoosier Bat Company in Valparaiso, manufacturing some of the most popular bats for major league players, welcomes group tours.”

Taking your members to a gaming destination with an itinerary not based on time around the poker tables and roulette wheels is a home-run idea. Although the casino resorts ensure the classiest and often most affordable of accommodations, casual and fine dining at any hour, and an exciting atmosphere to enjoy leisure time, bank leaders can find entertainment of every variety in the surrounding landscapes.