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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

Las Vegas tourism chief's new goal: 45 million visitors

2 February 2015

LAS VEGAS -- Drawing more than 41 million tourists to Las Vegas is yesterday's news.

Now, the head of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has a new goal.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the organization that markets the city, told an audience at Preview 2015 on Friday that 45 million visitors will be the new benchmark and he expects to hit that "within the next few years." If the goal is achieved, it would produce 37,000 new tourism industry jobs in Southern Nevada.

"The question," Ralenkotter said, "is how do we get to 45 million visitors?"

Ralenkotter was one of four speakers who addressed Southern Nevada's economy at Preview, offering forecasts and insights of what could lie ahead. Nearly 2,000 people attended Preview, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce's premier networking event, at the Thomas & Mack Center and the Cox Pavilion on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

Ralenkotter, who said he never imagined the city reaching 40 million visitors when he started with the authority as a marketing researcher more than four decades ago, spent most of his presentation answering his own question, sprinkling in several video clips of some of the newest "What happens here, stays here" television ads that have hit the market.

He summarized the strategy the LVCVA has been building over the last six months and added a few new details about the $2.3 billion Las Vegas Global Business District project that is expected to get started this year.

The project, a major overhaul of the Las Vegas Convention Center that will include a transportation hub component and state-of-the-art exhibition services technology to maintain the city's edge in attracting conventions, will have a huge economic impact on the city, he said.

The project is expected to create 6,000 construction jobs throughout the multiphased project and 6,000 new permanent jobs once it is completed.

Ralenkotter said cities across the country have been trying to pry major conventions away from Las Vegas. Most recently, the authority signed a long-term deal to keep the International Council of Shopping Centers after a strong pitch by Chicago.


Ralenkotter said Las Vegas had to turn away about 30 major trade shows because it didn't have the room to accommodate them. The Business District overhaul will provide the added space needed to host more shows.

Ralenkotter also said the authority would continue its efforts to attract international travelers and boost the current percentage of 20 percent of visitors coming from abroad to 30 percent by 2020.

The city got a major assist with revisions to China's visa policy that will enable Chinese travelers to use visas over a 10-year period instead of having to reapply.

A third piece of the LVCVA bid to draw 45 million visitors is to more aggressively market to the demographic between the ages of 18 and 31 — the millennials — who see Las Vegas as a place to play, attend concerts and music festivals, shop and go to clubs.

The authority is investing in research to better understand the millennial generation. Marketers believe they may be able to capitalize on millennials' affinity for brand loyalty by convincing them that Las Vegas is more of a metaphor for adult freedom than a destination.

The city already is building on events and infrastructure to draw younger consumers to activities like the Electric Daisy Carnival, I Heart Radio and the new Rock in Rio festival, which debuts in Las Vegas in May.

Ralenkotter said the emphasis on millennials doesn't mean the LVCVA will ignore its loyal customer base. He said 86 percent of the people who visit Las Vegas are leisure travelers and 15 percent of those are people seeing the city for the first time — an opportunity to win repeat business.


While Ralenkotter explained the strategy to attract millennials, another speaker suggested that it's time for them to move out of their parents' homes.

Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst for Applied Analysis, Las Vegas, explained that Southern Nevada's economy is continuing to percolate, thanks to the resort industry's diversification of the Las Vegas entertainment package and the unexpected stimulus of rapidly falling gasoline prices.

Plunging fuel prices have put more money in consumers' pockets and they may be able to realize even more if their millennial children got jobs and moved out.

While Nevada's gross gaming revenue is up a paltry 2.1 percent over last year, it's still the nation's industry leader. Taxable retail sales, he said, were up 8.1 percent in the last 12 months and the absorption rate of companies moving into office, retail and industrial space last year was the highest since 2007.

Speaker Robert Lang, UNLV's director of Brookings Mountain West, added context to the economic windfall discussion. Last year, Lang compared Las Vegas's fortunes with another tourism mecca, Orlando, Fla. On Friday, he compared to another O city, Omaha, Neb. — and he thinks Omaha may be stronger despite having half the population base of Las Vegas.

One of Southern Nevada's problems, he said, is that it isn't motivated to get its fair share of revenue from the state and the region's philanthropy is focused on filling the gaps left by the state and federal governments, while Omaha's philanthropists build long-lasting institutions.

Lang said he wanted to dispel the myth that Las Vegas is becoming the next Silicon Valley.

Nevada will have an opportunity to expand its trade presence with construction of Interstate 11, but that may take a long time because the state isn't offering enough help — it won't even chip in to complete the 215 Beltway.

The event's last speaker, columnist and television commentator Trish Regan, explained Las Vegas's role within the global economy and the opportunities it has to capitalize on its tourism infrastructure.
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