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Chris Jones

Convention Authority Globetrotter Settling Down

18 April 2006

What a long, strange trip it's been.

And after selling Las Vegas across the globe for more than a quarter century, one of this city's greatest road warriors is grateful she can finally spend some time at home.

"I'm going to put my passport in a drawer and not go anywhere for a while," said Cam Usher, who retired Friday following a 25 1/2-year career with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Since 2004, Usher has directed sales and marketing for the authority's international offices in Australia, England, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.

Her tenure began as a tourism sales manager in 1980. She's since run everything from convention and special event sales to the authority's research department and Las Vegas News Bureau.

In recent years, Usher actively recruited new international air service in conjunction with McCarran International Airport.

Those efforts made it easier for travelers to come here from diverse locations.

But they also kept Usher on the road for 150 days per year in the 1980s. Over the past three years or so, she's reduced her travels to approximately one week-long foreign trip per month.

This year she's been to South Korea twice to help secure Korean Air's pending nonstop flights from Seoul. Business in 2006 also included stops in Germany and Canada.

"I have a suitcase packed all of the time," she said.

Usher was often surprised that so many people she met were familiar with Las Vegas, even in remote places.

On a trip to Singapore 20 years ago, she joined several travel agents on a tour of some small islands off the southern tip of Malaysia.

When the tour entered a small Malaysian home, Usher spotted a Las Vegas News Bureau photo hanging on a wall.

"This was half a world a away, and Las Vegas was front-of-mind," Usher said.

Rossi Ralenkotter, a 33-year convention authority employee who's served as president and chief executive officer since July 2004, on Friday praised his longtime colleague's achievements.

Usher was instrumental in Las Vegas' nascent efforts to increase foreign visitation in the 1980s, Ralenkotter said, adding that Usher visited more than 40 nations on behalf of the authority.

In addition, her ties to the American Society of Travel Agents persuaded countless travel agents to send business here, he said.

"At a time when we were really positioning Las Vegas, as we were growing and evolving, her sales efforts and the efforts of the staff here along with our hotel partners, really blazed a lot of trails," Ralenkotter said.

Travel Agent Magazine named Usher to its "Most Powerful Women in Travel" list three years in a row.

Kathy Sudeikis, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, said Usher "is synonymous with all-things-Las Vegas" among agents nationwide.

Sudeikis formed a personal friendship with Usher over the past 20 years. That relationship helped save Sudeikis's life in August when Usher refused to let Sudeikis board a plane after she displayed signs of illness at a local trade show.

Usher rushed Sudeikis to a hospital, where doctors performed an emergency appendectomy.

"I've been teasing her that 'What happened in Vegas, stayed in Vegas.' But I didn't guess it would be my appendix" that stayed behind, said Sudeikis, who works in Overland Park, Kan.

Excalibur sales director Val Moon cited Usher's generosity, whether it was introducing friends to potential clients or creating job opportunities for local youth.

Usher was a board member at Valley High School's Academy of Travel & Tourism, a magnet program that's prepared hundreds of students to work in Southern Nevada's largest industry since 1995.

Bruce Bommarito, director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, worked with Usher to jointly promote Las Vegas and Nevada in markets such as China, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. He was impressed with Usher's knowledge of foreign travel issues, and her willingness to get things done.

"Cam never really lets up," Bommarito said Friday from Carson City.

Alan Feldman, senior vice president with MGM Mirage, described Usher as "a terrific lady" who represented Las Vegas with great professionalism.

"Our city's outstanding reputation within the travel community -- agents, wholesalers, meeting planners, etc. -- is due in large part to the outstanding effort of Cam and her colleagues at the LVCVA," Feldman said.

Usher said she'll miss working with the many friends she's made in the industry, though she expects to see them often as they visit Las Vegas, her home since 1972.

She'll spend some time in San Diego, her childhood home, where she maintains a vacation residence.

The authority will wait a few weeks before Usher's successor is selected, Ralenkotter said.