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Chris Jones

What's Old Will Be New Again

11 May 2005

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority on Tuesday unveiled its latest five-year marketing plan, and in many ways, the 120-page document reads like a road map for traveling back to the future.

In recent years, the local tourism industry has enjoyed record-setting visitor volume, fueled in part by the popular "What happens here, stays here" advertising campaign.

Those ads helped attract a record 37.4 million visitors last year, but they also epitomized a gradual shift toward experience-themed marketing over past efforts to focus on specific local products or amenities.

But with 30,500 new hotel rooms and condominium units scheduled to open over the next 4 1/2 years, leaders said a return to advertising showing casinos, dining and entertainers also is needed. If Las Vegas is to attract the roughly 1 million additional visitor trips per year it needs to maintain a citywide hotel occupancy rate of nearly 90 percent, would-be travelers must also be told of what's new in the city.

"People need a rational reason to come here," Mary Ann Mele, chief strategic officer for R&R Partners, the convention authority's contracted advertising and marketing company, told the convention authority board Tuesday at Cashman Center. "And they need rational reasons to come back here again."

To provide just that, the convention authority and R&R spent the past seven months creating a multitiered, research-heavy marketing effort aimed at past customers and those in new markets.

"Our stakes are higher than they've ever been," said R&R Chief Executive Officer Billy Vassiliadis, who cited gaming's increased significance to the local economy as well as rising competition from Asia, California and the cruise ship industry.

New technologies have created significant challenges for marketers, Vassiliadis said, citing everything from TiVo to telephone caller identification devices to "pop-up" online ad blockers. As a result, the status quo is no longer enough when marketing Las Vegas, he said.

"It's becoming harder and harder to reach consumers when you want to, and it's becoming easier and easier for them to reach out for information when they want it," Vassiliadis said.

Plans call for the authority to next year spend more than $80 million on advertising and an additional $33.8 million on marketing, up 2 percent and 4 percent, respectively, from this year's budget. Highlights of the new plan include:

A greater effort to lure foreign travelers to Southern Nevada. In addition to launching direct-to-consumer advertising in Canada, Mexico, Japan and the United Kingdom -- which now supply more than 70 percent of Las Vegas' approximately 5 million annual foreign visitors -- the authority will work with McCarran International Airport to secure direct air service from Australia, France, Germany and South Korea.

The authority hopes 1 in 5 annual local visitors will come from outside the United States by 2009, Terry Jicinsky, the authority's senior vice president of marketing, said, adding his agency will open its eighth foreign sales office, this one in Toronto, as early as this fall.

Emerging markets including China, Russia and Central America will also receive marketing attention, though on a much lesser scale.

Five "Vegas Stories" television spots to debut this year. Separate ads featuring a boxer's memory loss and a woman who assumes the names of popular television characters have aired nationwide for several weeks. A third debuted within the past few days showing a couple who are as reluctant to discuss their Las Vegas trip as their teenage son is unwilling to talk about the party he threw in his parents' absence.

Two more ads about a bachelor party surprise and a traveler's answering machine conundrum will air later this year.

The use of national tourism polls and industry studies to position the Las Vegas convention authority as "the authority" on worldwide travel issues.

A new business marketing campaign aimed at "C-level" decision makers, as in CEOs, COOs and CMOs.

The city hopes to land more corporate meetings and incentive travel groups to supplement its 11-year status as the nation's top trade show and convention destination.

A revamped online presence, including a new Web address:

Mele hopes the new design, including some business-customer-friendly features, will double the site's online traffic to more than 1 million unique visitors per month.

The use of "Smart Targeting," a customer profiling technique that focuses on visitors' lifestyle and behavioral characteristics.

Group names include "Mr. Saturday Night" (high-energy, nightclub-hopping males ages 25-34) and "Fashionistas" (flashy, attention-seeking women ages 35 and up).

"We have a better understanding of how (visitors) behave," Mele said. "That gives us the ability to talk to them in more and different ways."

A detailed study of the Hispanic submarket.

"We need a much deeper understanding of that market so that we can better speak to them," Mele said. New focus markets include Dallas, Denver and San Francisco.

The convention authority's previous five-year marketing plan was unveiled just 15 months ago when Rossi Ralenkotter was still heir apparent to Manny Cortez, the convention authority's former president and CEO.

Since Cortez retired in July, Ralenkotter has subtly tweaked many of his predecessor's long-term strategies, including Tuesday's marketing directive as well as January's updated vision statement that features a $400 million modernization of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Vassiliadis on Tuesday admitted many elements of the revised marketing plan were pulled from past strategies.

"Much of this is not new, it's just an attempt to do better," Vassiliadis said. "Our research is much more focused than it's ever been, much more intense than it's ever been."

Mele later added that expanded research won't require wider polling efforts. Rather, local tourism representatives have refined the questions they'll ask would-be visitors .

"We'll keep some of the same questions so we can have a historical baseline for comparison, but the more we've done these surveys, the more we've realize what we need to ask and what we don't," Mele said of the streamlined questionnaires. "This year, we're really deepening our understanding of our customers."