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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Vegas Tourism Agency Head Voted In

21 May 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Rossi Ralenkotter, voted in Thursday to replace Manny Cortez as the top executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said he expects to continue the work done by Cortez to attract more visitors to Las Vegas and expand the agency's popular "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" ad campaign.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's board of directors approved Ralenkotter as president to succeed Cortez, who will retire July 2.

Ralenkotter, who has worked for the LVCVA for more than 31 years, said he will evaluate the agency's marketing and advertising strategies over the next 60 to 90 days and begin crafting a strategy to guide it over at least the next five years.

"We need to continue to expand the (Las Vegas) brand," he said. "We'll be adding another 8,000 rooms in the next 15 months, so we really need to fill 140,000 rooms a day. We need to find marketing programs to increase visits from existing customers as well as find new markets."

Helping those efforts are a new series of television ads in the "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" campaign that were released a few months ago. More tongue-in-cheek ads will be rolled out this summer.

The campaign will continue as long as the ads resonate with potential customers but won't last long if they become stale, Ralenkotter said.

"All of our advertising and marketing campaigns are research-driven," he said.

The agency also expects to direct more marketing dollars to lure back international visitors who may have avoided traveling abroad, he said. Those efforts will include promoting Las Vegas among corporate planners abroad, he added.

More money collected from room taxes this coming year will allow the agency to spend more on advertising and marketing campaigns. Thursday, the board approved the agency's $196.7 million budget for the 2004-2005 fiscal year. The budget includes $66.7 million for advertising and $97.6 million for marketing, which includes advertising as well as convention services, Internet sales, and other related categories. Those categories rose 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively, from last year.

Ralenkotter has been groomed for at least the past year and a half, when he was promoted from senior vice president of marketing to executive vice president. The executive vice president position was created for him as part of a succession plan devised by Cortez to train his replacement.

In appointing Ralenkotter, board members avoided conducting a nationwide search for Cortez' successor.

Board chairman and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson said a national search would have been "inappropriate" as well as a waste of time and money for an agency that requires employees to cultivate unique skills.

"The whole world looks here for talent," he said. "You're not going to find in recruitment the kind of experience the executives at the LVCVA have."

Unlike most other convention and visitors bureaus, the Las Vegas agency requires its CEO to oversee both marketing functions as well as convention facilities, Gibson said.

Ralenkotter's promotion to chief executive didn't come without hard work and the assurance from Cortez that Ralenkotter was prepared for the job, he added.

"Just because someone has been named executive vice president does not mean that person has developed the skill and the talent to become president. We evaluated Rossi's performance for that job. We knew Rossi was the right kind of guy and we're in good hands now."

Thursday, the board reiterated comments made during an earlier meeting of the board's compensation committee this month to discuss Ralenkotter's replacement.

"The appropriate thing to do would not be to rush to fill that job but to work to determine whether there's anyone within the convention authority today who might be worked into that position," Gibson said.

Ralenkotter said he hopes to eventually recommend a successor who might one day replace him, though not before he has crafted a growth plan for the agency.

That process may take at least a year, Gibson said.

Gibson said no potential candidates have yet been identified by the board, which will ultimately make the final decision. Grooming successors in-house makes sense because it helps maintain continuity and puts candidates to the test, he said. The board could also decide to conduct a national search, he said.

"We know we'll find the right person," Gibson said. "The matter is where that person will come from and that is not obvious at the moment."

Thursday, the board approved a severance package for Cortez totaling $66,000. The payment is equivalent to about 10 months' worth of contributions to Cortez's retirement plan. The payments were intended to "round up" his years of service as a state employee to 36 years and were made in recognition of his long and beneficial service to the agency, board members said.

Cortez will earn a base salary of about $245,000 and a performance-based bonus of about $23,400. Ralenkotter earned a base salary of about $197,000 as executive vice president and will now make $225,000 in the top job. He also will be entitled to performance bonuses.