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Gaming Guru

Rod Smith

Ad Effects, Terrorism Fears Fade

26 April 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Fears about terrorism and the city's "What happens here, stays here" ad campaign are fading as issues in helping visitors decide whether or not to come to Las Vegas, pollsters said Friday.

MRC Group Research Institute, the largest survey research firm in Nevada, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority have been tracking Las Vegas visitors' attitudes on homeland security and Las Vegas since spring 2003.

Their recent surveys have found visitors' concerns about terrorism is relatively low and declining.

The MRC survey found the percentage of visitors who believe Las Vegas is very safe or safe from terrorist attacks has increased from 17 percent last spring to 38 percent now.

The tourism authority's poll found the proportion of respondents who felt Las Vegas was about as safe as other American cities has remained nearly constant at about 80 percent with only 8 percent saying it is less safe.

MRC Chief Executive Officer Jim Medick said concerns about terrorism mirror media reports of threat levels.

Kevin Bagger, senior research director for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the data show terrorism has not been a top concern for people traveling to Las Vegas.

Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive officer for Las Vegas-based R&R Partners, which represents the tourism agency, said MRC's data also suggest visitors are planning their trips further ahead, which also validates the findings on terrorism.

Starting with its New Year's survey, MRC has also polled participants about the tourism agency's advertising campaign.

More than half of the respondents in April had seen or heard the slogan, a drop from 62 percent in January. Vassiliadis said recognition is down because R&R has been running the ads less frequently.

"We don't worry much from March through May. Our concerns begin in June through September and we're about to fire up again," he said.

However, 27 percent of MRC's respondents in April said the campaign would make them come here more often, compared with 22 percent at New Year's. And 13 percent said it would bring them here less often, down from 22 percent at New Year's.

Vassiliadis added polling by itself can underestimate the effect because consumers don't like to admit they're responding to ads.

"It's not just the advertising, anyhow. Everything about this destination since 9-11 has been a mood creator," Vassiliadis said. "We've gotten more TV than we ever have. It's absolutely phenomenal. Branding is the culmination of a lot of factors that all adds up to the mind-set of what a great place this is to get away."

When asked what the campaign meant to them, 25 percent said "anything goes," MRC reported.

Only 9 percent of those surveyed offered clearly negative responses (sleazy, bad slogan, cheap, lying).

However, Bill Thompson, University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert, argued the ad campaign still misses the point because visitors are not coming to Las Vegas for clandestine affairs.

"They come and win and shout. It doesn't stay here. They go home and tell everyone about it. And 'what stays here' just makes us look sleazy," he said.

The MRC survey also found a dramatic drop in the importance of hotel-room rate discounts (from 50 percent in June to 32 percent in April), casino specials (from 38 percent to 15 percent) or discounted air fares (from 41 percent to 23 percent).

Medick said demand and room rates are at record levels because of the economic recovery and surging leisure travel, so visitors polled now would not cite bargains. However, he said visitors still decide when to come based on room rates and discounts.

Vassiliadis said the effect of changing room rates is different from one area of the country to another, and repeat visitors from California will fill in any gaps if demand lags during the summer off-season when room rates are likely to decline.

The MRC survey was based on a sample of 391 visitors who answered a questionnaire while visiting the Grand Canal Shoppes. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

GLS Research conducted the convention authority survey. It was based on a sample of 2,393 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.