Ad campaign trying to lure more visitors

Architects of Las Vegas’ "What happens here, stays here" ad campaign say they’re redoubling efforts to get ’em here in the first place.

"There is a time to brand and a time to retail, this is a time to retail," said Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive officer of the advertising firm R&R Partners.

Vassiliadis, along with members of the marketing department of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, spoke during the monthly meeting of the authority’s board of directors.

They presented details of a $2.5 million marketing campaign that included ads based on a trip to Las Vegas by residents of the town of Cranfills Gap, Texas.

"A couple of them had never been on a plane before, a couple of them had never been on an escalator before," said Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas and president of the authority board.

Filmmakers followed the townspeople and recorded their exploits in Southern Nevada for a campaign that urges people to "take a break" from their lives and visit Las Vegas.

Although the "Vegas Bound" ads haven’t been fully rolled out, news coverage of the Cranfills Gap residents’ visit has already generated nearly 200 online news stories, about 100 newspaper stories and more than 250 television stories.

The combined value of the exposure was estimated to be worth about $3 million.

"I think it is going to make people really want to come here," Goodman said.

And none too soon.

Authority Marketing Vice President Terry Jicinsky said he expects that when the final guest is counted for 2008, Las Vegas visitation will have fallen by 4 percent for the year to about 37.5 million people. The goal of the 2009 marketing and advertising campaigns is to increase visitation to about 39 million, Jicinsky said.

"We are going to prove to consumers that we are open for business," Jicinsky said.

The marketing presentation occurred against a backdrop of a deep economic recession that’s sucked the energy out of the Las Vegas boom.

It also coincides with the addition of about 13,000 hotel rooms slated to open in 2009, which means room supply and demand from visitors are running in opposite directions.

By comparison, booms from 1993-97 generated rooms at a rate of 4,000 to 6,000 units annually, Jicinsky said.

"This spike is even more than those spikes in the past," he said. "We need to market the destination understanding that consumer confidence is at an all-time low."

Besides the $2.5 million spent largely on bringing the Cranfills Gap folks to Las Vegas and producing the ads, $10.5 million will go toward buying television, print and online advertising space during the first quarter of 2009, according to R&R and the authority.

The authority has typically stuck to brand-building and left specific show, attraction and resort marketing to individual properties.

"We have somewhat suspended the rules," authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter said. "We are in a critical situation."

Authority board member Charles Bowling of MGM Mirage, the biggest hospitality company in Las Vegas, praised the presentation but also pressed marketers to remember the convention business, which generates about 15 percent of Las Vegas visitation.

Citing what he called the "AIG effect," Bowling said businesspeople are wary of spending company time and money in a destination that could be considered frivolous, a situation exemplified by insurance giant AIG.

Shortly after the company received word it would be the recipient of tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer aid, it was embarrassed by revelations it had paid for employees to attend a leisurely retreat at a California resort.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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