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LVCVA elects for new advertising approach

In an advertising push that will launch early next year, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will take a cue from election campaigns by trying to appeal to more undecided vacationers to help fill hotel rooms.

Successful politicians typically maintain their bases while appealing to enough swing voters in the middle, Mike Dabadie, president of the Heart + Mind Strategies, a consulting group hired by the authority to dissect the potential visitor market, explained at Tuesday’s board of directors meeting.

His research shows that almost equal numbers of potential Las Vegas visitors, about 40 percent, fall into the categories of either diehard Las Vegas fans or people who are interested but need persuading to book a trip.

The research will form the basis for the authority’s political-style two-track ad campaign.

Although the authority has followed a version of it in previous years, the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” message appealed primarily to people who were already true believers.

“I suppose if we had stopped building (casinos) 30,000 rooms ago, the core would have been enough,” said Billy Vassiliadis, the CEO of R&R Partners, the authority’s ad agency.

But today’s economic realities of too many rooms, coupled with depressed discretionary spending nationwide and constricted airline schedules, has raised the number of potential visitors sitting on the fence. These “persuadables,” as Vassiliadis calls them, now share equal status with Las Vegas’ core visitor base and will require an ad campaign that is “more balanced, a different nuance” than in the past, he said.

While production has not started, the ads will be based on the premise that recession-scarred people will retain their more careful spending habits for years to come, following in the footsteps of parents or grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. Turning these people into visitors will involve solving what is essentially an oxymoron: coming up with rational, tangible reasons to justify an emotional decision.

“These people have a sense of needing to justify not just a trip to Las Vegas but any expense for personal satisfaction,” Vassiliadis said.

In that context, control has emerged as a key point of persuasion by letting people plot a trip in great detail even before they pull the suitcases out of the closet, he said. In that regard, resorts and other tourist companies have deployed online avenues to allow advance bookings for a wide variety of activities.

“They want more certainty that they will have a satisfactory experience before they come,” Vassiliadis said.

Las Vegas’ core customers require continuous assurance that the city has not grown stale and always has something new for them even if they have come so often that they no longer bother with street maps.

To get the point across, the upcoming ad campaign will try to use more mobile and social media, especially formats that entail customer reviews rather than casinos just touting themselves through Twitter messages.

Vassiliadis also wants to eventually line up three or four more signature attractions, such as the recently concluded National Finals Rodeo, to offer more than gambling, shopping and shows. But he acknowledged that past efforts have been marred by “a lot of bureaucracy and pushback.”

For example, events taking place at more than one hotel or location might require separate permits from the state, the city and other entities.

“After a while, it’s not even worth going through all the hassle,” he said. “When we are competing with other cities for events, we need to make it easy for the producers.”

Past visitor profiles have paid attention mainly to location and demographics. This time, Heart + Mind tried to crawl into people’s heads.

To do this, the consultant ran focus groups in six cities, collected 10,000 online surveys and conducted 60 in-person interviews in four cities.

Out of the raw data, Heart + Mind concluded that 21 percent, or about 23.2 million people , had little or no interest in visiting Las Vegas.

The city’s “core” visitor base constitutes 38 percent, or 42.1 million people, while the swing group totaled 41 percent, or 45 million.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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