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Keeping Vegas Vibrant

UNLV alumni work behind-the-scenes at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Center to keep the city a top tourist destination.
People  |  Nov 18, 2010  |  By

Wherever you are in the world, the familiar Las Vegas-themed "What happens here, stays here" (WHHSH) branding campaign has probably caught your attention. The edgy ads have garnered more notoriety than just a fleeting instance and have received a remarkable following.

However, not everyone is as familiar with the organization responsible for the identification of Las Vegas as an entity unto itself and for putting those catchy ads out there. Although the campaigns have put Las Vegas on the tips of many people's tongues who might not have thought of the desert oasis as a top vacation pick, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) does much more in its everyday role as a bustling, integral association that is the official destination marketing organization of Las Vegas. Due to the work of the LVCVA, the Las Vegas brand has been the second-most recognized in the United States, following the search engine Google, since 2007.

In addition to its marketing duties, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority also operates the Las Vegas Convention Center and Cashman Center/Cashman Field. Its 14 member board is appointed by various elected governing bodies in Clark County, Nev., and its funding is provided by a room tax on all hotels in the county and through revenue from its function space.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president/CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, holds an MBA from UNLV and was honored as the UNLV Alumni of the Year in 2008 and UNLV Distinguished Nevadan in 2009. "Tourism is the backbone of the Southern Nevada economy, so it is crucial to have a program to develop the future leaders of our industry," he says. "The William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration is the leading program in the country, and we are proud to have a number of graduates helping the LVCVA promote Las Vegas as the premier destination for business and leisure travel." He continues, "Individuals who graduate from the program have a solid working knowledge of the tourism industry and are capable of making immediate contributions to an employer."

What types of LVCVA jobs do those alumni hold? Senior Vice President of Operations Terry Jicinsky, '06 MS, says that his role includes "ensuring Las Vegas maintains its rank as the number one convention and trade show city." He continues, "Many people may not be aware of the fact that Las Vegas has held this official ranking for the past 16 years, per Tradeshow Week's Top 200 List.

"The behind-the-scenes efforts that go into working with our convention clients and suppliers to set up trade shows are awe-inspiring," notes Jicinsky. "The making of the sausage, so to speak, is very similar to what I imagine the movie industry to be -- building scenery, setting lights, costumes, music, and entertainment -- all rolled into a trade show booth. At the convention center, it's all about delivering on the promise and creating a customer experience that meets the expectations of our convention delegates based on what our marketing and sales efforts promise."

According to Jicinsky, who has been with the LVCVA for more than 18 years, "My favorite part of working at the LVCVA is marketing a destination that 99 percent of our customers simply love. The genuine excitement and enthusiasm that our customers express is a pleasure to be around. Whether they are here to attend a convention or for a vacation, the one-of-a-kind experience that Las Vegas provides to our visitors is infectious."

Although the branding and advertising campaigns put out by the LVCVA have continued to grow tourists' and conventioneers' interests in the city, it's a never-ending challenge to keep perceptions fresh and new. "It's great to be able to tell our customers what's new and exciting in Las Vegas every year and even better when they come to our city and always see or learn something new," says LVCVA Sales Executive Ericka Aviles, '04. "No other destination can say that.

"We work with the hotel community and clients on a day-to-day basis, and voicing feedback is what helps Las Vegas stay on top of any other destination for both the business traveler and the leisure traveler," says Aviles. "What is the perception of Las Vegas? What are their clients saying about Las Vegas? What are our hotel partners saying?"

It is this market research that guides the LVCVA and its Las Vegas-based advertising agency, R&R Partners, to produce those print and television ads that have received international attention and have garnered the awards that go with such notoriety. In fact, this past July, R&R won a Bronze Cannes Lion in the Travel, Transport, and Tourism category in the 57th annual Cannes Lion International. The competition drew 25,000 entries from 8,000 people in 90 countries, and Las Vegas was the only destination recognized in this year's awards.

Earlier this summer, the American Advertising Federation announced that R&R and the LVCVA had won top awards in four national categories for the "What's your excuse?" and "What happens here, stays here" campaigns. R&R won two gold and two silver ADDY awards for national television campaigns. The ads were presented in the edgy "What happens here, stays here" style that shows no gambling or resorts but leaves the viewer to read between the lines about the Las Vegas experience.

That famous advertising slogan, which was originally used in a 2003 campaign, was brought back last year due to the economic hard times that have hit Las Vegas so hard. It's not surprising that the pop culture phenomenon of "What happens here, stays here" has been well received once again. Even though these are hard times, people still want to feel like they can have a fun getaway. As long as "What happens here" tests well and motivates consumers, R&R says the campaign could last indefinitely."

Although there's no firm cause-and-effect relationship between the popularity of Las Vegas and the 'What happens here' campaign, there is this correlation: While the campaign ran, tourism swelled and the Strip resorts posted record profits. And R&R's twice-annual polling of up to 20,000 Americans in major cities has showed that consumers know more about Las Vegas' high-end offerings, have more positive feelings toward Las Vegas, and are more likely to visit (Las Vegas Sun, Sept. 28, 2009)."

In addition to utilizing its WHHSH campaign to attract visitors, this past summer included the introduction of the LVCVA's Camp Vegas marketing campaign. A take on traditional summer camp festivities but with an adult twist, the campaign targeted adults with the message that kids don't deserve to have all the fun -- visitors can be pampered with an array of summer activities that are just for adults.

Likewise, the LVCVA recently debuted a new strategic plan that promotes the value of face-to-face business meetings in the city. Using a website, vegasmeansbusiness.com, the plan features talking points that refute and rebuff recent criticism from lawmakers and reporters who have used examples to characterize resort-based meetings as extravagant and frivolous.

Just as the conventions/trade shows and ad campaigns are important to the LVCVA, so are its employees and their wealth of experience and knowledge. One alumna employed by the LVCVA is Convention Services Manager (CSM) Jamie McNutt, '03 BS. "While it may seem that a CSM may not have a lot to do with the creative process of promoting our destination, it is critical for every tourism industry employee to ensure that Las Vegas lives up to the brand promise," says McNutt.

"By continually living the brand and ensuring a great experience for my show clients and their attendees, we will continue to attract business and promote Las Vegas.

"Our town has evolved so much already. We were once known only as a gaming town, and now we are a world-renowned destination that offers fine dining, shopping, shows, and many other activities. I see our town getting more involved in "greening" efforts and perhaps promoting the more natural side of the Las Vegas area," says McNutt.

Jicinsky believes that "the biggest opportunity Las Vegas has on the horizon is our ability to evolve into a world-class international destination. The potential for increased visitors from our traditional international markets, such as Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, will pale in comparison to what our visitation from emerging markets, such as Brazil, China, India, and Russia, will be a decade from now." He continues, "But to meet those needs, we need to intensify our efforts to increase direct international air lift into Las Vegas and advance our customer service levels. This includes expanding our work force's language skills and understanding of cultural nuances as well as things as simple as providing multilingual road signs and restaurant menus.

"Undoubtedly, the reinvention of Las Vegas is the most important advantage our local tourism industry has going for it. Whenever I interact with my CVB peers across the country, the conversation invariably includes a degree of envy, jealousy, and respect from them on our destination's ability to attract new customers and build loyalty from our repeat customers," says Jicinsky. "The ongoing reinvention of our destination plays a very big part of that success."

Echoing what might be the opinion of many, another alumni, Sales Executive Ken Haas, '75, says, "I miss the old Vegas, yet the progress has taken us to a global brand and made Las Vegas a worldwide favorite place to be."

According to LVCVA Buyer Doreen Hoffman, '06, "While keeping Las Vegas the 'Entertainment Capital of the World,' we still need to diversify. Ending the recession (nationwide) would be the best thing to happen."

Premier magazine, Fall/Winter 2010