Selling the sin side of the city has its limits.
To attract more tourists, Las Vegas needs to promote different aspects of its personality, says Seyhmus Baloglu, a UNLV Harrah Hotel College tourism professor. Nightlife and gaming alone is not a sustainable marketing tactic and won't be enough to pull Las Vegas out of its economic slump, especially with increasing competition for travelers' dollars.
"Promoting the basic attributes of a destination no longer helps destinations attract travelers because so many other places are advertising the same features," said Baloglu. "Destinations must have multiple personalities."
Baloglu and his graduate students tested the theory of "destination personality" to find out who visits Las Vegas and why. The theory is often used in finding out why consumers pick products, but has not been applied widely to consumer travel behavior.
The researchers asked tourists to associate personality characteristics with their perception of Las Vegas. A majority described visitors as young, fun, sexy, and wealthy and the city itself as vibrant, showy, sexy, and daring. They also noted that the city is not friendly or sophisticated.
Las Vegas could be a prime vacation spot to more people, if they knew more about what the city and region has to offer and if the city makes more investments in nongaming attractions, Baloglu's research shows.
The research shows that our lifestyles, activities, interests, and opinions not only influence our choices in consumer products where we travel, Baloglu said. We're less likely to consider locales that do not fit with our personality type. If the public has an image of Las Vegas as being solely for the wild, under 30-crowd, the city will lose any potential visitors who don't fit that box.
The surveys also indicate that Las Vegas may need a little sprucing. First impressions are everything and travelers consider any city's main attractions as indicators of whether or not the city is friendly and inviting. If visitors have to trek through downtrodden areas or are constantly solicited with unwanted information, they could label the city as unpleasant places to visit.
And what about being unsophisticated? Baloglu suggests the city must make an investment in promoting and creating more nongaming attractions, such as museums. The Smith Center for Performing Arts, slated to open in 2012 in downtown Las Vegas, is an example of a potentially exciting new attraction for visitors, Baloglu said.
He also encourages heavily promoting outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, and boating and the city's proximity to national parks and recreation areas such as Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, and Lake Mead.
"Tourists who experience a match between how they see the destinations and themselves are more likely to have favorable attitudes toward those destinations. They are likely return to that place and recommend it," Baloglu said.
About the Study
The study, titled "Brand personality of tourist destinations: An application of self-congruity theory," was published in the February edition of the Journal of Tourism and is authored by Seyhmus Baloglu, associate dean for academic research and professor of tourism and convention administration at the UNLV Harrah Hotel College. It is co-authored by Ahmet Usakli, who was a graduate student at UNLV and is now a professor of tourism management at Nevsehir University in Turkey.
Conducted in 2009, half of the study's respondents were first-time visitors to Las Vegas with a majority visiting from the United Kingdom and Canada, followed by Arizona, California, Utah, New York, Iowa, and Washington.