Thursday, June 25, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Rossi Ralenkotter has worked for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for 36 years, becoming its president and CEO in 2004.
Ralenkotter oversees the successful tourism campaign “What happens here, stays here” — and was gratified that after President Barack Obama warned businesses receiving federal bailout money against taking frivolous trips to Las Vegas, the president himself came to Las Vegas to conduct business.
When will we start seeing the advertisements with President Obama saying “there’s nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week”?
You know something, actions do speak louder than words, and we were very pleased and excited that the president came to Las Vegas. He made a comment about how people love to come to Las Vegas and he’s no exception to that.
How has the economy affected future convention and trade show bookings?
We expect our occupancy rate in 2009 to be 70 percent — which, for a convention center, is basically full. We expect the same level of occupancy in the next two years. We have some groups that are booking 2021 and 2022. So the interest is there. The demand is there.
Where we’ve been hurt is on the corporate meeting side, where bookings are made just three or six months in advance. They have backed off for various reasons, including the economy and the president’s remarks.
What do you expect to be the effect of the opening of MGM Mirage’s CityCenter development?
CityCenter is going to create a tremendous amount of publicity and attention on Las Vegas. It’ll put that spotlight again on Las Vegas as a destination. Anytime you can get that type of media exposure, that type of buzz around your destination, it’s important.
What’s happening on the international front?
When British Airways starts nonstop flights between Heathrow and Las Vegas in October, that will bring the number of international flights — including to Mexico and Canada — up to 177 a week. We’ll have greater opportunity to line up corporate meetings out of the U.K. The Korean Air nonstop flights are returning, too. This will help us push our foreign-market share from 12 percent back to 18 percent, where it was 10 years ago.
Las Vegas doesn’t have a National Hockey League team but it is getting NHL and NASCAR awards banquets. What’s the significance of that?
That’s how the National Finals Rodeo came to town — it was a special event that turned into a destination event. Now that we’ve landed the NASCAR awards banquet, which had been held for more than 25 years in New York, all the eyes of NASCAR will be on Las Vegas during the first week of December. It will be a great opportunity to merge the NASCAR and Las Vegas brands. The same with the hockey awards banquet that we’ve landed. Then they’ll ask, “What else could we do?” Could there be an exhibition game? Could there be a concert? What can we do to make it even more of an event?
Does this bode well for getting a second NASCAR race?
The drivers love Las Vegas, the fans love Las Vegas. We’re a natural fit for another race. Hopefully, as they look at their schedules, they’ll look back on Las Vegas favorably.
A version of this story appeared recently in In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.