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Texas town stars in new Las Vegas visitor campaign

Updated Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 | 9:24 p.m.

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In today’s world of buzzwords and hidden meanings amid economic turmoil, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority doesn’t want you to vacation here. It wants you to take a break here.

That’s the new message that will be sent to tourists in the weeks ahead as the authority rolls out its initial marketing campaign for 2009.

The board of directors viewed some of the television spots for an ad campaign that breaks next week.

Terry Jicinsky, authority senior vice president of marketing, and Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive of R&R Partners, the LVCVA’s ad agency, explained the “Vegas Now” campaign that stresses an urgency to make a trip to Southern Nevada while maintaining enough flexibility to veer to other messages based on market conditions.

The initial $2 million campaign, part of a $13 million quarterly budget, centers on luring visitors to an escape from current economic turmoil. Tourism leaders say “vacation” now carries a negative connotation with consumer confidence at an all-time low, so the emphasis is on “breaks.”

“There’s a time to brand and a time to retail,” Vassiliadis told the board, explaining the new campaign is more about short-term goals than the Las Vegas branding accomplished by the “What happens here, stays here” campaign. “People are starting to need it (an escape). They need to exhale. And Las Vegas is the perfect place to exhale.”

To illustrate the need for an escape, the convention authority invited residents of Cranfills Gap, Texas, to Las Vegas for a five-day visit in mid-December. About 100 people — more than one-quarter of the town’s population — made the “Vegas Bound” trip that was extended because of flight cancellations during the snowfall that hit on the planned departure day.

Television spots and a prelaunch video show clips of the townspeople welcomed at the airport by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman with showgirls on his arms. The clips also show the Texans golfing, viewing the fountains at Bellagio, in hot tubs, driving at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, attending an exotic dance class and indoor sky diving.

Authority marketers are hoping the images of some of the colorful residents of Cranfills Gap whooping it up in Las Vegas will resonate with potential visitors. The spots show flashes of numerous Las Vegas attractions, a strategy designed to show the city is “open for business” and not devastated by the current economic climate.

Marketers are hoping the new campaign will take off like “What happens here, stays here,” and there already are indications it will. Jicinsky said even before the campaign’s launch the city has received at least $2 million in free media from television and print news stories, blogs and Internet chatter about the Texans’ visit.

Three “Webisodes” are planned and the Vegas Bound story will be told in video form on YouTube.

Jicinsky also said the campaign has a four-pronged approach with the authority’s 45-member sales staff making calls in key cities, a public relations campaign involving free and paid media, a greater emphasis on special events and the ad campaign.

In addition to the Vegas Bound campaign, Jicinsky noted Las Vegas will play host to the first launch party for the release of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in February and the culinary-centered Vegas Uncork’d event co-sponsored by Bon Appetit magazine.

In other business, the board received a report from the Nevada Transportation Department on its next Interstate 15 project and finalized a contract for this year’s Big League Weekend spring training exhibitions.

Rudy Malfabon, deputy director of the Transportation Department in Southern Nevada, told the board that the I-15 express lane project under construction is expected to be completed by September and by then, another project would begin.

Malfabon said the next project will be the widening of I-15 to eight lanes between the Interstate 215 interchange and Blue Diamond Road and would include new collector-distributor lanes and braided ramps similar to the traffic lanes added to U.S. 95 just west of the Spaghetti Bowl.

The project is expected to cost $250 million. The authority gets briefings from the Transportation Department because room tax revenue formerly generated for marketing

Las Vegas was redirected by the state to highway projects designed to help tourist traffic flow.

The board also unanimously approved spending $400,000 to help sponsor Big League Weekend on March 4-5 and April 3-4 at Cashman Field. The LVCVA will share in revenue generated by the event and is expected to get $200,000. In March the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox will play, and in April the Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies will take the field.

The Jan. 13 meeting was the first for Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who replaced Rory Reid on the board. Former Las Vegas Councilman Larry Brown has yet to be replaced as one of two Las Vegas city representatives on the board. The board also reelected Goodman, Boyd Gaming Chief Executive Keith Smith and Henderson Mayor James Gibson to two-year terms as chairman, vice chairman and treasurer, respectively.

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