Darrin Bush/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, May 12, 2010 | 2 a.m.
- Visitor numbers, room rates increase in March (5-11-2010)
- Strip casino winnings increase in March (5-11-2010)
- As weather heats up, the business of partying evolves at resort pools (5-11-2010)
- Holly Madison, Wayne Newton say, ‘Welcome to Fabulous Camp Vegas’ (4-29-2010)
- Demand for summer getaways nudging room rates higher (4-17-2010)
- Summer tourism is set to sizzle (4-16-2010)
- Index shows few signs of economic recovery in short-term (4-14-2010)
The lights were dimmed in the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority boardroom.
And Billy Vassiliadis’ mood was bright as the PowerPoint slide projected on the oversized screen.
The CEO of R&R Partners, which handles advertising and marketing for the LVCVA, pronounced that the economy hit bottom more than a year ago and is now well on its way to recovery.
“While economic tensions continue obviously, we do see some positive signs,” Vassiliadis said. “We’re seeing travel beginning to rebound.”
Here’s what he had to say: After months of bad economic news, occupancy rates in Las Vegas were up in March, and winnings for Strip casinos were up for the fourth time in five months. Nationwide studies show consumer confidence and optimism is on the rise. The number of visitors seems to have bottomed out in January 2009, and since September, Las Vegas has started to see regular increases in visitors.
“I think I can safely report bottom has happened and we’re starting to move upward,” Vassiliadis said. “We’re starting to see a growth trend again, not back to ’06, but it is finally heading north fairly consistently.”
Those increases should continue, based on R&R’s studies, he said.
“In our focus groups, we’re seeing a pent-up demand,” he said. “People are saying more and more, ‘I’ve got to get away, I’ve got to break out of this.’ ”
To tap that potential, Vassiliadis’ agency has developed its newest ad campaign: Vegas can be fun even in the heat of summer. Think summer camp. Think adult fun. It’s Camp Vegas for Grown-ups.
The campaign will be a killer, he said.
“Most of you who know me know I’m not that much of an optimist, but pretty optimistically I tell you I’m pretty bullish on where we’re going,” he said. “It’s not over. There’s a lot of fight we still have to fight, but if we continue to do what we’ve been doing and go the way we’ve been going, I do think that our recovery is going to be stronger than people think, and the trends seem to show that.”
Next to address the board: Brenda Siddall, the LVCVA’s vice president of finance.
Now, she didn’t exactly come out and say Vassiliadis is wrong, but neither did she share his optimism.
Most of the LVCVA’s revenue for promoting Las Vegas comes from hotel room taxes, and based on current trends, Siddall predicted that revenue for the next fiscal year will be the same as the current one.
“We haven’t really seen any increases, but we have definitely seen a trend of flattening decreases,” she said. “We’re kind of skimming along the zero percent change from last year.”
Room taxes for the current and next fiscal years will be lower than they were in 2005, she said, leaving the authority with a $20 million shortfall in its budget.
The authority has frozen pay increases, gone without filling vacant positions and made employees take furloughs.
All those will continue, she said, or else there will be layoffs.
And the low revenue means the authority will have to cut funding for its main program, the very one Vassiliadis was representing, including Camp Vegas.
“Advertising is the focus, the heart, really, of completing our mission. And up to this point we have protected the funding dollars for advertising during all of the budget cuts over the last three years,” Siddall said. “We’re at a point now where we can no longer shield the advertising budget.”
A few board members asked questions about the budget, but only Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is the chairman of the authority’s board and the city’s lead promoter, pointed out the contradiction in the reports.
“I’m going to side with Mr. Vassiliadis,” Goodman said.
“He was optimistic,” Siddall replied.