Las Vegas ad campaign targets recession survivors

Visitors still packed Bally's Las Vegas on this weeknight in November. The news is mixed: Spending is down 15 percent from 2008, but visits are slightly up from 2009.
Visitors still packed Bally's Las Vegas on this weeknight in November. The news is mixed: Spending is down 15 percent from 2008, but visits are slightly up from 2009.
Posted: November 28, 2010

LAS VEGAS - Like all major U.S. destinations, Sin City has felt the full throttle of the recession.

But Vegas' economy, built entirely on spending - whether through gambling on the Strip's 33 casinos, relaxing at the lavish spas, or shopping at the upscale malls - needs tourists more than any other.

And starting in early 2011, the city's marketing message will be heavily geared toward those who survived the recession.

Why the push?

"Survival," Rob Dondero, executive vice president of R&R Partners, the Las Vegas public relations firm that coined the famous "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" slogan, said candidly. "Las Vegas has always been a survivor and is very resilient.

"But that hasn't been by chance. We have to be the first destination to be out of (the recession). When we do, Vegas will have 150,000 rooms to fill every night, and that's not going to happen on its own.

"It needs a lot of support."

R&R is again teaming up with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city's chief marketing arm, to refine its marketing and advertising strategy to postrecession visitors.

The marketing plan for 2011 will be presented at the Convention and Visitors Authority's board meeting next month. The new, postrecession ads - about $8 million worth for online, print, TV, radio, and billboards - were still being formulated and are set to be introduced in the first quarter of the new year.

The target is clear: men and women, ages 21 to 54, who want to go to Vegas for strictly fun or leisure.

The marketing campaign to lure the business traveler, which also plays on the economic downturn and the value of the Vegas experience, begins in the summer.

"We're tapping the postrecession mind-set," Dondero said. "I wouldn't say 'leery,' but . . . they [the would-be visitors] are better educated. They don't like surprises, which is true on everything from travel to a car. You want to know what you are going to pay, and what the experience is going to be like.

"Obviously, people are much more prudent about their expenditures."

Before a three-day visit to Las Vegas this month, Leah Lee did her homework. The 45-year-old billing consultant from Chicago said she paid close attention to the kinds of deals the Las Vegas casino hotels and airlines were offering.

"That's a deciding factor for me," said Lee as she surveyed the packed gambling floor at Bally's on a recent weeknight. Her husband, Daniel Lee, 43, played blackjack nearby. "When you're able to get some really good deals, it saves the fun money" for gambling, she said.

After arriving in Vegas, the couple monitored their spending.

"We watch it close," she said. "We don't spend more than what we came with."

There has been a reduction in spending per visit with travel nationally, and Las Vegas has been no exception.

Leisure visitors were spending about $590 per trip to Las Vegas this year, according to the Convention and Visitors Authority. That figure was down about 15 percent from prerecession levels two years ago.

But on a brighter note, leisure visits are up about 3 percent from 2009. From January to September, Las Vegas welcomed 28.2 million visitors, of which 24.7 million came for leisure. For the same period in 2009, the city was host to 27.5 million visitors, of which 23.9 million were leisure travelers.

Inessa Moneta, a sales associate for a jewelry stand inside the Paris Las Vegas Casino, knows firsthand that discretionary spending is down. She said she could tell by the number of pieces sold daily.

"Fifty percent of business is off since the recession started two years ago," she said in between tending to customers. "We have less people coming in. They are spending less money."

To help sales, she said, the jewelry stand bundles the pieces, offering two or more at a discount.

"The deals are helping when they buy in bundle," Moneta said.

As the top travel destination in the United States, Las Vegas sets trends nationally, and what happens here does not stay here, said Meryl Levitz, head of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. She said the agency's With Love Philadelphia XOXO campaign was developed in direct response to the economic recession.

The tourism agency has invested $4.7 million in the campaign since it debuted in May 2009.

"We used to talk about the new normal, now we are talking about the new consumer," Levitz said.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the postrecession marketing was all about maintaining the Vegas brand and staying current.

"The LVCVA continuously researches the consumer to understand current trends and to continue to position Las Vegas as a premier travel destination well into the future," he said last week. "We know that consumer behavior has changed during the recession and some of that behavior will extend well after the recession has ended."

From May to September, ads for Las Vegas were retail-oriented and highlighted the city's shopping, dining, entertainment, and branding in pursuit of a broad audience, Dondero at R&R said. Since September, they have been more informational, featuring what is on sale and where, and listings of shows and ticket prices.

While it needs to escape the recession sooner than most destinations, Dondero said, Las Vegas continues to have new offerings. Hotel occupancy here was still 24 percent above the national average.

"Since the recession started, we've added 15,000 new rooms, and we're opening a new major casino on the Strip next month (the 2,995-room Cosmopolitan debuts Dec. 15.)," he said. "We're very fortunate we have new things to talk about."

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or