Las Vegas Sun

July 24, 2014

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New campaign to draw tourists

"What happens here, stays here," is Las Vegas' motto, but Boulder City wants visitors, especially Southern Nevada residents, to talk about what they did.

The newly formed Boulder City Tourism Commission is preparing to launch a marketing campaign not only to bring tourists from the Strip who may only know about Hoover Dam, but to attract residents of Las Vegas, Henderson and the rest of Clark County who haven't given the city alongside the dam a second thought.

The commission previously secured a $48,000 grant from the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority and this week got another $52,000 from the Boulder City Redevelopment Agency. It will seek regular funding from both agencies as part of the ongoing marketing campaign.

That campaign hasn't been defined, but 80 percent of the focus will be on attracting Southern Nevada residents to Boulder City. And Boulder City officials are also counting on attracting even more people by word of mouth.

"Boulder City is certainly one of the unknown, untapped treasurers of Southern Nevada," said Greg Corbin, a commission member and manager of the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City. "We get all sorts of comments from people who live in Henderson and Las Vegas and come over to Boulder City and not realize how quaint and pleasant it is."

It lacks casinos, for one thing, and has stringently controlled growth.

Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said Boulder City has been a niche destination for those international travelers who want to see the Southwestern United States and repeat domestic travelers to Las Vegas. Most tourists don't have time to go to Boulder City because they only stay in Las Vegas for three nights, and he understands the need to reach out to those who live in the area.

One of the problems Boulder City faces is that tourists and Las Vegas Valley residents don't know how close they are to Boulder City, commission members said. Boulder City is about 25 miles from the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard South and Flamingo Road but civic leaders said the perception of many outsiders is that it's 100 to 200 miles away.

"We hear from people that we are so far away, but we are only 25 minutes away," said Boulder City Councilman Mike Pacini, the commission's chairman. "We want to tell them it is a beautiful place to bring their family. As soon as you come over the mountains, you take a deep breath and feel relaxed. It is just like being at home."

For the 37 million tourists that visit Las Vegas a year, the commission wants to highlight such sites as Hoover Dam, the Lake Mead recreational area, downtown shopping, Bootleg Canyon bike trail, the BMX track, golf courses, the Boulder Dam Hotel, and a railroad museum that offers a vintage train ride.

The Boulder City Airport is also home to helicopter tour flights to the Grand Canyon, and there are plans for a motocross park recreational facility in Boulder City that is expected to draw visitors.

For the marketing campaign of Clark County residents, the commission wants to portray Boulder City as a nearby, half-day, full-day or weekend destination noted for its arts, restaurants, boutiques and other shopping, culture and festivals and outdoor recreation, officials said.

"We are in the transition of becoming like a bed-and-breakfast center," said Dawn Tiffe, a commission member and co-owner of the Sands Motel. "People from Las Vegas are flocking here on the weekends. I don't want to say anything about Las Vegas, but they want to get away to where it is quiet. We have that hometown feeling, and it is hard to find that in Las Vegas. They come up here and feel like it is 1,000 miles away."

Kathi Jacobs, the owner of the Antique Depot, said she's glad the city will market more to Las Vegas Valley residents. Many of her customers are tourists but Southern Nevada residents are more likely to buy bigger items they can take home with them.

The push to market Boulder City to tourists and valley residents comes as city officials and businesses prepare for the proposed highway bypassing the community. Of the visitors who pass through Boulder City, only 30 percent stop now, and officials are concerned that number will drop even more with the bypass. The bypass, which will be finished in a few years, will send travelers around Boulder City to a bridge over the Colorado River instead of through town to Hoover Dam.

"We want our economy to be strong and make sure retailers and restaurants have people in them," said Jill Lagan, executive director of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce. "We don't want to live in a ghost town, but a thriving community."

Boulder City receives about $8.7 million a year in sales tax revenue, much of it generated by tourism that creates jobs and pays for city services, officials said. Sales taxes accounts for 45 percent of the city's general fund expenses that includes police, fire and other services.

Business owners have mixed feeling about the bypass.

"I'm concerned about that (the bypass)," said Al Stevens, co-owner of the popular cafe, The Coffee Cup, which relies on out-of-towners for 50 percent of its customers. "It's like any little town along Route 66. It took them a long time to recover."

Other Boulder City residents and business owners said they figure the city will still get plenty of visitors who want to go to Hoover Dam and other attractions. The bypass could make the city even more attractive because it will divert trucks and other traffic that wouldn't stop anyway, others said.

Stevens said the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce has historically done a poor job of marketing the city. He said business is booming for his cafe, but businesses could do even better if there was a farmers' market, car festival and other events to bring in visitors.

Boulder City has a fall arts festival and Fourth of July celebration.

Lagan said marketing efforts have been limited because the chamber gets only between $7,500 to $25,000 a year from the Nevada Commission on Tourism. That's not enough money for a marketing campaign, so it is used for brochures, and it also can't be used to target area residents.

A marketing campaign might have helped lure Martha and Tim Ruddy to Boulder City much sooner than their arrival there. The Virginia couple traveled to Boulder City on Wednesday with their three children to see Hoover Dam and stopped in the city afterward to eat lunch.

"I was surprised," Martha Ruddy said. "It was such a quaint town. That's why we stopped. We normally don't like to go off the Strip. It is not pretty. It is very seedy."

With its $100,000 budget, the commission plans to spend $10,000 on a survey to profile visitors and another $10,000 to track and monitor advertising expenditures. There will be $15,000 spent on a Web site to attract new visitors to Boulder City and another $20,000 on advertising it.

Some $40,000 of the money is to be spent on an advertising firm to develop a campaign that brands Boulder City with its own image.

Pacini envisions a campaign to dispel the notion that Boulder City is far away from Las Vegas and that, instead, it is so close that is is "just like family." Lagan agreed, saying Las Vegas residents can go to Boulder City at night and still be back home with plenty of time for other tasks.

Longtime Las Vegas resident Kathy Kearns said she only started going to Boulder City in the last two years to visit antique shops. A former New York City resident, she said locals everywhere take where they live for granted. She lived in New York City for 40 years without going to the Empire State Building, for example.

"I don't think the new people here have a clue what is out there," Kearns said. "This is a typical small town. You can relax and sip your coffee at a sidewalk cafe without worrying about giving up your seat."

While reluctant to criticize Las Vegas because tourists and residents are a source of visitors to Boulder City, commission members said they want to emphasize they are offering an alternative.

"I think Boulder City is the counterculture to Las Vegas," said Wendy Randall, executive director of the Red Mountain Music Co., which puts on musical performances that attracts visitors to the city. "It is very family- friendly. We are marketing in the opposite direction."

Bud Pico, Henderson's manager of tourism and sales, said his city has worked with Boulder City on marketing, called Boulder City's marketing effort "brilliant."

"They have a lot of attractions in Boulder City that residents aren't familiar with," Pico said. "They know about the Strip, but they don't know what's in the surrounding areas."

Pico said visitors to Boulder City are close enough that they stay at hotels in Henderson.

He said Henderson has worked with Boulder City on marketing campaigns, including partnering in sponsorship of the Terrible 300 desert car, truck and motorcycle races.

Henderson has even worked with Boulder City on a tourist attraction that has participants roll down a hill in a inflatable sphere called a Zorb.

Lagan said Boulder City wants its visitors to do the flip of Las Vegas' motto and talk all they want about what they see and encourage others to come and visit. That word of mouth is a strong advertising campaign, she said.

Whatever marketing campaign Boulder City settles on, Pacini joked, however, Boulder City can draw from the motto of Las Vegas when it does its campaign.

"What happens in Boulder City follows you home, so behave," Pacini said.

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