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December 18, 2014

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Technology, social media changing how tourism leaders market Nevada

RENO – Rapid advancements in technology and intense research on who is coming here are driving how Nevada’s leading tourism marketing agencies are communicating with travelers, a panel of experts told attendees at the Governors Conference on Tourism.

JoLyn Laney, deputy director of marketing and advertising for the Nevada Commission on Tourism, Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and Jennifer Cunningham, executive director of marketing for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, told more than 250 people in attendance that there’s a major shift from conventional to new media, and travel marketers should exploit that to deliver their messages at lower costs.

Panelists made their remarks at the opening day of the two-day conference, which wraps up today with three more sessions and a luncheon tribute to Sen. Richard Bryan, who as governor created the Nevada Commission on Tourism and organized the first Governor’s Conference on Tourism in 1983.

Laney said the state is not abandoning traditional media messages, but is focusing more on a new generation of travelers who communicate via Facebook and Twitter and post their pictures and videos on Flickr and YouTube.

“It’s a shift in media consumption,” Laney said. “The theory was that people would spend their time typing into these mobile devices, but that’s what they’re doing.”

Tourism attractions, bureaus and agencies can take advantage of that shift by living in the same universe. The strategy seems to have paid off for the Nevada Commission on Tourism, which was forced to adapt because of massive budget cuts. By delivering simple messages and gaining accessibility to leading new media sites, the state has cut costs and gotten more return on investment.

The state estimates that it receives $31 in media exposure for every dollar spent. Prior to using some new media channels, the return was about $17 per dollar.

“We’ve found that the average traveler now spends 21 minutes on YouTube a day, so it’s an ideal place to show videos about the state,” she said.

Google was so impressed with Nevada’s new media marketing strategy that it used the state’s program as a case study, giving the state even more mileage.

The state still makes traditional media buys – it has print ad placements in Southwest Airlines’ inflight magazine and National Geographic Traveler and TV ads run in Los Angeles and San Francisco markets.

The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority also has taken advantage of new media placement, delivering the message that Reno is a quirky destination that is “loud and proud” and is close to world-class skiing.

Cunningham said the city is counting on word-of-mouth references and the RSCVA publishes five blogs to tell people about what’s happening in the Reno area.

Recently, the Reno site generated considerable interest and commentary by contributors on a simple topic – how to drive in the snow. A YouTube video promoting the La Tomatino tomato fight in Reno last August went viral, Cunningham said, and the video was produced at minimal cost.

Las Vegas also has entered the new media sphere and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s “What happens here, stays here” advertisement are YouTube sensations.

Tull told the conference that Las Vegas bases all of its marketing strategy on research the LVCVA conducts and the agency constantly tweaks its ad campaigns to deliver marketing messages to targeted audiences. The LVCVA and its advertising consultant, R&R Partners, conduct focus groups, street interviews, triads and telephone interviews to gather information about what spurs a trip to Las Vegas.

“We balance branding with retail,” Tull said, “but our objective is to be fast and flexible.”

The LVCVA’s ability to move quickly to react to rapidly changing economic shifts has been credited as one of the reasons Las Vegas has seen a better rebound in visitor volume than other destinations. The challenge for the LVCVA now is to persuade those visitors to spend more when they come, which is why it has spent so much effort on attracting international visitors who stay longer and spend more.

The state’s tourism marketers also are pioneers in delivering content to mobile users. Laney said delivering ski conditions quickly is key to attracting visitors considering spur-of-the-moment trips.

“We’ll post information right away as soon as it starts snowing,” Laney said. “If you wait, that’s when you miss the mark.”

State marketers also said while the recent emphasis has been on attracting visitors from surrounding states, local attractions often forget about marketing to Nevadans to see attractions in their own state.

Tull said the LVCVA has set up a website catering to locals that offers discounts and special deals to those having Nevada licenses. The site is stayandplayhere.com.

In another session on the opening day of the conference, Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV, gave an economic report card for the state and how the economy will affect the tourism industry.

Brown, who will deliver an economic forecast in Las Vegas next week, painted a picture of a state slowly recovering from a deep and lingering recession. He said there are bright spots with visitor volume and gaming revenue improved over the last few months and consumer confidence is gradually returning. But unemployment and a weak housing market will continue to dog the state as it continues to climb out of the longest and deepest recession since World War II.

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