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August 29, 2014

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Tourism column:

What’s in a brand? Nevada in search of an effective hook

How do you capture the essence of Nevada in a brand?

That’s a task the Nevada Tourism Commission will assign to a brand development vendor when it drafts a request for proposals over the next couple of months.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has gone though the same process in developing what arguably is the most successful destination branding scheme ever conceived. Love it or hate it, “What happens here, stays here” is uniquely Las Vegas and the ad campaign that accompanied the effort to brand the city as a place to engage in adult freedom is something that people have talked about, mimicked, ripped off and recycled for years.

Although “What happens here, stays here” used humor to project Las Vegas as a fun place, the challenge may be greater for branding Nevada.

The state’s diverse landscape — one of the things we cherish about Nevada and what sets us apart from our 49 sibling states — is difficult to put in a one-size-fits-all box.

To some, Nevada is a vast desert wasteland. To others, it’s a rugged snow-packed mountain wilderness. It’s outdoor adventure and indoor entertainment, gaming palaces and ghost towns. It’s canyons and caves, dry desert lakes and clear mountain streams. And, it’s for backpackers, RVers, ATVers, PWCers, zip liners, rock climbers and NASCAR driver wannabes.

It’ll be important to capture that essence because the commission is going to sell whatever it is to would-be visitors. Because of the state’s dire financial straits, it has to streamline and economize the message to get the most bang for its buck.

State officials are hoping to develop the request for proposals by mid-January, revise and tweak it by early February, seek out the research and development proposals by mid-February and evaluate proposals by early March.

“We’re trying to determine what’s the essence of Nevada,” acting Tourism Commission Director Larry Friedman said. “What is it about Nevada that appeals to people as a place to visit?”

Readers of this column often have their own ideas about how Nevada and Las Vegas should market the product.

What’s your best idea for selling our state to visitors? Drop me an e-mail and I’ll consolidate the best ideas in a future column and deliver it to Mr. Friedman.

Don’t forget, you’re trying to present a brand that fits the whole state, and we’re competing with other states that have similar amenities. The Sierra Nevada and the Rubies near Elko are scenic, but Colorado has the Rockies. Many of our deserts have a rugged beauty, but there’s nothing like a saguaro forest in Arizona. Lehman Cave is great, but New Mexico has Carlsbad Caverns.

And just about everybody has casinos now.

Get creative. Sell me on Nevada.

Fly Geyser

A few months ago, I banged on the Nevada Tourism Commission for highlighting the Fly Geyser — a geologic oddity in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach in Northern Nevada — in a promotional brochure.

It seemed odd that a feature on private land that you couldn’t get close enough to photograph easily would be used to sell Nevada tourism.

But according to gotgeysers.com, there are plans to open the geyser to the public later this year. The website promotes hot-spring swimming and bathing, camping and plans for music and arts festivals and special events on weekends.

I’ll have updates on the status of this attraction, which was formed when a water well driller accidentally penetrated a geothermal pocket and produced a continuously flowing geyser that grew as mineral deposits formed a rock mound.

New LV convention

The public usually doesn’t have many kind things to say about unions because of the labor disruptions they can produce. But here’s an instance in which union tactics are playing in Las Vegas’ favor.

Last week, the American Sociological Association announced that it’s going to have its 106th annual meeting at Caesars Palace Aug. 20-23. The reason: A protracted labor dispute involving two Chicago hotels is showing no sign of resolution and the American Sociological Association Council opted against taking a chance that it wouldn’t be solved by August.

A contract between the two union hotels — the Hilton Chicago and the Palmer House Hilton — and UNITE HERE Local 1 expired Aug. 31, 2009.

“Without any sign of an imminent resolution, the ASA Council voted unanimously to move the annual meeting because ASA could not guarantee that the facilities and environment for a successful meeting would be available,” said Sally Hillsman, executive director.

It’ll be the first time that the association has met in Las Vegas, and members seem delighted, not only because for the first time since 1990 the organization with 5,000 attendees will be able to conduct its event under one roof but because sociologists find Las Vegas to be interesting laboratory.

“Not only is Las Vegas vibrant and fascinating from a sociological perspective, but it’s also easily accessible for our members across the country,” Hillman said. “When we decided to move our meeting from Chicago, we put an emphasis on finding an alternate location that offered optimum convenience for our members. By selecting Las Vegas and Caesars Palace, we believe we’ve achieved that goal.”

Workers at Caesars Palace have union contracts, but they don’t expire until 2012.

LVCVA representatives have to be happy with the association’s decision, since it’s wanted to get more medical groups to give Las Vegas a try.

The next goal should be to work hard with the association to convince leadership to keep the event here. If the event shows a healthy attendance increase from previous years, the group would have to think twice about returning to Chicago.

World Trade Center

It’s unfortunate that the first thing that pops into our heads when we hear the phrase “World Trade Center” is terrorism and catastrophe because the recent designation of the Las Vegas Convention Center as the World Trade Center, Las Vegas is an important step toward broadening global commerce in our city.

Although many people immediately envision the collapse of the twin towers in New York when they think World Trade Center, there are actually dozens of world trade centers worldwide.

Some are in hotels, some in office buildings, and they provide many of the services, benefits and comforts needed by the global road warrior conducting business in a foreign country.

Las Vegas has been one of the nation’s larger cities without a World Trade Center (although, according to the World Trade Centers Association list, it doesn’t appear Phoenix has one — and should). Southern California has some in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oxnard. They even have them in El Paso, Texas, and Missoula, Mont. (probably because of their proximity to their respective borders).

Some amateur commentators and blogger wannabes who commented on the story about the Las Vegas designation when it was initially reported sloughed it off as a stupid gimmick. They were half right — it may be a gimmick. But not a stupid one.

In the city’s economic rebuilding, we’re going to need a few gimmicks to reach economic prosperity. If Las Vegas can provide a haven to the businessperson by putting a sign on a building, creating a few offices with desks, installing a few phone lines, a fax machine and Internet access and invite a vendor who can handle foreign currency transactions, Las Vegans should be all for it.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple and there are a few expenses involved. But it’s important.

McCarran statistics

With one month to go before we see McCarran’s 2010 passenger volume totals, it’s clear that all the hope and optimism that the airport would see a turnaround from the previous year didn’t happen.

As analysts said in their adjusted estimates three-quarters of the way through 2010, it appears McCarran traffic is going to be down in the 2 percent range for the year.

But it’s a much different picture if you take one carrier out of the equation.

Through November, 36.7 million people had flown in and out of Las Vegas compared with 37.4 million for 11 months in 2009 — a 1.9 percent decline.

Remove US Airways — and its major strategic change that all but eliminated Las Vegas from its future — out of the mix and you’d have seen 34.5 million passengers in 2010 compared with 32.9 million in 2009 — a 4.9 percent traffic increase for the year.

To say the US Airways downsizing in Las Vegas damaged the community would be an understatement.

Nearly every other domestic airline serving Las Vegas has shown year-over-year passenger growth in 2010. The few exceptions were AirTran (which goes away in 2011 as a merged partner with Southwest), United and Continental (which are merging and are focused more on international routes) and Midwest (which discontinued operations as a merged partner with Frontier).

Internationally, McCarran continues to fare well.

Discounter WestJet continues to pick up some of the slack lost by Air Canada in the Canadian market while Vivaaerobus and Aeromexico are filling the gaps resulting from the collapse of Aviacsa and the near-collapse of Mexicana in Mexico.

Across the pond, British Midland is gone, but British Airways is strong. XL Airways France chipped in with some seasonal nonstop routes to and from Paris and Virgin Atlantic, although down, will add a new nonstop route between Las Vegas and Manchester, England, in April.

In the big picture, although the numbers say McCarran traffic will be down for 2010, the reality is that passenger numbers are encouraging.

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