Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011 | 1:59 p.m.
Claudia Vecchio has four weeks to cram for a big test.
The newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs — the revamped Nevada Tourism Commission — will deliver opening remarks for the two-day Governor’s Conference on Tourism beginning Nov. 29 at the Rio.
By then, she will have been a Nevada resident for about a month.
I caught up with her by phone from Dallas, where she was packing boxes and providing instructions for movers as she prepared to leave for Carson City.
Vecchio not only has the challenge of applying 20 years of professional experience in Ohio, Missouri and Texas to our state, but she’s also sailing in uncharted waters. She’ll be directing a state department that once focused exclusively on tourism marketing and now includes activities of museums, the arts and culture associated with the Nevada Indian Commission.
She’ll share the stage with Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who chairs the commission that oversees the new department, and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who holds a seat on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, at the opening general session.
“There’s a lot of stuff on my plate, but I’ve already met with several people within those groups,” Vecchio said. “They’re very capably managed now and my job will be to coalesce them all together, unify our efforts and drive our message.”
And what exactly is that message?
Vecchio thinks it will be more about expressing the emotional pull of Nevada than describing its attributes.
And how do you do that with a shrinking budget that not only is dwarfed by other state departments but by state tourism boards across the West?
More than likely, with the low-cost 21st century version of over-the-fence chitchat with friends and neighbors — social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
“I really feel we need to work the Internet and social media,” she said. “It’s all about intellectual capacity more than financial capacity. Funding becomes less important as messaging becomes more important.”
The effective use of social media and how it’s changing will be one of the key sessions at the governor’s conference. Representatives from Think! Social Media and TripAdvisor will talk about how social media are changing.
TripAdvisor, an important online partner for Nevada, offers a forum for tourists to comment, good or bad, on their travel experiences.
The conference agenda also includes views on local tourism from state, national and international perspectives, an update on the economy by futurist Jeff Thredgold and a pair of sessions on building and maintaining a brand.
Stephen Cloobeck, chairman and CEO of Diamond Resorts Holdings and chairman of the Corporation for Travel Promotion, is the first of the confirmed speakers on the CEO panel in which resort executives will talk about their 2012 strategies.
Cloobeck and representatives from U.S. Travel Association and the National Tour Association will talk about the U.S. bid to bring more tourists to the United States. The Corporation for Travel Promotion’s CEO, James Evans, is a scheduled lunch speaker.
State strategies will be reviewed in a panel that will include Dale Erquiaga, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s senior adviser; Krolicki; Randall Walker, director of the Clark County Aviation Department; Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA; Joe Kelley, acting director of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority; and Don Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention & Visitors Authority.
Conference attendees may have a tough time choosing which concurrent workshop to attend with simultaneous sessions on the commission’s new arts, museums and Indian culture partners, top international sales strategies and the emerging medical tourism industry.
Billy Vassiliadis, whose R&R Partners created Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here” slogan, will discuss building and protecting a brand, and the conference will be capped by a presentation by John Rubino, president of GreenRubino, and David Bratton, managing partner of Destination Analysts, on Nevada’s branding plans.
Many of the speakers at this year’s governor’s conference have been involved in many aspects of Nevada tourism for years, and Vecchio can’t wait to work with them.
“I don’t think there’s any magic potion for doing this,” she said. “We have an opportunity to infuse some energy into this (Nevada) brand. It doesn’t get any better than to work with the superstars of the industry.”