LAS VEGAS, NV – The Las Vegas Hospitality Association (LVHA), a 600-plus Las Vegas tourism industry organization, presented a special “Vegas Only” meeting and convention themed panel featuring six high power trade experts. Chris Meyer, CEM, CMP, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) vice president of convention sales, was the moderator and pointed out that the panelists were customers doing business in Las Vegas.
The economic impact of conventions reaches about $8 billion annually in Las Vegas.
Panel members representing different segments included: Trish Adams, director partnership marketing industry relations for Maritz Travel – incentive groups; Brian Henry, senior meeting planner for Allergan – corporate events; Ash Kapur, director of market management with Expedia and Hotels.com – wholesalers; Mary Anne Lamarre, operations manager with Photo Marketing Association – citywide events; Gregg Lapin, CMP director, convention and meeting services for American Osteopathic Association – small meetings; and Andrew Nocella, senior vice president, marketing and planning for US Airways.
The common consensus given the miserable state of the economy was “We’re all in this together.”
Nocella addressed the airline perspective admitting there has been a dramatic change in the Las Vegas market. “All airlines have reassessed their situation because of the fuel costs. US Airways has an aggressive business plan to reflect the market change.” They eliminated Las Vegas night flights four or five months ago, which was about a 95 percent cut, and cut day flights by 12 percent. Nocella pointed out the common goal is to fill airline seats and Las Vegas rooms. “We’re all in this together and we remain optimistic for 2009.”
Meyer asked Adams what Las Vegas can do to make it easier for them to book business and she responded, “Las Vegas is our top destination.” Adams advised, “Be more flexible with terms, conditions and attrition. Be more up front and creative with proposals. Look beyond the room rate.” Her advice was for suppliers, as well as hoteliers. “Package things together… include activities, give show ticket, price reduction, and feature the value of the destination.” Most of all response time, Adams emphasized, should be 24 hours or less especially with the available electronic tool we have today. In addition, come back with alternate dates and shorten cancellation periods.
Kapur with Expedia and Hotels.com pointed out, “The big challenge for us in ’07 in Las Vegas was chasing inventory and calling suppliers for extra rooms. Then we saw the slow down and access to a lot more inventory. We stopped calling up suppliers and focused our change to stepping up marketing for Las Vegas.” His company is featuring Las Vegas prominently in newsletters, their Web sites, etc.
Meyer asked Lapin what changes he would like to see Las Vegas make to help his job. Coincidentally, Lapin was in town for one of his company’s shows and said, “We have exceeded our numbers this year and have more people registering on site.” His wish is to get dates for the future and to bring his conventions here every two to three years. He added, “In any other city, we’d be a citywide convention. Here we’re in one hotel.” Other panelists agreed that when they bring their meetings to Las Vegas, their attendance increases and so does the time attendees spend in sessions and actually doing business.
Henry, who manages clinical meetings worldwide for Allergan, mentioned, “Las Vegas has a personal touch, which would surprise people. My hotel person reaches out for my 20 to 30 people business.”
LaMarre has observed that people and businesses are cutting back on trade shows, but that in Las Vegas, the numbers are okay especially for international travelers. Lapin added that a trend is last-minute booking for booth space. Another thing the panelists have noticed is that companies are finding it cheaper to cancel a show, for example that would cost $900,000 to attend and accept a $100,000 cancellation fee.
The airlines and wholesalers are both growing international markets. Online marketing is especially growing in this area and Kaput’s company continually adds more international Web sites, so far 60 across the globe.
Henry gave other advice, “Educate yourself. Use this time to reinvest yourself with your relationships.” Adams said, “Las Vegas is more than a gaming destination. Deal with perception issues and sell ‘so much more do here’.” LaMarre added that in order to address the emerging Gen X market that change jobs frequently, “Keep it fresh.” Kapur reinforces, “Due to response, the booking window is shrinking.” In the area of green meetings, Brian said it’s having no effect and Adams remarked, “We’re seeing inquires but it’s not quite yet a buying criteria.”
In summation, the LVCVA issued the following statement: “Las Vegas is not immune to difficult economic times, and we are feeling the effects of this downturn. However, we have historically weathered these situations better than other destinations, and we are confident in the brand of Las Vegas and the long-term outlook. We will emerge from this stronger as a destination.”