Las Vegas tourism group sees more visitors, money as Sin City on upswing; keeps ad firm

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LAS VEGAS — What happens here —at least the room taxes paid by the more than 40 million visitors expected to stay a night or two in Las Vegas this year — stays here.

And that familiar slogan?

It stays, too.

Officials with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said Thursday that the 12 percent room tax attached to a night's stay in Las Vegas-area hotel rooms brought in $222.7 million to the publicly-run tourism group, funds it could use to convince more travelers to spend the night in the future.

It was more than Vegas' prior best year, fiscal year 2008, and the fourth year in a row the area's tourism industry has seen growth.

That's partly because there are 15,357 more rooms in the area. There were also 1.4 million more visitors this past year than in 2008. The average daily room rate, remains on a slow climb back to 2008 levels.

That extra tax revenue, and cost-savings, boosted the tourism authority's general fund by millions more than it expected to have by the end of June 30, 2014.

With that, it's lifting expectations for its current fiscal year to increase revenue by 11 percent to $317.1 million and spending for advertising, marketing and capital projects by 9.8 percent to $303.5 million.

"We have to protect our brand, all the time," said authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter.

To do that, Ralenkotter is negotiating an extension to the group's contract with Las Vegas-based R&R Partners, its longtime advertising and marketing firm, credited with the "what happens here, stays here" slogan still in use today.

The firm is looking at how it can push that slogan and brand to a younger audience via mobile apps like SnapChat that promise to make photos and messages disappear and devices like Apple's new watch coming next year.

The firm has been working for the tourism authority since 1980 and hasn't bid for a new contract since 1999. The latest contract ends June 30 and the authority's board directed Ralenkotter to negotiate a new three-year contract with a two-year renewal option.

R&R is expected to receive $93 million a year from the agency which would pay for 80 employees who work exclusively on the Las Vegas CVA's account, the cost to produce and pay for any advertisements and any profit that might be left over after other work.

It remains R&R's largest contract, accounting for about 38 percent of its business, said CEO Billy Vassiliadis.

With the region just beginning to emerge from the damaging effects of the recession, it could be a gamble to shift the job of branding the destination to another firm, he said.

While the Vegas area is improving, it's not yet improving at a pre-recession pace, he said.

With board members sitting in front of him Thursday, Vassiliadis put on a show relaying his firm's work the past year with accompanying videos and graphics, including the "Vegas Season" promotion which sent swimsuit-clad carolers to Chicago during the summer.

When a large convention was shopping around for a new place to meet, he said the agency met the meeting planners during one of their stops at Denver International Airport's baggage claim with iPads preloaded with messages from Las Vegas hotel-casino CEOs and personalities.

As for the slogan, "it was authentic, it was true, it was real," he said, adding that it's now a case study in college marketing textbooks.

"It still works," he said.

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