A Las Vegas showgirl entertained passengers on Southwest Airlines flights in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Thursday, giving away free cocktails and more than a dozen trips to Las Vegas and Reno.
The gimmick was part of a focused attempt to generate tourism from states that are just a short flight or easy drive away, said Chris Chrystal, spokeswoman for the Nevada Commission on Tourism.
It’s an effort sparked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and re-ignited in anticipation of a possible war with Iraq, she said.
“We’re aiming more at closer markets,” Chrystal said. “These are areas where we can draw visitors in time of national emergency. In case of war, this will be very important to us. It’s a market less likely to be affected by flying jitters.”
Nevada’s push to snag customers in neighboring states, especially Arizona and California, is worrying Valley tourism industry leaders, who are going after the same crowd and have just a fraction of the advertising budget to woo them.
“We’ve focused more regionally and less nationally,” said Karen Scates, deputy director of the Arizona Office of |Tourism. |“We |have |in-state promotions to keep Arizona residents in the state to enjoy the amenities we have here.”
Scates said the state also is trying to woo Southern Californians, especially the affluent adult crowd, who typically spend more money when they travel.
The big spenders may prefer the glitz and gambling. According to the Nevada tourism agency, about 73 percent of the visitors to Nevada spend at least part of their trip in Las Vegas. In Las Vegas they stay 3.4 nights and leave $1,141.50 behind. Less than half — $503 — goes for gambling.
The average Arizona visitor stays four nights and spends $421, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism.
Scates said the competition to get the high-spending visitors from around the Southwest is fierce. Colorado just upped its state tourism promotion budget $10 million to a total of $17.5 million, she said. And Hawaii approved an additional $8 million for tourism promotion in anticipation of a war, she said.
“Everybody is leap-frogging over Arizona,” she said. In fact, the Arizona state agency is at risk of losing its entire budget and folding if a proposal by the state legislature is approved. For Valley cities, which also are in danger of losing some of their voter-approved tourism funds, Las Vegas, which already has 10 times the budget of all Valley cities combined, is the biggest worry.
“They are definitely going after the same customers we have tried to bring to Scottsdale,” said Rachel Sacco, president of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s a huge concern. We know they are targeting our customers.”
Nevada Commission on Tourism has a $7 million budget, smaller than the current Arizona Office of Tourism $11 million funding. But Las Vegas has a $168.7 million tourism budget for this year, half of it earmarked for ads and promotions, said Erika Brandvik, spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. Scottsdale has $6 million to compete and the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, which sells the entire metro area, has $9 million.
“As we can see, to Las Vegas tourism is an important sector,” said Doug McKenzie, spokesman for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It shows just how valuable the tourism dollar is.”
McKenzie said Arizona has all the right attractions but not enough money to get the message out.
“They may have a showgirl, but we have the Grand Canyon,” he said. “But without funding we are handing them our visitors on a silver platter.”
“The budget is a huge issue,” she said. “They have the opportunity to talk to a mass audience that we can't afford to reach. We have to do more niche marketing.”
Scottsdale sells potential visitors on scenery, golf, spas and upscale cuisine, she said.
Las Vegas is now doing the same, Brandvik said. “We also promote the upscale high-end dining, the shows and the golf courses,” she said. “We are pushing to make Las Vegas a golf destination on a par with Scottsdale. We have been named number one for dining by the Robb Report (a magazine for top level corporate executives), and shopping is huge here. Las Vegas has diversified so much we can be an entire entertainment destination.”
Brandvik said the city is continuing its nationwide marketing push, but could re-channel its funds and focus fast.
“In an outbreak of war, we would most likely pull all our advertising and go into a period of assessment,” she said. “We would probably retool our message. Everybody is waiting to see what happens. But we’re ready for everything. We’ve made a name for evolving.”