Tourism summit promotes more glitter

RENO - With an estimated 50 million tourists who visited the Silver State in 2004, speakers at the Governor's Conference on Tourism urged delegates Tuesday to invest in the glitz and glam to attract an international audience, but also embrace the state's adventuresome rural roots.

Tourists want excitement, a fantasy experience, escape and indulgence, said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage.

He said MGM Mirage provides these desires by selling more than the gambling experience. Feldman said his company promotes its hotels, retail, fine dining and entertainment in addition to gambling.

Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt said Nevada accomplishes the feat of marketing both adventure and entertainment that other states try to imitate.

"While they're busy imitating, we're busy innovating," the red-suited lieutenant governor said to an audience of about 600 people in the Reno Hilton's Grand Ballroom. "People try and copy what we do, but as soon as they copy, we do something new."

Hunt issued glad tidings to the audience, bathed in soft light from the Hilton's crystal chandeliers, by predicting an influx in Chinese tourists. She said Nevada was the first state to put a tourism office in Beijing, run by China tourism representative Karen Chen. It works to open up more flights to Nevada and more Visas for the Chinese.

She said about 275 million Chinese can afford to travel in the United States, and Nevada can be their "gateway to the U.S.," thanks to diplomatic ties the state made with the Chinese government.

Gov. Kenny Guinn said in his address that the state offers many different attractions other than gambling.

The next three speakers extolled Nevada's gaming industry and its swell into entertainment.

Marilyn Winn, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah's Las Vegas, said her company will focus more on winning customer loyalty, an area that has failed in the past.

"Our customers are very promiscuous," she said. "We only had 36 percent of our customer's wallets because they played someplace else."

Winn, who spoke with enthusiasm while going through a slide presentation, said Harrah's executives wanted to own that emotional connection players feel when they win. She played a short promotional video to demonstrate this branding technique.

Images of opulent casino/hotels flashed between scenes of exuberant people celebrating wins at the slot machine or poker table. All this is set to the guitar and synthesizer crescendos of the Japanese theme song, "Battle Without Honor or Humanity."

Using branding techniques such as these, Harrah's share in customers' gaming budgets increased to 45 percent.

Walton Chalmers, vice president of the American Gaming Association, ended the general assembly by saying he doesn't expect any dramatic changes in the gaming legislative agenda, because no change of control occurred in the White House, Senate or House of Representatives.

"There will, however, be other differences that will and can affect our industry," he said. "The most significant is the ascension of Sen. Reid. D-Nev., to become Senate minority leader, giving us an ally in a position where he can stand up for our interests, as he always has."

Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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