In her own words: Nevada Tourism Director Claudia Vecchio

Name: Claudia Vecchio

Position: Director, Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs

Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about the duties of your position

Claudia Vecchio: The Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs is a diverse state government agency comprised of tourism industry marketers who drive revenue to Nevada through developing and executing domestic and international brand marketing campaigns, historians and stewards of the state’s legacy who preserve and protect the stories and collections that ensure Nevada’s history is maintained for future generations and the artists and creative minds who challenge conventional thinking and strive to foster creative talent and bolster vibrant communities through needed grants funding and enhanced ideation. The department not only works to create jobs and drive revenue, but also helps to create and convey the state’s spectacular quality of life.

TravelNevada (a.k.a Nevada Commission on Tourism) was developed in 1983 to drive revenue to the state through travel and tourism activities. The agency works closely with its urban and rural partners to create marketing programs that sell Nevada via effective and innovative social and traditional media channels, and conduct a global sales and marketing outreach. This agency is unique among state agencies in that it operates as a business within the state government environment. As director, I have the opportunity of working with a great team of smart, passionate, skilled and innovative marketers, artists and historians. My role is to develop overarching objectives, develop a strong synergy among all agencies, ensure we’re connecting appropriately with our local, national and international partners and create opportunities for the team to excel. I consider myself very fortunate that this position is a cabinet-level one, allowing me to work on Governor Brian Sandoval’s team and have Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison as chair of the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

NNBW: How did you get into this profession?

Vecchio: I fell into being a travel marketer, but was drawn to it as it combines a life-long passion for travel and interest in world cultures with a technical aptitude for marketing, writing and strategic planning. My career began in the public relations arena and evolved into developing brand launch and publicity campaigns for travel clients while at a large agency in New York City. I then migrated to the destination marketing sector while serving in marketing and communications roles at convention and visitors bureaus in major entertainment-based destinations. I also served as the state tourism director in Ohio.

NNBW: Is there anything that you do differently than your competition?

Vecchio: As a research-based marketing agency, TravelNevada closely monitors the marketing campaigns for each of its primary competitors (the contiguous states) as well as the brand marketing campaigns for consumer products that require the same level of discretionary income as a typical trip to Nevada ($1,000 - $2,500). We understand consumer travel purchase decisions come from the same funding source as do electronics, sporting equipment, etc. For this reason, it is critical that Nevada’s tourism marketing campaigns convey the unique selling points of the state and resonate with potential visitors. But we also need to be scrappy and innovative due to being outspent by both our neighboring states and consumer brand companies. Our goal is to cut through the immense marketing clutter with campaign messaging that connects on an experiential and emotional level with consumers and creates demand for our brand, Nevada. We believe, and the return on investment spike of our recent campaigns verifies, the unique combination of the Nevada brand along with program elements that truly engage our target audiences, differentiate us from our competitors. In the “Don’t Fence Me In” spirit of the campaigns, travel in Nevada is markedly different from our surrounding states. It’s our responsibility to convey those differences through breakthrough marketing.

On the history and cultural side of the department, because of Nevada’s incredible DNA within important historical segments such as railroad history, truly authentic Native American cultural sites such as the Stewart Indian School and Pyramid Lake (just to name a couple) and the burgeoning arts scenes in Reno, Las Vegas and communities across the state, Nevada is different from any other state in the western U.S. As the statewide brand suggests, Nevada truly is A World Within. A State Apart. That is a great differentiator.

NNBW: What do you enjoy most about working in your field?

Vecchio: Tourism is an ever-evolving and demanding industry. Developing a successful tourism marketing campaign for today is different than it was last year and will surely be different next year. The appealing destinations and activities for now will change as consumer preferences change, and tourism marketing needs to evolve as the market changes. This evolution is fascinating, but is expected and can be managed through proper insights and ongoing research.

Tourism also is among the first industries to feel pressure from economic, social and natural incidents. Having been part of the industry for a very long time, I’ve had to deal with gas shortage crises, economic downturns, global terrorism, disease outbreaks and weather disasters all of which impact tourism. These are situations one cannot expect and create significant challenges that must be quickly managed.

Tourism combines the joy that comes with adventure, lifelong learning, connecting with others and tremendous personal health and well-being benefits with a business environment that often is the lifeblood of a community, city or, in Nevada’s case, a state. We all are Nevada brand ambassadors and being a small part of leading that charge is incredibly satisfying.

NNBW: What is the most challenging part about your job?

Vecchio: Nevada is a fascinating state, filled with interesting dualities, the world’s most recognizable tourism brand and a diverse group of rural communities, mountains of snow and valleys of fire (as the brand mantra states). As is generally the case with statewide marketing, the challenge comes with defining the brand and creating a message simple enough for consumers to understand. In TravelNevada’s “Don’t Fence Me In” campaign slogan, I believe we’ve created a mantra that transcends the “stuff” available in the state and elevated the invitation to travelers to one of an emotional nature. We are always challenged with ensuring our key stakeholders understand the value of tourism marketing and the impact it truly has on the state.

NNBW: What advice would you give anyone who wants to get into your profession?

Vecchio: Be curious. Travel marketers are, in many cases, curators of a travel experience. To be a compelling curator means being a compelling story teller. The best stories are told by those who have lived a life filled with curiosity and wonder. Then, gain a good understanding of the business side of tourism. Know what drives business travelers, how meeting planners determine convention sites, and how businesses within the hotel, rental car, attraction and entrepreneurial sectors operate. Finally, travel is a relationship business. No matter where in the world travel marketing is done, it’s generally conducted among those who have developed a cordial business relationship.

NNBW: What was your first job?

Vecchio: My first job was scooping ice cream in an ice cream shop at a mall in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I can’t say I gained anything from it, but a couple of pounds. My first professional job was writing training manuals for a building supplies company in the Midwest. I can’t say I gained much from that either, which is why I pursued a more suitable career in public relations and marketing.

NNBW: How do you promote the state when someone asks, “tell me about Nevada?”

Vecchio: Creating a 15-second elevator sound bite for Nevada is a challenging undertaking. The answer almost depends on who is doing the asking. But, I would tell anyone that Nevada is an extraordinary combination of natural, industrial and cultural wonders and offers a wealth of recreational, entertainment and cultural offerings. A visit to Nevada is an experience unlike any a person would find anywhere in the world.

NNBW: What are your hobbies? How do you spend your time away from work?

Vecchio: My hobbies are primarily those things that relax me and allow me to explore talents I don’t integrate into my work. I enjoy playing the piano, painting, attending events especially music, culinary and arts related, and reading. I have very little time away from work, but I enjoy relaxing at spa days, learning more about wine and taking day trips with family and friends to explore the area.

NNBW: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

Vecchio: Is this a trick question? Nevada, of course. I relish my journeys through the state, visiting its small towns, spectacular natural wonders and thrilling cities. I would encourage everyone to take time to discover their Nevada and find their favorite vacation spots right here in Nevada.

NNBW: If you had one moment in time to cherish for the rest of your life either professionally or personally what would it be and why?

Vecchio: I think it would be the first time I saw Lake Tahoe. I remember this vividly. I had heard a lot about Lake Tahoe and saw pictures, but nothing compared to seeing it in person. It is an almost surreal experience to drive around a bend in the road and have the lake and its surrounding mountains come into view. This touched me both personally and professionally. On a professional level, I sometimes find myself challenged to “see the forest through the trees” and this experience brought to life the fact that I need to step back and remember what the travel experience offers people and the marvels that are around us. On a personal level, I visit Lake Tahoe now whenever I’m stressed and need to breathe. Lake Tahoe offers a wonderfully invigorating and healing experience on several levels.

NNBW: Last concert or sporting event attended?

Vecchio: The last concert I attended was the Nevada Sesquicentennial concert at the Smith Center in Las Vegas. It was a magical night of celebrating Nevada’s most iconic performers and the state’s storied history.

NNBW: What did you dream of becoming as a kid?

Vecchio: As a kid I dreamt of being an orchestra conductor. From a very young age I watched conductors such as Zubin Mehta, Lorin Mazel and Leonard Bernstein, and was mesmerized by how they brought a piece of music to life through the collective effort of musicians. I began college as a music composition and piano performance major because I wanted to write and perform music, primarily jazz, but all with the goal of composing for, and conducting a, classical or jazz orchestra. Alas, this takes more talent than I have as a musician, so I took my career in a path that, hopefully, better fits my skills.

NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like about living/working here?

Vecchio: I chose this position because of the incredible tourism destination that is the whole of Nevada. I feel very lucky to live in northern Nevada. I’ve lived in over a dozen cities from Los Angeles to New York City, Chicago to Dallas and love northern Nevada. It has the best climate of any place I’ve ever lived and has an almost ineffable energy that permeates every part of life. I came to Nevada three and a half years ago from Dallas. When I arrived, I was surprised by the extent to which the state was impacted by the recession as it was a very different environment in Dallas. But, as we all know, Nevadans are mavericks, resilient and determined. In a fairly short time and under tremendous leadership from government, business and civic leaders, Nevada has opened windows of opportunities that it would not likely have embraced before. The tourism industry in Nevada, and especially in northern Nevada, is working hard to diversify, address the needs of changing traveler preferences, develop new product and enter new domestic and global markets with a zeal not seen in any other state. Some may say it’s because we had to, but I believe it’s in our DNA to never stand still, to mine for the treasures that come with continuing to move ahead and create opportunities for visitors and residents to experience a tourism destination that is second to none.


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