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Editor’s note: Longtime business journalist Buck Wargo has joined Gaming Today as our Casino Industry columnist. Here is his debut column:

Las Vegas has gotten a head start on remaking its image across the country ahead of reopening resorts in the COVID-19 era.

Forget the 2003 ‘What Happens Here, Stays Here’ ad campaign that has defined Las Vegas’ Sin City image as an adult destination with large gatherings. It’s now being defined as an experience with more intimacy and space than ever before but with the same excitement people expect along with peace of mind for their safety.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority rolled out a new national ad campaign on network and cable television last week that’s literally transforming what that experience will be like when it says “the time is right” for casinos to reopen. It’s what some consultants and industry experts said is needed for Vegas to begin its comeback — personalized fun with dedicated service.

Labeled “Reimagined,” the ad starts with a video of the sky and serious tone of ‘how the world has changed and Las Vegas is changing with it’ as it shows couples looking down at the Strip from a balcony, hiking on mountain trails, and even out at the pool by themselves. It tells people that Las Vegas will be different when it reopens, “at least for a while” and that there will be “a new Vegas for the new reality” and that’s “just for you.”

That fits in with the new rules for casinos implemented by the Nevada Gaming Commission that trims capacity in half and requires social distancing at slots and table games. 

When it reopens next week, Las Vegas faces challenges to lure visitors beyond the initial pent-up demand with some experts saying it will take as long as 2 1/2 three years to recover — longer than for tribal and regional commercial casinos. Many people are still reluctant to fly until there is a treatment or vaccine and Las Vegas will be even more dependent on drive-in traffic from California, Utah and Arizona.

While some suggest the way forward is touting cheap rooms and value, many marketing experts like the new ad focus on intimacy and privacy in this current era of social distancing.

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Depicting how you can have an “amazing three-day stay without having to go out into a group of people” is probably the angle the casino industry sees as the safest bet in getting people to come back to Las Vegas, according to Corey Padveen, a partner with t2 Marketing International who consults for casinos. Las Vegas will be hit harder than most because it’s no longer the reality of people coming with their 10 best friends for a bachelor party, gathering in groups at sportsbooks and hanging out in clubs and partying hard for three days.

It’s now about coming with a partner or small group, having great meals, seeing the sights, visiting the spa, taking part in outdoor entertainment and enjoying a spectacular room and its views without having to leave the confines of a safe and protected environment, Padveen said.

“You have to give people more of an emotional reason to come out — like this is your first step back to normal to try and forget what you’ve been dealing with,” Padveen said. “That may resonate better with people than saying come back to Vegas, and we’ll figure it out when you get here. It seems like the only logical way to go. Whether or not it will work is whether this first wave of people who do come back to visit are going to vouch for whether this plan is realistic.”

Dr. Kate Spilde, professor of hospitality and tourism management at San Diego State University, said the experience of nightclubs, shows, and large gatherings is gone for now and Las Vegas needs a strategy for the next year or two that accommodates the need to stay apart.

“Any economy that depends on gatherings is going to be jeopardy,” Spilde said. “We need to think about how to create these smaller footprint experiences. I like the idea of refinding it as personalized fun and that they cater to smaller groups that can be separated from smaller groups.”

Brendan Bussmann, a partner with Global Marketing Partners, said “Vegas the way we knew it 75 days ago will take a while to come back,” and marketing to more individualized experiences is necessary because of social distancing.

“With smaller capacities allowed, that will enable properties to provide an intimate feel at pools and restaurants where it can feel like sitting at a chef’s table in the kitchen,” he said.

Not everyone, however, agrees with this new focus on intimacy but instead suggest Las Vegas should return to its past image of one of cheap rooms and gaming value.

“They would be far better off if they would acknowledge the customer is valuable and be rewarded with not good, but great price value,” said Mike Meczka, owner of Meczka Marketing Research Consulting. “When Las Vegas started it was price value and everybody went there. But in the past decade it has become very expensive and middle-class players are not being rewarded appropriately and getting blown out.

“To have 6:5 blackjack is criminal and to hold more than 8 percent is criminal. They wonder why people don’t come by when you charge them for parking and resort fees. They have to correct the basic blocking and tackling before they talk about intimacy.”

No matter what direction is marketed, Padveen said the ad is a reminder that Las Vegas is still there and not going anywhere as it prepares to reopen.

“If anybody knows how to reinvent themselves, it’s Vegas,” Padveen said. “They’ll figure something else, but unlike things that happened in the past like the 2008 (economic downturn), this is going to require an almost perfectly executed timeline. It will be curious to see how they put that together because it’s going to be interesting to watch.”

About the Author

Buck Wargo

Buck Wargo is a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times and has been based in Las Vegas as a business, real estate and gaming reporter since 2005.

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