In tourism's sad fortune, some see bountiful opportunities


*logoIn terms of the capacity for reinvention, Vegas is a city without par. The years have seen the city undergo a brain-boggling amount of iterations: adult playground; mobster's paradise; metropolitan punchline; world's entertainment and boxing capital; family-friendly destination; bachelor's (and bachelorette's) paradise; convention epicenter; nightclub capital; the home of anything-goes; an affordable, practical vacation destination.

Waylaid by a deep-rooted recession, the city has been struggling to tap into a cultural zeitgeist to power its return. While tourism officials wrack their brains for the next slogan to remind the world that everyone needs a Vegas vacation, some folks are looking at the sagging economy (battered by a triple whammy of lower visitation, reduced per-tourist spending and nation-leading foreclosure rates) and seeing opportunity.

In the hundreds of conventions canceled after President Obama, in February, discouraged companies receiving federal stimulus funds from taking expensive junkets to Vegas -- the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said 402 conventions were canceled from October to mid-March, costing the city $166 million -- proprietors of the newly formed Nevada Gaming Xchange see an opening, one that will enable them to convince convention and meetings planners that Las Vegas offers an unparalleled business environment.

Former gaming executive Reggie Burton, a principal in the company, said Las Vegas is still the same city that's drawn the nation's largest conventions for more than a decade. "The city hasn't changed, he said, "even though the economy has."

In an April 2009 article in USA Today, Steven Hacker, president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, estimated that the cancellations cost the North American convention and meetings industry $10 billion, or 10% of what the industry typically generates for the U.S. and Canadian economies. The Xchange wants to provide companies considering a convention here a local entity that can handle media outreach and public relations and help combat negative perceptions of coming here. Burton formerly served as community affairs director for MGM Mirage, the world's second-largest gaming company.

"Local tourism officials have done a good job of raising the issue with local, state and federal elected officials," Burton said. "NGX's goals are to use its on-the-ground public relations strategies and a corporate social responsibility campaign to enhance" the image of companies meeting here and of the industry, he said. "The cancellations of these conferences have had a negative economic ripple effect on meeting planners, cities, hotels, contractors, advertisers, vendors, conventioneers and corporations."


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