Agents have a friend in LVCVA chief

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LAS VEGAS -- As a longtime sales executive with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Cam Usher worked closely with the travel agent community.

Cam UsherAs the LVCVA's ASTA liaison, Usher was deemed instrumental in helping the city land the job of hosting next year's ASTA World Congress, and late last year she received ASTA's Allied Member Award.

Now, Usher will have the opportunity to interact even more closely with agents in her capacity as the LVCVA's director of tourism.

As Usher sees it (the LVCVA has not had a tourism director in 11 years), her new job involves administration of the organization's tourism division and marketing Las Vegas and its surroundings -- such as Laughlin, Primm and Mesquite -- to agents and consumers alike.

"I want to increase the visibility of Las Vegas in the travel industry and make sure that Las Vegas is accessible and easily bookable -- that it's an easy sell for travel agents," Usher said.

Noting that agents book 40% of the city's tourist business, Usher emphasized the importance of retailers. "I want to maintain and increase [the LVCVA's] relationships with travel agents," she said.

Also in her new position, Usher said, she wanted to evaluate existing tourism programs "to ascertain whether they are still working. "You know, you have a tendency to get in a rut sometimes," she added.

Usher also will be exploring new industry events and trade shows, both for the travel trade and for consumers, in which the LVCVA is considering involvement. "We want to get the biggest bang for our buck," she said. "If we participate in an event, we want to be sure that we are [reaching] the maximum number of people [that we can]. We'll look at [participating in] events that will attract greater numbers of attendees."

Regarding the challenges that lay ahead of her as the director of tourism, Usher said the issue of air access to Las Vegas "is a concern." "We have a person on staff, a transportation administrator, whose responsibility it is to visit with the airlines and sell them on the idea of increasing airlift," she said.

The LVCVA and McCarran Airport officials regularly meet with airlines to discuss airlift.

In addition, she said, one element of the LVCVA's three-year strategic marketing plan includes visiting each of the city's top 50 airline markets.

"That includes some cities that we don't get to regularly," she said. "Omaha [Neb.], is one good example. We'll make a visit there sometime within the next three years."

Piquing the interest of international travelers to visit Las Vegas and then maintaining that interest also will be a challenge, Usher said.

According to LVCVA statistics, she said, the No. 1 reason for international visitors to come to Las Vegas is no longer gaming but other activities such as shopping and dining.

And although there has been controversy about the 20,000 new hotel rooms that are expected to be available by the turn of the century, Usher said she believes the demand for those rooms exists.

"On weekends and weekdays, there are not enough rooms to go around," she said. "Major hotels routinely refuse hundreds of requests for rooms every day. I'm not saying [the large number of new hotel rooms] is not a problem, but the market is definitely there. The hotels are appealing to a different customer [than in the past] in terms of the Bellagios and the Venetians. It's not that those markets were not there before, but no one was specifically identifying them."

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