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Vegas tourism: Embrace generational marketing

Wednesday - 12/4/2013, 8:20pm  ET

HANNAH DREIER
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Baby boomers are suckers for appeals to their narcissism. Generation Xers can't stand their parents. And millennials want to feel like do-gooders.

These aren't tired stereotypes. They're lessons marketing consultants say the Nevada tourism industry needs to start using if it wants to pull new customers into casinos.

Marketing consultant Chuck Underwood urged a room of executives and officials to think more critically about their patrons during the annual Nevada Governor's Conference on Tourism on Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Visitor volume in Sin City has only recently bounced back after cratering during the recession.

Gambling revenue has been slower to rebound, and the tourists that do come to town are still spending less. A record number of visitors came to Las Vegas in 2012, but each one spent an average of just $1,021 per visit. In 2007, visitors spent an average of $1,318.

The tourism conference, held at Red Rock Casino, focused on finding creative ways to lure new patrons.

Underwood, who heads a consulting firm specializing in generational branding, suggested that the gambling industry might be in for a rough several years.

Gen Xers are just never going to be as into casinos as their parents, he said, and millennials are going to be broke for a long time to come.

He had better news about patrons in their 60s and 70s, many of whom could be seen plugging slot machines on the gaming floor outside the conference room.

"With their zest for squeezing life of all of its satisfactions, baby boomers represent a golden opportunity for Nevada tourism," Underwood said.

He later cautioned against using a series of baby boomer trigger words, including "aging," ''mature" and "golden years," as men and women in suits scribbled on notepads.

Casino bosses are devoting increasing resources to luring younger customers.

MGM Resorts International, which owns about a third of the major Strip casinos, is spending $100 million to build a park outside of its New York-New York and Monte Carlo hotel-casinos.

Caesars, which owns another third of Strip properties, is planning its own outdoor shopping and dining "district." That project, Linq, is anchored by a 550-foot-tall observation wheel slated to open in 2014.

Executives from both corporations say the new spaces are intended to lure a younger, more social and outdoorsy group.

Underwood said Gen Xers might be more likely to come to Las Vegas to explore the striking rock formations outside of town.

"You're probably going to take a hit with this generation," he said.

That pronouncement did not sit well with some grunge generation attendees.

Kristi Miller, who works for an online travel booking company, spent lunchtime railing against Underwood's apparent resignation.

"What's going to happen when the boomers start dying if we haven't gotten Gen X on board with our brands? I don't think the tourism industry should take that lightly," she said.

Millennials, many of whom are still too young to set foot on a casino floor, sounded a bit more promising. Underwood advised executives to set up programs that reward 20-somethings for just showing up.

"It's not their fault. It's what they grew up with -- everybody got a trophy," he said.

Underwood also recommended tapping into the generation's patriotism and spirit of social involvement.

"They have been described as Generation Give, and there is an enormous opportunity for you in this," he said.

Millennial Jenny Patterson, who books hotel rooms and shows for tourists, said the workshop convinced her of the need to target specific demographics more consciously, instead of always going for a general audience in her marketing. She was especially grateful for the insights into the mind of the older gambler.

She'd intuited that baby boomers are more likely to pay for convenience and service, she said, "but I'd never really understood the 'why' of it."

Cory Brooks, who runs a charter place service out of Las Vegas, said he planned to take Underwood's advice and make more emotional appeals to his older customers.

After the talk, several members of the audience could be heard defending their generation to a group of older or younger people.

___

Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier


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