What Happens Here Sells There

How the people who market Las Vegas to the world adjust the pitch depending on the audience

John Bischoff doesn’t speak Spanish, but he knows this phrase: Lo que pasa aqui, se queda aqui. As the vice president of international brand strategy for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Bischoff has spent the past three years repeating those words in Mexico, and the all-too familiar English version—”What happens here stays here”—in Canada, while working to woo international travelers to Las Vegas.

Bischoff’s department, which has 12 offices representing Las Vegas in 75 countries, strives to be, in his words, “culturally smart and country specific” when promoting the brand. Yes, brand. Las Vegas may be a city, but that city wouldn’t be even a spin of the slot reels without the ad campaigns behind it, selling it to visitors and locals alike. Just think of how the phrases roll off the tongue: “Entertainment Capital of the World,” “dining destination,” “adult Disneyland,” “shopping mecca,” “wedding capital of America.” No one says such things about Topeka, Kan.

It’s a lot of work to keep the tourists’ Euros and pesos coming. Seventy percent of international travelers come from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom, and each region is targeted differently. The French speakers in Quebec have come to expect Las Vegas ads featuring Celine Dion, whereas the rodeo is more likely to grab the interest of residents in western Canada. In Mexico, lively ads hone in on nightlife, shopping and the lo que pasa aqui, se queda aqui philosophy.

Over the pond, things are different. There, our Vegas catchphrase holds no meaning. “Earlier tests of that slogan a few years back proved that it didn’t resonate with the traveling consumer,” Bischoff says. “We have not come up with and we’re not trying to come up with a slogan.” Clearly, they don’t need to when you consider the 10 successful years of direct flights offered by Virgin Atlantic, and the fact that British Airways began nonstop flights from Heathrow last year. Bischoff says that the Brits are drawn to Las Vegas for its European-style nightlife and DJs, as well as sports—particularly Ricky Hatton fights and soccer games.

International travelers make up 14 percent of the 37.5 million annual visitors to Las Vegas, and over the next few years the goal is to increase that number to 20 percent. “Frankly, it’s common sense,” Bischoff says. “They’re planning a trip longer in advance. They’re staying longer and they’re spending more. So we have data to support that the international visitor is more attractive compared to domestic.”

Consulting reams of market-specific travel data, LVCVA representatives delve into how to speak not just the verbal language of foreign markets, but the cultural language as well. That means when they’re in Milan they talk up the MAGIC (fashion) convention. In Paris they talk about fine dining. In Japan they tout big shows and entertainment. In Brazil, it’s all about the nightlife and the laid-back, Carnival-esque atmosphere. In China, where it’s illegal to advertise any kind of gambling, Las Vegas is known as the gateway to the Grand Canyon—the Arizona park is one of the favorite destinations for the Chinese.

Bischoff says that much of the success of the outreach depends on just how easy it is to travel to Las Vegas. The top three markets—London, Canada and Mexico—all have direct flights. “It’s all about the air service and airlines,” Bischoff says. “Getting people to come here is a major part of an international strategy, so we’re always thrilled when there’s a direct flight.”

As the LVCVA continues to work with the major markets and emerging markets (India, Russia, China and more), its sights are also set on a couple of upcoming landmarks. In 2012, the international terminal at McCarran International Airport will be complete and Las Vegas will become more accessible than ever. And in 2013, the international airline conference, the World Route Development Forum, will take place here, bringing in 3,000 executives from airlines around the world. Who knows what language we’ll translate lo que pasa aqui, se queda aqui into then.

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