Agents Roll With Vegas

You might have to adjust to a tougher market, but Vegas is still swinging

By: Dennis McCafferty

The once-hot casino-based travel market is providing no sure jackpots these days but experts say resourceful agents still can find plenty of sales opportunities.

In Las Vegas, for example, overall visitor numbers are virtually flat this year compared to 2002. In addition, casinos have increased their direct-to-consumer e-marketing, upping competition with agents.

But there are signs that Vegas remains popular non-gaming business to the area is up nearly 2 percent so far this year.

Rosemarie Hughey, owner of Go Vegas First Class, says the continuing airline industry slump has forced her to better accommodate the “land only” traveler by offering more attractive packages than what the hotel casinos are offering online.

“We’re talking considerable room discounts, two-for-one breakfasts, children’s discounts and special deals on shows. People are looking for more and more ‘What can you give me?’ It’s actually starting to get out of hand.”

But such efforts are getting results.

After the lingering post-Sept. 11 slump, agents like Hughey are seeing old clients returning, often asking to book a Vegas outing around a road trip to the Grand Canyon, then a stay in California.

And the much-publicized Vegas attempt to go “kid-friendly” seems to be fading away a development that is fast bringing back the old customers.

“That’s good,” Hughey says. “The family thing only worked when the economy was good. Now that it’s not, the families aren’t traveling here as much. You have to keep changing and adapting. That’s what we do, now, as we’re marketing packages and shows to adults.”

Ann Genovese, manager of Las Vegas-based Imperial Travel Inc., has developed a travel specialty niche to better serve customers, as well as land new ones. Imperial Travel offers packages based on the booming sport of stock car racing, as NASCAR has a Winston Cup venue in Las Vegas.

“With the ‘land only’ customer, you have to be creative,” Genovese says. “We do huge NASCAR packages: $2,000 for three or four days, with tickets. Or they stay the whole week. ...Toss in some show tickets and some buffets, and you can impress a customer with some nice packages.

“With the resorts looking to market direct to the customer, cutting us out in the process, you can’t just sell Vegas as a gambling destination. It’s a raceway destination. It’s a honeymoon destination. There’s an intriguing, romantic desert out there that’s appealing to the romantic and the outdoorsman.”

Las Vegas tourism officials, however, say resorts are not looking to cut agents out entirely, realizing that they are a needed resource toward booking rooms and keeping the game tables full.

In fact, they say, resorts are now only just beginning to use online and e-mail tools to better inform agents about date availabilities and commissioned rates, as well as promoting events to agents better.

For example, MGM Mirage is developing a travel agent e-mail/direct mail service this summer.

Las Vegas properties are also providing comp room stays or discounts during the week for agents who want to get to know the property better.

Override commission rates generally are 15 to 18 percent.

“The properties are starting to realize that the travel agent is still vital to their need for hotel bookings,” says Cam Usher-Lincoln, director of tourism for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“They now realize they aren’t going to be able to do it all direct to the customer, all by themselves.”