Opportunities for Tourism Growth and Development
Bob Miller, Governor of Nevada State(1989-1999), USA
I believe this gathering is an important step in the development of Bulgaria's tourism industry. It's an opportunity to create the momentum for development of a public-private partnership that will maximize the tremendous tourism resources here in Bulgaria.
There's an old joke (ed. note: real old!) in the United States about a shopkeeper who one day finds that a competitor has opened a shop right next door. In the competitor's window is a sign that says "Best prices in Town." The next day another competitor opens a shop on the other side, and puts a sign in the window that says "Best Selection in Town." Finally, the man, surrounded by his competition and their superlative claims puts a sign above the door to his store which is now located between the two. His sign reads "Main Entrance."
I tell you this because it is our goal to make Bulgaria the "main entrance" to tourism in this part of the world.
In our letter of welcome to you, we mention three words that are the keys to Bulgaria's tourism development. Those three words are "Investment", "Experience", and "Education." Let me briefly address each of those words.
As for investment, Bulgaria already has the raw materials for a thriving tourism industry...the attractions and destinations that are unequaled in most parts of the world (and I'll talk more about that in a minute). But there is a need for capitalization. By demonstrating your commitment to developing the industry, and by creating a coordinated marketing effort, I believe Bulgaria will be able to attract the necessary capital.
The experience Bulgaria needs is available in conferences like this one. In this conference we bring together some of the leading tourism and tourism marketing executives and officials not just from Bulgaria, but from the United States and Europe. They are here to share with you their expertise. Just as important, they are here to tell you how, as representatives of different parts of the tourism industry, they work together in synergy to build a strong industry.
As for education, Bulgaria has one of the best educated populations in the world. It is the responsibility of the tourism professionals here today to find ways to use that educated population to further the tourism industry. The industry, and the educational resources that support it will grow together. It's no accident that the University of Nevada Las Vegas has one of the best hotel management programs in the world, including a scientifically-based hospitality research and development center, and curricula on the economics and every other aspect of the tourism industry. I should point out that Maria Radeva, one of our Bulgarian student volunteers, is a student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and is studying hotel management there.
In fact, the development of Las Vegas and its tourism industry is a good parallel for our purposes today, and throughout much of this conference.
The history of Las Vegas and Southern Nevada dates back thousands of years to the first Native American residents of the area.
Unlike some of the ancient visitors to Bulgaria who built fortresses and other edifices, the primarily nomadic indians who inhabited our area didn't leave much behind. But they did leave these petroglyphs, which to this day, are visited and viewed in locations around Southern Nevada by thousands of visitors every month.For many centuries, this was the only human activity in Southern Nevada. But eventually, the first tourists better known as settlers came through what is now Las Vegas.
Keep in mind that Las Vegas is one of the largest oasis in the world, in one of the world's largest deserts. Early travelers exploring the western part of the "new world" found Las Vegas to be a convenient and necessary stop in their trip across the Mojave Desert. In fact, the words "Las Vegas" are Spanish for "the meadows." For many decades Las Vegas was nothing more than a water stop for travelers, and even when the railroad line finally laid tracks in Las Vegas, it was only as a water stop. But from that, a small town began to grow.
In 1931 gambling was legalized in Nevada, and a few small gambling houses opened. But it was more of a "wild west'ykind of atmosphere in the small section of the city to which gambling was restricted.
In 1946, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a notorious gangster from New York City who's friends included some of the biggest mob bosses of the era, built the first major Las Vegas resort-casino, the Flamingo. It was the first plush gambling resort in Las Vegas with fine dining, entertainment, suites for the high rollers, swimming pools, and live, internationally known entertainment. At the time, the street on which the Flamingo was built was the highway that connected Las Vegas to Los Angeles, California. But today it is known throughout the world as the "Las Vegas Strip." Mr. Siegel's friends, as it often turns out in his line of work, weren't really all that good of friends, and he was killed by them at his girlfriend's house in Los Angeles. But the Las Vegas Strip, his legacy, has thrived.
Following the success of the Flamingo came a series of new hotel casinos, each one bigger and better than the next.
The Sands, which was the home of Frank Sinatra and friends at the time of the filming of the original version of the motion picture "Ocean's Eleven."
The Stardust, which brought European-style entertainment to Las Vegas with the Lido de Paris review.
The Dunes, which had its own golf course immediately adjacent to the hotel, and many others.
This view of the Tally Ho hotel casino from 1962 shows the empty desert stretching out in the background. That empty desert today is filled with businesses and homes to the very edge of the valley, as it is in every direction. And nearly all of that growth is attributable to the success of our tourism industry.
It started back in the 1940's with the Flamingo, and the growth continued, not for ten or twenty years,
but right up until today, when there are new projects constantly being developed.
With each new wave of development the standard is set a little higher. In the 1960's and 70's, strongly-themed and branded casino resorts set new standards.
Caesars Palace brought the opulent luxury of the Roman Empire to Las Vegas, and in subsequent decades developments have created themes and identities based on everything from fantasy to the duplication of exotic cities and places that many American travelers might never experience first-hand.
Certainly when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the pirate fantasy "Treasure Island" he never envisioned a hotel that features an hourly pirate battle in a lagoon right in front of the building. And while the average visitor to Las Vegas may never have the chance to visit Europe or exotic ports of call, they can get some of the flavor of those locations by visiting the Paris resort with it's own Eiffel Tower, the castles of King Arthur's Excalibur or gondola riding through the canals of the Venetian resort.
Some of the properties, like the Stardust have maintained their presence on "the strip." Others have disappeared to make room for exciting new concepts.
Remember the "Tally Ho" from back in 1962?
Now in its place stands the Aladdin Hotel Casino and the Desert Passage retail mall.
The attraction for which Las Vegas and Nevada are best known may be gambling, but there is much more to offer visitors. In Reno, in the northern part of Nevada, you can leave the hotel and be skiing on the world class slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains near the Lake Tahoe. Las Vegas visitors are never more than an hour's drive from skiing as well, and the same short drive to Lake Mead, the world's largest man-made lake, or the spectacular engineering marvel of Hoover Dam. And outside the two most populated areas of Nevada there are more unique attractions.
The Lehman Caves near the small town of Ely in northern Nevada, are a spectacular geological formation.
The numerous small ghost towns of Nevada are a part of the rich history of the old west and the "boom and bust" history of mining and gold rushes.
The Red Rock formations of the Southern Nevada desert are a breathtaking escape from the city.
All of these combine to create a package of destinations that truly offer something for everyone. But as interesting or attractive as they are individually or as a group, these various attractions must be properly marketed and developed in a coordinated manner.
The Las Vegas Convention Center is the world's largest single story convention complex with nearly two-million square feet. Tourism in Nevada today is a $30 billion business. Thirty five percent of the Nevada work force is directly employed by the tourism industry, with an additional 30 percent serving the industry indirectly. The airport in Las Vegas is the 8th busiest in the United States, and 14th busiest in the world. Of the more than 45 million visitors a year who come to Las Vegas, six million are foreign visitors, many of them arriving on non-stop flights flying in from ten global cities.
That didn't happen without some very purposeful and professional planning along the way. It's the result of a methodical, scientific approach to marketing. And I believe that Nevada's tourism industry experience, in Las Vegas and throughout the state of Nevada, holds some important lessons for Bulgaria... lessons which, if properly applied, can bring similar successes.
I encourage you to read the report authored by Iveta Lazarova, "Tourism Growth and Development in Bulgaria: A Time of Opportunity." She correctly points out the potential for development of a tourism industry as an important part of the economic rebirth of Bulgaria. It is a viable, and relatively quick route to economic recovery... if interested parties from government agencies to private industry all embrace tourism as an economic priority. Ms. Lazarova is an upper class student at the University of World and National Economy in Sofia, and is also one of our student volunteers.
Depending on your definition of "tourist", Bulgaria has been welcoming travelers for thousands of years...all the way back to the Greeks in the 6th Century BC. And each wave of ancient "tourists" left behind a wealth of attractions for today's modern travelers. The fortresses, ruins, castles and monasteries of Bulgaria represent some of the greatest on earth. The tremendous attractions of Bulgaria...rich in history and culture, and diverse.. .these are the resources that create an excellent foundation upon which to build a tourism industry. Quite frankly, the basic resources with which you have to work with here in Bulgaria are far greater than those we have in Nevada.
And given that, the outstanding question is, how do we maximize those resources? The answer lies in the cooperative efforts of Bulgaria's public and private sectors including the specific dedication of funds for continued infrastructure development and tourist-related marketing - both domestically and internationally.
There are two primary agencies that are responsible for the marketing of Nevada and its tourism industry; the State of Nevada's Commission on Tourism, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau, a quasi-governmental agency. Both have separate, but sometimes overlapping missions, and both have been instrumental in the success of our tourism industry. The one unifying point of these agencies is that they have a common purpose.. .to present an image of Nevada to the world that is magnetic, and compelling at the same time.
The Nevada Commission on tourism was created in 1983 by the State of Nevada to enhance to competitive position of the statewide tourism industry. At that time, the growth and success of Las Vegas was threatening to overshadow some of the smaller and more remote attractions throughout the state. The state commission on tourism was designed to foster an awareness of the scenic beauty, the historical and cultural attractions and the recreational opportunities that were sometimes overlooked by visitors.
In its short, 20 year history the Nevada Commission on tourism has become a clearinghouse for information on every aspect of tour and travel in Nevada. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Tom Tait, the former director of the Commission on Tourism is one of the organizers of this conference. Unfortunately, last minute scheduling problems made it impossible for him to attend the conference here. Under Tom's direction, the Commission on Tourism has done a great job of providing publications and information on every part of Nevada. Through the Commission's website visitors can not only order publications, but can also plan an entire itinerary for a visit to Nevada and all of its attractions and destinations. I know that Tom is looking forward to continuing to work with all of us to help Bulgaria realize its tourism potential.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has a longer history than the State Commission. It began as a town board in Las Vegas in 1955 and was called the Clark County Fair and Recreation Board. As the recreational opportunities of Las Vegas grew, the board grew with it and eventually became the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Its mission is to attract visitors to Las Vegas and to maintain those huge convention facilities I mentioned earlier.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and its contracted agency R&R Partners, have done a remarkable job of identifying new markets for Las Vegas and developing those markets. I talked a little about the growth of Las Vegas's resorts, but as its name implies, conventions have been an important part of the LVCVA mission. In 1959, the year Las Vegas Convention Center opened, it hosted eight conventions with a total of 22,500 delegates. Nearly 40 years later, in 1998, the Las Vegas Convention Center hosted more than 60 conventions with nearly 1.2 million delegates.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is not a membership organization, as are most convention and visitors bureaus in the United States. It is a quasi-government agency...a political subdivision of the State of Nevada...created by state law, and funded by a county-wide hotel room tax. State law establishes the number, appointment and terms of the Convention Authority's Board of Directors.
Its 13 members include six representatives from the private sector. Clark County and the City of Las Vegas each have two representatives, and the cities and municipalities adjacent to Las Vegas have a total of three representatives. Private sector members are nominated by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce (which represents the interests of general business), and Nevada Resort Association (which represents the hotel and casino industries).
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board is one of the most successful public-private partnerships in the country. Part of its success stems from its relationship with R&R Partners.
That may be the most visible, but it is only a small part of R&R Partners' work on behalf of the convention and visitors authority. R&R has been working with LVCVA for 16 years, and Tim Williams, president of advertising for R&R is also one of the presenters at this conference. I know you will gain some great marketing insight from his presentation.
You know, I started putting this speech together thinking that I would draw parallels between tourism in Nevada and Bulgaria, and while there are a few, there is one very stark difference between the two.. .and I'll repeat it again: We're very proud of all we have in Nevada, and we're proud that so many people would come from so far away to see it. But you here in Bulgaria have so much more...for visitors to see and do. So it is my hope that some period of time from now I'll be able to return to Bulgaria and see a very definite parallel.. .a parallel of how Bulgaria has developed and coordinated its tourism efforts in a manner similar to what we've done in Nevada with our agencies. The Bulgaria Association of Travel Agencies can be the core of an even broader affiliation that could ultimately include all businesses that benefit from tourism in any fashion, working as partners with all levels of government.
A successful marketing effort of any sort must be consistent.. .and requires funds dedicated solely to marketing. How and when to use those funds should be the decision of a joint public-private entity designed specifically for marketing tourism in this country. Other joint public-private entities can represent local regions like Sofia or the Black Sea Coast. Much in the same way as we in Nevada have our state Commission on Tourism working in conjunction with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Only through such a structure can Bulgaria develop the consistent message necessary for a successful marketing campaign.
Let me give you the best and most up-to-date example of what can be done when the proper structure is in place. As we all know, Americans drastically changed their travel habits in the wake of the September eleventh attacks in New York and Washington. The demands of the market had changed, and anytime that happens it is necessary to respond accordingly. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority quickly gathered its marketing expertise together and within a couple of weeks a new, nation-wide and international campaign was launched in print publications and on television.
These television commercials use a never-before released song by Frank Sinatra called, "It's Time for You," and promote Las Vegas as a place where visitors can forget the worries of the world for a few days. The ads use famous entertainers from all over Las Vegas.. .and reflect the sense of unity Americans have felt since the September attacks....
That was in the wake of a tragic event, and I certainly don't want to exploit that tragedy. But it is a clear example of the kind of action that can be taken when everyone is working together through a common structure like the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. National publications like the Wall Street Journal noted the ability of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to respond quickly and effectively to a changing market. And I should also point out that as a result of that campaign, Las Vegas room occupancy levels are very strong, significantly better than the post- September eleventh occupancy in other U.S. cities.
Those three things I mentioned at the beginning... investment, experience and education...they are all right here. Let's use this conference as a means to coalesce and maximize the resources of Bulgaria's tourism industry.
I think it's clear that I could talk about the details of Nevada's tourism experience and how it relates to Bulgaria for quite some time. Rather than do that, I think it would be most useful if I opened this up to a "question and please, dear God, give me the answer session..."