Destinations have traditionally undervalued the ability of meetings-specific website content to drive convention attendance, but Las Vegas is attempting to do just that with an integrated, high-tech content delivery platform.
Editor’s Note: Following our previous CEO interview series in online travel, hospitality, and destinations, Skift has launched a new series, this time focused on Chief Marketing Officers.
To better understand the big marketing challenges facing travel brands in an age when consumers are in control, Skift’s What Keeps CMOs Up at Night will talk with the leading voices in global marketing from across all the industry’s sectors.
These interviews with leaders of hotels, airlines, tourism boards, digital players, agents, tour operators and more will explore both shared and unique challenges they are facing, where they get insights, and how they best leverage digital insights to make smarter decisions.
This is the latest interview in the series.
Following record visitation in 2015, Las Vegas is striving to increase its convention business further with new content platforms and a series of virtual reality videos.
The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) rolled out its new Vegas VR virtual reality app at the ITB Berlin travel trade show in March. Visiting attendees flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter and soared over downtown Las Vegas on the SlotZilla zipline inside their virtual reality headsets.
With the Vegas VR videos, there are two options to consume the content. People can download the Apple or Android apps and view the content as a 360-degree, 2D video on their phones. Or, they can use a VR viewfinder like Google Cardboard or a VR headset like Samsung Gear for the full 3D virtual reality experience.
Over the last few years, the LVCVA has experimented with content in new ways to showcase Las Vegas for visitors of all types.
In summer 2014, for example, the destination marketing organization (DMO) launched its GeoVegas initiative, in partnership with Google Street View, to create 360-degree panoramic video content of the Las Vegas Strip and surrounding areas.
Last year, the LVCVA unveiled its quirky series of Unconventional long-form videos to showcase the Las Vegas Convention Center’s ability to host all types of niche corporate and association events. And in March, coinciding with the launch of the Vegas VR videos, the LVCVA published its new VIVA lifestyle blog, which will supply content to both the LasVegas.com leisure website and the VegasMeansBusiness.com meetings portal.
Cathy Tull, SVP of marketing at the LVCVA, explains that meeting planners are now asking for the same quality and breadth of digital content as what’s available on the leisure side to help planners drive convention attendance.
Following a focus group with planners, she told Skift, “I think the biggest surprise was hearing meeting professionals talk about how they thought the VIVA content was relevant to them as well, because when we first started creating that content, it was really from a leisure standpoint.”
We spoke to Tull in depth about the future of digital destination content marketing in the convention sector, and the reasoning behind the big push into virtual reality.
Skift: When did the LVCVA first begin using new video formats, and how did that evolve into the present Vegas VR virtual reality content?
Cathy Tull: That all started two years ago when we did GeoVegas, which was a program we did with Google to film the interiors of various venues throughout the city. GeoVegas, while successful however, wasn’t off the charts, whereas I think people really engage in this kind of content on Vegas VR in a way that makes it really user friendly and immersive. It brings people into the experience, and it makes them want to come to Vegas to see it in real life.
That was one success that we’ve found this year, and so we jumped on it. Things like the virtual reality helicopter ride, the gondola, the Fremont Street Experience, and the zipline have been really, really popular. This is like 2.0 of virtual reality for us, and I think we’ve finally hit the mark, so we’re going to be doing a lot more of that.
Skift: So the next step is developing a ton of more content?
Tull: You’re going to really see much more content, and we’re expanding the markets we’re targeting because there have been a lot of conversations about content in the last year. For us, when we look at what’s next, it’s how do we take that virtual reality technology and that app, and how do we make sure that we’re having both the leisure and business conversation with our clients?
Using that immersive technology, we think that there are ways to do that on both sides of that conversation. The other thing that we just launched recently was our VIVA content hub, which you can click through to at LasVegas.com. For 2016, it’s about getting more content in that content hub, and then we’re going to drive both leisure and business traffic to it. The other thing that we’re going to do, coming up next year, we’ll link to the VIVA content from our business website, VegasMeansBusiness.com.
We did a focus group with meeting professionals coming in and talking about what they need from us, and the conversation was really around attendance, attendance promotion, and how we can help them be successful in Vegas. What we found in that conversation was that a lot of things they want are already in this VIVA content hub. So that’s what we feel is going to drive people wanting to come to a conference in Vegas, and we’re here to help push that out.
Skift: So you’re saying, specifically, because this is a big conversation today, that you feel DMOs can help drive convention attendance by creating high-quality, high-tech content on the meetings side of their websites?
Tull: We found from research that when the consumer shares your experience in their digital platforms, it will motivate people to travel, or at least investigate travel to that destination. Now take that concept and layer it over the Vegas Means Business conversation. We’ve talked to meeting professionals, and one of the things that they’re really talking about is, how do they bolster attendance at their event. How do they make sure that people are excited to come?
One way to do that is through this whole idea of content and the content hub. When we talk to the clients that we’ve had in recently, they really felt that would help drive the success of their program, which we think will drive more programs to Las Vegas.
Skift: We spoke with you about the Unconventional meetings videos when they first launched, which are fairly groundbreaking in terms of their length and storytelling arc. What kind of impact have you seen from that so far?
Tull: The Unconventional videos have generated a ton of conversation. So Unconventional was really our way of exploring how we could talk to a business audience about the business that happens in Las Vegas in a different way. We tent our offices near the convention center, and we see these groups come through all the time, like the table tennis tournaments, or my favorite, the Pizza Show. The Unconventional idea was really to create that long video format that explains these events that people don’t know or think about. They don’t realize these unique groups are getting together to discuss those little plastic things that keep the pizza box off of the pizza.
So that’s one area where we’re going to be doing much more video content. It’s been very successful as far as people watching the videos all the way through, so we’re going to continue to create those videos and continue to push those out, again, which will also be part of the content hub.
Skift: What keeps you up at night when it comes to digital destination marketing in the future?
Tull: I think the thing that keeps me up is the idea that this is all moving so fast, and there are so many opportunities. It used to be that we would message an audience, and it would be one message to reach your leisure audience, and one message to engage your business audience. What we’re finding with digital is you can be obviously faster and quicker with your messaging, but it also requires you to have a number of different messages.
So, the message that we’re using with Millennials is going to be somewhat different than the message that we’re using with Gen X or Baby Boomers. All three of those generations are very important to us as a destination, and we have something for each one of them, but the conversation might be different depending on who we’re talking to.
I guess the thing that really keeps me up at night is making sure that we’re not falling behind, and that we’re on the cutting edge. The other thing we have to be careful of is that we’re not being too careful or too cautious when we want to try something new. I think we’ve been in a pretty good spot this past year, and enjoying some firsts in the destination marketing world, but wanting to keep being first comes with pressure.
Skift: Is there an internal culture at the LVCVA where it’s okay to fail, because it’s okay to try something new and explore different and perhaps risky initiatives?
Tull: Oh, absolutely. I think one of the reasons that we’ve been as successful as we have been is because we’ve tried all kinds of things. Some things work really, really well, and some things aren’t as great. It’s important that we’re able to try something new and be okay with the result whatever it is. That’s really part of our culture and who we are.
Skift: How big does the LVCVA think VR is going to get?
Tull: It’s going to be more accessible to everyday consumers every year. So we think that there’s an opportunity for us to say, “Yes, we can make it accessible and have it on your mobile today,” like with the Vegas VR app. Look at Google Cardboard, which is relatively cheap. We think that those, or something like those, are going to end up being prevalent in a lot of places sooner than later.
I think if we make virtual reality approachable, people will download it, share it, consume it. From everything that we see on the technology side, technologies are just going to keep getting better and better, and there will be more and more of it. If we can be on the front edge of this whole virtual reality conversation, then we can try new things that are just now becoming popular, so that by the time we’re down the road, everybody else is just catching up to us.
That’s a good place to be, because we’re allowing access and we’re creating content that really immerses people in what Las Vegas is all about. We think we can stay on that cutting edge, and I think you’re going to continue to see virtual technology coming out in everything that we touch.
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Tags: cmo series, las vegas, meetings and events