Travel Agents Finding That it Pays to Sell Las Vegas - Monday 6th of February 2006

It's a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" exchange distilled to its purest form.

But Las Vegas travel leaders know there's value in taking care of those who feed the city's nonstop appetite for visiting customers.

So what's so wrong with a little gift-giving among friends, they insist?

This month, Funjet Vacations and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority teamed to bring 100 travel agents here for a three-night getaway at an MGM Mirage-owned resort.

In addition to the free trip, one lucky agent took home a $500 Fashion Show shopping spree; another claimed a new 2006 Ford Mustang.

What set those 100 agents apart from their peers who stayed home was simple enough: The junket was given to agents who did a better job selling Funjet's Las Vegas packages.

And so they were rewarded, enjoying their role in a common travel sales strategy to promote destinations worldwide.

"It's about collaboration, to create an experience for people who really are the distributors of the Las Vegas product to travelers throughout the country," Ray Snisky, president of Funjet Vacations, said of his company's incentive program.

Funjet has sold Las Vegas travel packages since 1974, and offering rewards to agents typically entices them to more aggressively tout the city.

"The style of (Las Vegas incentive events), the panache of them they're just done on a much higher scale," Snisky said. "Things we get to do here are so meaningful to the agents. It gets them inspired and fired up when they leave an event like this."

Funjet Vacations is the flagship brand of Mark Travel Corp., a Milwaukee-based company that has for more than 30 years arranged individual and group travel packages via nonstop charter and scheduled air service.

Because the company also sells packages to destinations such as Hawaii, Mexico and Orlando, Fla., it behooves Las Vegas to aggressively pursue and sometimes help purchase travel agents' loyalty, said Art Jimenez, the convention authority's director of tourism sales.

Each year, the convention authority takes part in 200 similar events to keep Las Vegas top-of-mind among those who sell it, he said.

"We have to get involved," Jimenez said, who explained high sponsorship costs sometimes preclude local businesses from attending travel trade events. "If we're not there, then (sometimes Las Vegas) literally has no representation."

Last year, approximately 20 percent of Las Vegas' 37.4 million visitors booked their trips through a travel agent.

Wholesale travel providers work closely with agents, and both Snisky and Jimenez stressed that it is key to keep agents updated on the city's latest amenities. If not, Las Vegas could lose ground to national or regional visitor bureaus that can mass promote all the resorts in Mexico or Hawaii, for example.

Cooperative partnerships, including incentive events, also make the most of the destination's ability to reach out to would-be visitors.

"If you live in Cleveland and see these 'Vegas Alibi' commercials, we're setting you up to go to Vegas. But do you shop through Travelocity, Expedia or Continental Vacations?" Jimenez said.

In such cases, the authority would cooperate with Cleveland travel agents or tour package providers to compliment national ad buys with local initiatives partially financed by local partners.

"By overlaying our branding ad campaign with cooperative media, we often get 3-to-1, but sometimes an 8-to-1 or 9-to-1 return on our hard media investment, dollar for dollar. ... We're getting a lot more bang for our buck."

Added Snisky: "The convention authority has really done a super job of marketing and putting resources together. It's partnership marketing from a standpoint of one plus one equals three."

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