Las Vegas cachet among the social media-savvy young has never been higher, but gaming properties need to do more online to attract, capture and retain their travel business, says WDCW



With a long history of 21st birthdays, bachelor/bachelorette parties, shotgun weddings and lost weekends, Las Vegas has cultivated an image as The City of Sin-an adult playground where people can let loose and be comfortable that “what happens here stays here.”

Through this promise, Las Vegas has become a Mecca of entertainment, wealth and partying, showcased in such blockbuster movies as The Hangover and Ocean’s Eleven, demonstrating Vegas as a place where anything can happen. As a backdrop for reality-TV shows such as The Real World, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Pauly D Project, Las Vegas is steeped in youth culture. A trip to Las Vegas is now seen as the ultimate rite of passage for newly minted 21-year-olds, and their tendency toward sharing, proving and showing off their own experiences makes Las Vegas a place naturally worth talking about for social-media-obsessed youth.

This means that Las Vegas now has to re-think how its tight-lipped “Vegas Code” translates to texts, Twitpics and check-ins, as youth want to share, show off and prove that their hijinks live up to the bar set by Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has taken one approach, launching a humorous ad campaign to “Know the Code” and “Report Those Who Violate the Code.” A valiant effort, but in reality this is a tall order for digital natives who send an average of over 100 text messages per day.

Las Vegas is the most naturally socially active travel destination in the U.S. While there are some properties that are taking advantage of the social activity, others are missing out on the rich engagement that takes place online. These online interactions contribute to aspiration identification, brand preference and trip planning, and may mean the difference between a real-life booking and losing out to a competitor or discount-travel site.



CHANGING LANDSCAPE

Social media is shaping the way travelers plan, experience and share their vacations-bye-bye TripTiks and projector slide shows. Now the experience starts before visitors ever set foot in the lobby, by way of status updates, virtual tours, user photos, YouTube videos and sharing insider tips. The shift to social media assists vacationers in sifting through the multitude of choices-to help make decisions a bit easier about their destination, and where to stay, eat, shop and visit

In a survey of 500 participants between the ages of 21 and 35, a full 75 percent stated that they used social media while on vacation in Las Vegas. As social media is changing the way that the U.S. population interacts, consumes and functions, it is also changing the landscape of the travel industry. By taking advantage of these increasingly important points of contact, hotels can develop stronger and more meaningful relationships with potential or repeat customers.

Due to the social nature of the city and the enormous number of young people who pass through its gates each year, we hypothesized that Las Vegas was the most socially active online-travel destination in the U.S. In order to prove this, we analyzed online buzz surrounding Las Vegas, comparing it to four other popular U.S. vacation destinations that boasted similar offerings, nightlife and entertainment: Atlantic City, N.J., Palm Springs, Calif., Miami, Fla., and New Orleans, La.

In terms of sheer foot traffic, Las Vegas saw its second highest figure to date with 38.9 million visitors last year-more than Miami, New Orleans and Palm Springs combined for 2011 (24.3 million total). Las Vegas’ closest contender was Atlantic City, which saw 29 million visitors in 2011. Clearly, considering the large volume of visitors that Las Vegas hosts every year, it is a prime subject for a case study regarding social media and travel. Of these nearly 40 million visitors, 30 percent were between the ages of 21 and 39, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The 1.2 million people in this demographic could rival the populations of Dallas or San Diego. Expect one-third of them to be accessing Facebook from their smart phones.

Not only is the number of vacationers that travel to Las Vegas each year huge, but also the city is over-performing against its competitors via various social-media channels. In combing through 30 days worth of tweets with chatter regarding our five vacation destinations (approximately 4.2 million), we found that Las Vegas accounted for 49 percent of all mentions (2.04 million). The disparity between Las Vegas and the other tourist destinations was huge. Miami received 33 percent of all tweets (1.4 million) and New Orleans received only 15 percent (635,507). As seen through Twitter, Las Vegas is not only one of the most popular places to vacation, but it is also the most talked-about online.



MAKING A CASE

Has the Las Vegas travel industry taken full advantage of vacationers’ social-media activity as an opportunity to nurture meaningful relationships?

We examined social-media properties for four Las Vegas Hotels: Caesars Palace, Cosmopolitan, MGM Grand and Wynn. We chose these properties for our case studies because they all met the following criteria: located on the strip, mid to high price points, target 21–35 age segment, active nightlife in their bars and clubs, and a baseline of existing buzz.

We analyzed the social-media efforts of each property, including: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and photo integration. In surveying each of their offerings, we found that each brand clearly had one strong performer in its portfolio of social-media properties, and that each brand is doing something better than the others.



• Caesars Palace-Online rewards program
This spring Caesars Palace launched a revamped Total Rewards program, which expands the customer experience by adding additional ways members can collect points. Members can now redeem points from shopping at various retail outlets, spas, entertainment venues and restaurants around the world that are in the Caesars Entertainment family of resorts and casinos.

The brand promoted the new program with a series of four concerts nationwide to celebrate the excitement behind this venture, which was also the largest advertising campaign in Caesars’ history. Caesars engaged celebrities and social-media influencers through Twitter and Facebook to help build excitement around the program’s relaunch and underscore that it is a relevant brand.

In addition to members having a more varied experience, the new Total Rewards program has added a social-media leg to the rewards platform that encourages members to check in and share deals through Facebook, Twitter, and foursquare. Members can earn extra points when friends in their social-media network make purchases.



• The Cosmopolitan-Twitter
The Cosmopolitan is the most active of our four hotels on Twitter. From December 2011 through February 2012, The Cosmo sent out 4,145 tweets, compared to a combined total of 1,623 tweets from the other four hotels. Not surprisingly, The Cosmo also leads in total tweets (18,615).

Quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but in this case it shows an active interest in interaction. The overwhelming majority of tweets are in response to requests for information or general conversation from followers. This is a great way to build relationships with followers and to act as an online information desk, valuable in a time where people are increasingly more comfortable with tweeting and texting rather than talking on the phone.

Though user engagement is high, the only downside to The Cosmopolitan’s Twitter feed is that it provides little to no entertainment value for a casual browser looking to see what’s new. When working in a medium where users have a limited attention span, you need to be able to catch viewers quickly and give them a reason to join the conversation rather than pass it by.



• MGM Grand-YouTube
The MGM Grand has shown the most measurable success on YouTube. Operating in a medium largely defined by published content, it’s safe to say MGM has been doing something right. The total video views for MGM sit at around 1.5 million, while the closest competitor is around 100,000 or more views behind. One thing the MGM Grand has done right is video length: the most popular videos on the page are all under three minutes (with the majority even shorter), getting their point across quickly and effectively.

Content-wise, the videos with the highest number of views relate to shows in the MGM Grand Arena, promotions asking for viewer participation, or unique events that take place on the property, such as a flashmob in the lobby or Red Bull athletes base-jumping off the roof. Both promotional content and entertainment-related videos reflect the brand tone as youthful and energetic.

One area to improve upon is the consistency and frequency of newly posted content. The MGM Grand’s newest video content is one month old, and gaps between individual video postings run from one to seven months-an eternity in an age where videos can go viral one week and dry the next. It is important to have relevant and timely content to keep users engaged and excited.



• Wynn Las Vegas-Facebook & Instagram Feed
Wynn Las Vegas enjoys a Facebook engagement rate nearly five times better than the travel-industry average. With posts ranging from cocktail recipes to photos of guests’ suites, Wynn understands that relevant, useful content is key to promoting user engagement. Wynn actively interacts with users on a meaningful level by posting relevant content and engaging in conversations, and its high engagement numbers are proof of that.

In addition to high engagement numbers, the brand successfully maintains exclusivity on the Wynn Facebook page. Of the four hotels, Wynn is the only brand to feature an Instagram feed. Instagram pictures add depth to the page and offer a glimpse of a premium and exclusive experience from the brand through beautifully filtered, user-generated shots. Offering Instagram as an available medium of interaction promotes a very specific kind of communication and response from users. This is a great example of meeting users where they already reside in a well-known app so they know exactly what to expect when visiting the brand here.



UNMET POTENTIAL

WDCW conducted a study to explore the social-media habits of 21- to 35-year-olds who visit Las Vegas. This study of 500 respondents allowed us to see where the audience is already actively engaged and to compare this with the platforms that brands were already utilizing.

More than half of the respondents reported using a smart phone to access social media while traveling. Hotels can reach this demographic in a number of ways, the most effective being to make sure their Web presences are compatible with mobile viewing. An app can be expensive to create, and with so much noise in the market, a user needs to already be interested in your brand to be likely to download it. Preparing your brand to meet people within preexisting apps they already use can greatly increase the chance of interaction and interest.

In addition to identifying which social platforms to use, we found that when to use social matters just as much.

When analyzing organic mentions of Las Vegas on Facebook and Twitter, we uncovered trends and usage patterns in a traveler’s journey. Sixty percent of tweets were about a traveler’s anticipation of taking a Las Vegas vacation. Tone ranged from excitement of preparation to anxiety as travelers were eager to announce their Las Vegas plans to their social circles.

In addition, we saw a trend on Twitter where vacationers broadcasted their states of recovery from their recent vacations. This “recovery phase” accounted for 25 percent of the tweets we analyzed, and was marked by feelings of exhaustion, sadness that their vacation was ending, and relief or happiness to be home.

A Las Vegas traveler’s journey is interesting because the bulk of mentions are occurring at the beginning and at the end of a Las Vegas trip. While travelers are on vacation in Las Vegas they are surprisingly less active on Twitter. This means that hotels in Las Vegas need to take advantage of the increase in Twitter and Facebook chatter prior to and after a vacation.

Brands have an opportunity to engage and interact with connected users and potential guests through an incredible amount of channels. The tools to communicate are out there. They exist. It’s a matter of understanding the habits and preferences of those you want to attract.

In order to gain that brand preference in the mind of potential guests, your brand needs to exist where your audience currently resides, where they talk the most, or figure out how to get there. We know Vegas travelers live in social spheres accessed by mobile means, and we know that it’s a change, not a trend. Social media has created a window into the lives of consumers, but it has also created a window into your brand. Vegas hotels are in a unique place because people already want to look into those windows and experience what the city has to offer.

If they like what they see through the window, they will be that much more likely to walk in the door.

Excerpted and edited with permission from the white paper Las Vegas: The Most Socially Active Destination in the U.S., authored by Wong, Doody, Crandall, Wiener (WDCW). WDCW is an independently owned agency with offices in Seattle and Los Angeles that specializes in multi-disciplinary brand building, including advertising, brand strategy, interactive, social media and retail design. For more information on the company and this white paper, visit www.wdcw.com.