As We See It

[The Strip Sense]

As the worldwide web turns

Whether it’s the economy or a newfound savvy, Vegas resorts have stopped worrying and learned to love the Internet

Rick Calvert may be the most popular guy in Vegas this weekend, and nobody is more surprised and gratified about that than Rick Calvert. It was just a year ago, in fact, when the co-founder and organizer of BlogWorld could barely get his calls or e-mails returned by anyone of stature on the Strip.

“Last year and the year before, they didn’t get it,” he said of his efforts to shop for deals and organize events for the 1,750 bloggers who attended last year and the 1,400 who came in 2007. “This year, we’re getting calls from every hotel in town. They want to host events for our bloggers and podcasters.”

The list is impressive. Jet at Mirage, Lavo at Palazzo and Studio 54 at MGM Grand are hosting parties for the expected 2,500 attendees, and the Hard Rock is putting on a charity poker tournament for sports and poker blogger attendees. Host hotel the Las Vegas Hilton, which refused to offer any special room rates in prior years, gave BlogWorld attendees a $69 price this go-around, and two other host hotels, the Renaissance and Courtyard Marriott, are comping in-room wireless Internet. Planet Hollywood is giving away free America’s Got Talent Live and Peepshow seats with no strings attached, and Cirque du Soleil is offering free tickets to any of their shows to any BlogWorld conventioneer who will review it on their blog, podcast, Twitter feed or wherever else they digitally blab.

Now, you say, “Of course they are! It’s good publicity.” And you’d be right, except that somehow that notion didn’t seem as obvious only 13 months ago, when last BlogWorld landed in Las Vegas. There’s even talk now of moving the 2010 convention to Mandalay Bay, a sure sign that it’s becoming so significant to the resorts that having all those web denizens in the dull environs of the Las Vegas Convention Center for three days seems like a wasted opportunity.

“It is night and day, the response that we’re getting,” Calvert said. “The level of interest now compared to even eight months ago when we started to plan for this is incredible. We’re having to turn people down now. We’re saying to other people, ‘We’re sorry, we just can’t do another party.’”

I, too, am impressed. Just 15 months ago, I bitched from this space about how lousy the city was doing with its web efforts and outreach. At the time, we had just held the first Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza, in which three popular Vegas shows did live versions in front of a real audience, and we shocked ourselves by filling the cabaret at the Palms. It seemed like concrete proof of the power of the Internet, but neither the hotels nor the local mainstream media seemed to, as Rick said, “get it.”

They sure do now. The second Podcast-a-Palooza is in the Gossy Room at the Palms this Saturday to piggyback on BlogWorld’s presence, and we, too, have felt a shift in the winds. Holly Madison will appear for an interview on our show, The Strip, MGM Mirage veep Gordon Absher will chat it up on another show, and Planet Hollywood is giving away show tickets.

Yet what’s more pleasing than love for special events is that most Strip resorts have made social media and web outreach part of their daily routine.

“A year or so ago, interactive marketing was the red-headed stepchild of every company on the Strip,” says Planet Hollywood social media director Brandie Feuer, who tweets for Planet Hollywood at @PhVegas and previously tweeted at @LuxorLV. “Today, everybody’s aware of it.”

Feuer’s approach—she injects lots of personality, as in the tweet last week when she rejoiced that the America’s Got Talent Live premiere gave her an excuse to buy new shoes—is different from that of her former employer, MGM Mirage. The Strip giant—which now has a Facebook page for every Vegas resort and Twitter feeds for four of them—has a half-day training program for marketing employees to teach them how to and not to talk online. “I don’t think any of our personal lives are that interesting, or that that is the information that people are looking for from us,” says Megan Tobin, MGM Mirage’s Internet marketing manager and the tweeter for @VegasConcierge. “We try not to infuse our own personality. We’re trying to help people with their travel plans.”

The biggest Twitter audience for a Strip hotel is the nearly 50,000 who follow @WynnLasVegas. Steve Wynn’s online cult of personality comes into play, but tweeter Jade Bailey-Assam is also known as highly attentive and responsive. One user, @beauknows, was flabbergasted after he tweeted that he was eating at Society Café Encore and, within minutes, the restaurant manager visited him to offer a special welcome. Of course, he then tweeted about the encounter.

There still are plenty of boneheaded moves. KNPR food critic John Curtas groused to me last week that the Food Network forced observers of a taping of Showdown With Bobby Flay at Rao’s to sign a confidentiality agreement. “You invite 100 people into a studio event, I’d think you’d want everybody Twittering about it,” he said. “They treat it like the fucking CIA when they’re filming a cooking contest.”

But more often, there’s loads of creativity at work. Tao at Venetian several months ago held a Twitterhunt where guests raced to shoot digital pictures of things they were led to find based on clues transmitted via Twitter. Criss Angel, who became irate when blogger Perez Hilton trashed his show during a performance earlier this year, is now a tireless tweeter of his after-show club appearances and other on-property contests. Caesars Palace is hosting a Trick or Tweet Halloween promotion later this month, in which they’re using Facebook and Twitter to reveal special drink deals, free food offerings and other goodies.

Of course, just because they’re doing well doesn’t mean they can relax. Roger Erik Tinch, who tweets for @CineVegas, has about 810,000 followers primarily because he was among the world’s first tweeters back in 2007. I asked him what the next big thing is now that blogging, podcasting, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are all mainstream.

His answer: Something called FourSquare. It’s a social media game in which you reveal your location to people and you say what you’re doing and you earn points and, well, I can’t figure the darn thing out worth a damn.

But I better, and so, too, should the resorts. Here’s hoping someone at BlogWorld can explain it to us.

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