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How to draw tourists back after tragedies

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Las Vegas shelved its fun-loving motto of "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," replacing it with a hashtag -- #VegasStrong -- to promote tourism to the gambling mecca.

Weeks after wildfires charred California's wine country, that region is preparing a fundraising event and campaign, dubbed Grateful Table, to show that most of the wineries and vineyards were spared from the flames and are operating as usual.

Persuading visitors to return after a natural disaster or mass tragedy can be a delicate balance between remaining sensitive to loss and getting on with life. In Las Vegas and Northern California, tourism advocates are turning to a reliable theme: spending, partying and vacationing are not only acceptable but a needed boost to local businesses trying to recover.

"Our message is intertwined with the message that by visiting the wine country you are financially supporting the community," said Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive of Visit California, the tourism agency for the state.

It's a smart move, communications experts say, but tourism agencies shouldn't linger too long on a message of tragedy and recovery.

"So far, Las Vegas has done it tastefully, and that is the key to it," said Eric Rose, a crisis and reputation management expert with Englander Knabe & Allen.

A lot is riding on getting the message right.

In Las Vegas, tourism is the biggest industry, employing about 300,000 people in the leisure and hospitality sector. In California's Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, tourism is the second-largest industry, behind wine making, and generates nearly $4 billion in annual spending.

In Las Vegas and Northern California's wine region, the campaign messages from tourism agencies focus on patriotism and altruism to get visitors to come there for a vacation.

Immediately after the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, Las Vegas began running ads encouraging visitors to return, coupled with the message of unity and strength in the recovery.

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