Las Vegas Works To Secure Tourism Industry After Music Festival Shooting
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More than 41 million people visit Las Vegas every year. They see shows, gamble. Some get married by Elvis. Now city leaders are worried that people won't come because of the shooting at a concert that left 58 people dead. As NPR's Leila Fadel reports, Las Vegas is doing all it can to secure its most important industry, tourism.
LISA RHODES: Thank you for calling the world-famous Little White Chapel and Tunnel of Love, Lisa speaking. How can I help you?
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: In the lobby of A Little White Wedding Chapel, Lisa Rhodes takes reservations for the four chapels and the drive-through window.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Is this all - is this the proof?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We (unintelligible)...
FADEL: And couples walk through the doors to do the iconic Las Vegas thing - get married.
(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF RICHARD WAGNER'S "BRIDAL CHORUS")
FADEL: For Agnes Kolodziaj, Vegas was the perfect place for the wedding she wanted - stress-free. And then the shooting happened.
AGNES KOLODZIAJ: We have everything booked, so we couldn't cancel it.
FADEL: The Polish bride worried about the mood.
KOLODZIAJ: So many people come here to just have fun. And this is not the place where you just want to have fun right now because it's just simply sad that so many innocent people are dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Keep smiling. It's the honeymoon, yes.
FADEL: Now, the couple still take their picture in front of the Elvis pink Cadillac. So do the other couples coming through here from Australia, the U.K., Germany.
CHARLOTTE RICHARDS: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Hi.
RICHARDS: How are you today?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Fine, thanks, and you?
FADEL: Charlotte Richards is the owner of A Little White Wedding Chapel. She's been marrying people for some 60 years. But being a dealer of love right now - well...
RICHARDS: It feels strange. I have a hard time going down there - that street. And I only live two blocks from it. I feel, you know, like I'll cry. And it's hard.
FADEL: The chapel is only a couple of miles from the site of the shooting. It never closed its doors.
RICHARDS: People are coming back and getting married. In fact, it was a big flood of marriages like those that didn't get married that week came the following week.
FADEL: Last Saturday, she had 24 weddings booked, an average day. But couples that ask for pictures at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign get a no. There's a memorial there.
RICHARDS: We just tell them that we have been honoring the people...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: The memorial, yeah, of course.
RICHARDS: ...And that maybe they could take a second choice.
FADEL: Nearly half of the jobs in southern Nevada are connected to tourism. So within minutes of the shooting on October 1, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority started coming up with a plan. Rossi Ralenkotter is the president and CEO.
ROSSI RALENKOTTER: We did see a few cancellations on the leisure side right after this.
FADEL: But the all-important conventions are still on, and Vegas needs to keep people in the nearly 150,000 hotel rooms on the strip and on the casino floors. Last year, gaming alone brought in almost $10 billion. Just 15 minutes after the shooting, Ralenkotter said they pulled the paid ads for the 15th anniversary of the what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas campaign and started to shift the message while opening the convention center to families of the wounded and the dead.
RALENKOTTER: We do what we always do - is we listen to our customers. And all of a sudden, the #VegasStrong message started coming across on the social media side, and so we felt that that was our customers talking to us.
FADEL: They used that hashtag. It's emblazoned on LED billboards across the strip and in ads for the city. And three days after the shooting, this ad appeared on television.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Strength isn't vengeful. Strength isn't rage. Strength is unity.
FADEL: A somber message as a camera zooms in from the dark to the shining lights of the Strip. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.