Here’s Why Las Vegas Hired DJ Khaled to Launch Its Snapchat Channel

Underscores a big tourism trend from coast to coast

Las Vegas is hoping DJ Khaled proves to be the key to winning over millennials.

For a day and a half, the King of Snapchat committed the cardinal sin of Sin City: He made sure his 6 million digital followers knew what happened in Vegas. The hip-hop star—who was in town for a music residency—was commissioned by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to post and boast on Snapchat about the city's highlights. His tour began May 29, when the city gave him a key to the Las Vegas Strip, a gondola ride at The Venetian, a mani-pedi at Canyon Ranch SpaClub, a night at the Cosmopolitan and even a spin by the Las Vegas welcome sign. 

With one phone for his personal account and another for Las Vegas' account, DJ Khaled ate, drank, snapped and capped the two-day binge with a performance at Marquee Nightclub and Dayclub. The launch was a first for Vegas, which didn't previously have a presence on the increasingly colossal platform. So, to introduce the channel with some star power, the Convention and Visitors Authority hired Khaled and just 48 hours later, the VisitLasVegas channel had more than 400,000 views and 25,000 engagements.

But why DJ Khaled? And why Snapchat?

"I think what was great is he's so authentic," said Cathy Tull, svp of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "He knows the city and loves the city, and having him talk about the city comes across as authentic."

According to Tull, the goal is to reach a younger demographic—from age 21 to folks in their 30s. (Forty-one percent of U.S. consumers ages 18 to 34 use Snapchat every day, the app's CTO Imran Khan recently told Adweek.) While the city has had plenty of success with the age group, Tull said, her team knew it had to evolve its marketing strategy or risk losing ground. 

"We have to market the destination based on the products that are offered," said Rob Dondero, evp of R&R Partners, the agency that developed the Snapchat campaign. "And if you look at the products that are being offered by the hotels, especially in the DJ world, the day club world, even the food and entertainment side, it does skew young."

Just as DJ Khaled is no stranger to Vegas, he's also no stranger to brand partnerships. He's already worked with brands like Ciroc, Fusion and Apple Music. And during Game 7 of the NBA Finals on June 19, he snapped about the new pair of Nike sneakers Lebron James wore. (It's unclear whether he was paid by Nike to plug the kicks.)

DJ Khaled didn't comment on his Las Vegas Snapchat campaign, but in an interview with Adweek in February, he said he picks partnerships based on what he thinks will be relevant for both brands and fans.

The medium—known for off-the-cuff photos and videos that vanish after you view them—fosters intimacy and authenticity. And it ties in well with Las Vegas' provocative "What happens here, stays here" slogan, which the city is recommitting to with a new summer campaign. 

"It's an ongoing conversation we have internally all the time about how ironic it is that we're telling everybody 'what happens here stays here,' but yet we build content and send it out on media platforms," said Dondero from R&R, which came up with the slogan as well as the Snapchat launch. "But really, when it comes down to it, it's really just this one-minute, 10-second, whatever-it-is slice of what's going on in Vegas."

He added that Vegas's lights and luster are an ideal backdrop for such a visual platform.

The Visitors Authority was able to save and repost Khaled's clips to its Visit Las Vegas Facebook page, which captured another 300,000 views. One of the videos related to the campaign has since become the second-most viewed on the page.

Will more destinations sidle up to Snapchat?

Several U.S. cities told Adweek they are rolling out Snapchat channels this summer or considering the possibility. According to Harry Bernstein, founder of The 88—a New York-based agency that has launched Snapchat campaigns for brands like Men's Wearhouse, Adidas and St-Germain—it's smart for the tourism industry to start snapping.

Potential travelers are more engaged while watching a Snapchat story (a string of photos and videos) than scrolling past a simple photo or tweet, he said. And as a result, they're more likely to feel transported to a destination, and even a desire to actually be there.

"It turns your second screen into a first screen," Bernstein said. "It's like I have this almost first-screen experience now where I'm not where I am, because I have to engage with that platform to digest it, and now I'm not just at work with someone or having a coffee with someone. I'm now in Vegas."

Bernstein added that travel marketers can learn from DJ Khaled's channel, which capitalizes on the "epicness of smaller moments." And unlike the highly stylized shots you see on Instagram, Snapchat's real-time, minimally-edited posts lend marketers some credibility. (Of course, this can be a double-edged sword, considering travelers and bloggers can broadcast their unvarnished experiences.)

DJ Khaled looks down from his hotel during the Snapchat campaign. Mike Hammonds (R&R Partners)

Some tourism bureaus are jumping in to experiment with Snapchat: Pure Michigan launched its handle a year ago, and Dallas will begin snapping an LGBT visitors campaign this week. Philadelphia's channel is less than a month old, and the city plans to buy geofilters during the Democratic National Convention.

Others are keeping a close watch. In Washington, D.C., the tourism department is considering the idea but hasn't yet jumped on board. 

"You can't fight the ocean," said Kate Gibbs, domestic media relations manager for Destination D.C. "[Snapchat is] still the province of the young, and while you can save the videos, the fact that they're so in the moment really means that it needs to be staffed accordingly."

Gibbs said domestic travelers plan their trips to the nation's capital about 21 days in advance, which means the destination needs to create content with more lead time than Snapchat affords.

"So the idea of a video melting away after a day or so, we have to be careful to make sure that we're still in the province of things people can experience when they come, and that they're not booking a trip only to miss an opportunity," she said.

Investing in social

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority now splits its marketing budget roughly three ways between social media, traditional media and sponsored events and influencers, according to Tull. He declined to reveal how much it paid DJ Khaled for the Snapchat initiative.

In mid-June, it bought a sponsored filter on Snapchat, a move that can cost up to $750,000 for a one-day deal. 

DJ Khaled takes photos with fans during his tour of Las Vegas. Photo: Denise Truscello

The city hopes to partner with other influencers and post a few times a week to fuel the momentum of its new channel. It recently shared videos of the Electric Daisy Carnival—the largest electric dance music festival in North America with 400,000 attendees—and the implosion of the storied Riviera Hotel and Casino.

It also plans to take advantage of organic trends and iconic moments, like the final presidential debate in Las Vegas later this year. 

"I think, as a marketer, it's OK to say this is where my consumers are and this is the conversation they want to have, and if I want to have that conversation I need to be on that channel," Tull said. "And so for us it was worth the investment to say, 'If we are going to launch a Snapchat channel, we need to do it in a way that's big, will gain attention and that we can have a lot of conversation around.'

That's what we accomplished with DJ Khaled, so it was a worthwhile investment."

Read more about the tactics and trends reshaping the tourism industry in Adweek's Travel Marketing Report.