Las Vegas creates tremendous memories for people,” said Rossi Ralenkotter in an interview. “It’s part of who we are.”

Ralenkotter, the visionary leader of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) since 2004 and current CEO, is very much part of Vegas.

His story began in 1951, eight years before the opening of the Las Vegas Convention Center. His father, hired to work on the new Sands Hotel (today Venetian-Palazzo), relocated the family from Northern Kentucky to Downtown Las Vegas. Ralenkotter, then four, recalls Fremont Street’s 40-foot-tall neon cowboy Vegas Vic’s “Howdy Partner” greeting.

“I thought it was Roy Rogers,” he said.  

It could have been a sign—few industry leaders stand taller than Ralenkotter in welcoming visitors. After earning his MBA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and serving in the U.S. Air Force, he first worked for a local telephone company. More interested in marketing, he secured a research analyst position with the then Las Vegas Convention Bureau.

That was in 1973. Today, 45 years later, he is the chief ambassador of the peerless Las Vegas brand. Under his leadership, the destination has become a world capital of entertainment and business, the latter driven by an increasingly powerful meetings and conventions engine.

“That we would end up with some 150,000 rooms, 42-plus million annual visitors, and competing globally for group business would be some news back in 1973,” he said. “The seeds were there, though. Hosting people has been in our community’s DNA since the 1950s, and there have always been entrepreneurs and corporations dedicated to evolving and reinventing the brand. Marketing research—my first job—is also fundamental to our success. We don’t make a decision or move without it.”

Essential, too, are partnerships.

“Having evolved from a sales organization into a brand-marketing organization, our bureau does the umbrella marketing for Las Vegas, with all the hotels and attractions marketing themselves under that umbrella,” he said. “But the entire destination and community works together. Whether that’s our unique relationship with McCarran International Airport on route development, or funding schools and recreational areas through our room tax, or joining our resort partners on convention sales calls, Vegas operates as a unified whole. It’s just one way that we think and act differently than other destinations—and stay ahead of the competition.”