erinpryor1“Vegas, baby. Vegas!” Vince Vaughn’s character Doubledown Trent famously shouted in the 1996 movie Swingers.

Who can blame him for the excitement?

Is there a better place to party?

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority doesn’t think so.

Which is why, in a reeling economy marked by dwindling tourism, they paid Sports Illustrated to bring the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit party to town.

Southwest Airlines got in on the event by providing a Boeing 737-700 “wrapped” in a swimsuit photo of cover girl Bar Rafaeli to charter the models to and from New York (see below).

barrefaeli1

The LVCVA doled out the cash, while the hotel and casinos put in their bids to host the party with LAX at The Luxor claiming the grand prize.

LAX provided the venue, accommodations for the models, etc. and the top-shelf open bar free of charge.

Why, you ask, would they give all of that away?

Two words: genius marketing.

LAX got all  18 models, including cover girl (and Leonardo DiCaprio main squeeze) Rafaeli and Andy Roddick’s fiancée, Brooklyn Decker, a performance by six-time Grammy winner John Legend, a bunch of  celebrities, and a couple thousand executives and fans.

But the biggest thing they got (that you can’t put a price tag on) was publicity.

The event was covered across the country by both local and national newspapers, websites and television stations.

Typically in a tight economy the first thing businesses cut are their marketing and advertising budgets, but the rub is that marketing and publicity are what attract consumers to business in the first place.

Granted, we all don’t have million dollar budgets to throw around and the OC is far from being “sin city,” but this marketing template can be pared down to work on a smaller scale here in Orange County.

It requires a combination or creative thinking, strategic partnerships and grassroots marketing.

People are always looking for different and fun things to do, so let’s bring them something!

Erin Pryor, formerly with Salon.com and Sports Illustrated, blogs here often and every Friday.  Leave a comment for Erin or email her at erinepryor@aol.com.