FORT WORTH, Texas – The tiny town of Cranfills Gap really needs a vacation.
At least that's the opinion of Las Vegas tourism officials, who've decided to fly nearly half of the 350 residents to the desert playground as part of a five-day getaway and publicity stunt.
Up to 120 people — those who could get off work and were over age 21 — will fly in one jet to Sin City next weekend and stay in swanky hotels, eat at fancy restaurants and see glitzy shows — all for free. The catch: They'll be followed the entire time by video cameras for tourism commercials to air early next year.
They won't get any spending money if they want to gamble or shop during their few hours of free time each day. But for many in the town with only two stop signs and no traffic lights, it's a perfect pre-holiday getaway.
"It couldn't have come at a better time," said Tanya Davidson, 33, who plans to marry her fiance in a drive-through wedding chapel there. "We had decided to get married at the end of the year or early next year, and when we heard about this trip, we said, 'Let's do it there.' "
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is spending $2.5 million for the trip and marketing campaign. Officials looked at small towns nationwide and, after several visits, chose Cranfills Gap — a farming and ranching town with one gas station, one bank, a bar and grill, and few other businesses.
"It really is the quintessential American town," said Doug Finelli, one of the creative directors of R&R Partners, the advertising agency doing the marketing campaign. "The people are really welcoming, and everyone works really hard. Most people work multiple jobs, and many people without kids even volunteer at the school."
Cranfills Gap Mayor David Witte said the trip planned for Dec. 13-17 has been the talk of the town. He said folks are not worried about how they'll be portrayed in a commercial.
"It'll give people an opportunity to go somewhere they wouldn't have had a chance to go to normally," Witte said.
Although Vegas is a popular destination, tourism officials must remain aggressive because of the continuous development, including 9,000 new hotel rooms this year and 14,000 more planned for next year, said Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
This campaign will supplement the memorable "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" commercials and will target middle America, he said.
"People are looking for a break and ... it's a great choice to escape for a couple of days," Jicinsky said.