Las Vegas, sporting the same message as many other destinations and tourism products, is reporting a positive trend in tourism to the city.
This positive uptick in tourism, which in turn has led to the city’s ability to pump more money into renovations and new programming, was the main message at the Selling Las Vegas seminar during TravelAge West’s ExecConnect elite travel agent program.
John Meyer, leisure sales executive for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitor Authority (LVCVA) and Sara Atwell, leisure sales and marketing director for MGM Resorts International, collaborated on an overview of what’s happening in Las Vegas and to answer questions from the audience.
In general, the city’s occupancy is at about 82 percent, a 4 percent increase over the past year. While these numbers are not an all-time high for Las Vegas, they match 2005 levels, and the tourism industry is optimistic that the figures will continue to climb.
MGM Resorts is reflecting the same positive trend, with occupancy numbers throughout the brand’s 13 hotels and 40,000 rooms also showing improvement. More importantly, MGM is seeing an increase in its convention base.
The panel reported the good news that, according to the 2010 Las Vegas Visitor Profile Study, 51 percent of travelers are coming to Las Vegas for the primary purpose of vacation. In fact, only 9 percent of visitors come for the purpose of gaming, which means agents now have a better chance to sell travelers on complete Las Vegas vacation packages, including shows, food and optional tours and programs.
The survey, which has a special crosstab just for agent-booked travelers, has also found that 12 percent of all visitors to Las Vegas are booked by travel agents. In comparison, only 10 percent of Las Vegas’ traffic is coming for a meeting or convention. The study further revealed that while the average traveler to Las Vegas spends just less than $1,000 per trip, the agent-booked traveler spend nearly $1,200 per trip, nearly 20 percent more than the “average” traveler.
Recognizing that the travel agent books a valuable — and lucrative — part of their market, both the LVCVA and MGM Resorts are upping their efforts in travel agent marketing.
New Properties in Las Vegas
While the increase in traveler spending is certainly good news, the outlook on hotels and resorts continues to be mixed.
* The Cosmopolitan Hotel opened at the end of 2009, marking what will likely be the end of large-scale hotel developments for the foreseeable future.
* Conversely the Sahara is closing its doors to the public in May, adding to the Strip’s empty inventory, which also includes the Echelon and the Fontainebleau.
* Aria and Vdara, both MGM properties, opened at the end of 2009 as part of the CityCenter project. Aria is a full resort and casino, featuring 4,004 rooms, a casino, nightclubs, ultra-lounges and the Cirque Du Soleil show, “Viva Elvis.” Vdara is the project’s boutique hotel and spa, featuring 1,500 suites in a non-gaming, non-smoking environment. Initially, marketing was slow-going for the two properties, but as MGM Resorts sees its revenues rise, it is investing more money in the promotion of its two newest properties.
* The CityCenter project marked the start of a trend in Las Vegas, which saw hotels start to emphasize architecture, sustainability and art. CityCenter alone contains $40 million worth of art throughout the project.
* Although the trend appears to be swinging toward properties focused on luxury rather than theme, the themed properties will continue to have an appeal. The city’s visitors will continue to have diverse tastes and will want to see Las Vegas’ characteristic spectacles.
Renovations in Las Vegas
As new resorts become scarce, existing resorts will find themselves focusing on renovating their offerings, from upgrading hotel rooms to reinventing their entertainment offerings.
* The biggest renovation news is at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, which finishes its $180 million transformation this month. The property was stripped down and completely refurbished. Now the Tropicana sports a trendy South Beach vibe, with the property sporting shutters on all the windows and focusing on whites and pastels.
* On Memorial Day weekend, the Tropicana will also open Nikki Beach. Tropicana’s well-known pool will become the center of this full beach experience, which includes a beach cafe, and which converts into Club Nikki, a 15,000-square-foot nightclub in the evenings.
* The Tropicana also recently opened the Las Vegas Mob Experience, an interactive exhibit that was designed by former Disney Imagineers. Supported by the families of Sam Giancana, Tony Spilotro and Meyer Lansky, the attraction will feature some of the actual artifacts from the families, but is far more than just a museum. Visitors wear a radio-frequency identification badge and, at the end, they are greeted, by name, by the voices of celebrities such as Robert DeNiro, who will tell them if they’ve been “made” or not.
* MGM Resorts is also undergoing renovations at numerous properties, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand, the Mirage and the Luxor. Bellagio, in particular, will be upgrading every room, starting at the end of summer. The first inventory should be online prior to 2012.
* Downtown, which is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, is also seeing a large number of renovations. Agents may be losing out if they automatically dismiss the area as “old Las Vegas.”
There is plenty going on with Vegas’ exciting entertainment scene.
* Las Vegas is seeing a large trend in the daytime pool party/beach experience. Known as the “daylife” (as opposed to nightlife) experience, the pools feature a nightclub setting during the day, with DJs poolside, drink specials and an energetic vibe. Some even sport a top-optional dress code. Notable daylife experiences include Wet Republic Ultra Pool at MGM Grand, Bare at the Mirage and Moorea Beach Club at Mandalay Bay. The poolside programs are perfect for agents with younger clients, especially those selling bachelor parties or girlfriend getaways. Some daylife programs do have cover charges, with hotels sometimes waiving the fee for hotel guests.
* Plenty of new shows are coming to town. Cirque du Soleil is introducing “The Immortal World Tour,” a Michael Jackson-themed show in December this year, at the Arena at Mandalay Bay. The program will the tour the country next year, and come back in 2013 to become the permanent, house show at Mandalay Bay in the theater that currently houses “The Lion King.”
* Other big-name performers returning to Las Vegas include Elton John, who will play a limited engagement program at Caesar’s Palace this September. The Blue Man Group returns to the Monte Carlo in 2013. Many other top acts have performances planned in Las Vegas, including Paul McCartney, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Def Leppard. For agents with younger clients, DJ Tiesto (who performed to a sold-out Wembley Stadium audience of 80,000) is playing a residency in Las Vegas.
* Las Vegas will continue its trend of housing restaurants owned by celebrity chefs. What is important to know is that many of these restaurants have adjusted their prices during the downturn. MGM’s Joel Robuchon, for example, used to offer $500 dinners, but now clients can eat for less than $200 a person. Agents can find some restaurants included in package deals offered by the resorts or local tour operators.
* Las Vegas also has plenty of affordable dining options, especially off the strip. Just two miles off the strip is one of the top Thai restaurants in the country. Las Vegas is also home to an authentic — and affordable — Chinatown. Buffets, too, have done a great job of putting out great food at affordable rates. One of the best buffets is the Seafood Buffet at the Rio, which is $40 a person and contains a huge variety of unique seafood.
* In response to a question from a travel agent, the LVCVA said there is no new news about the high-speed rail yet. Regulatory issues remain between states of California and Nevada. More importantly, environmental issues also remain, including the issue of how to protect the endangered desert tortoise, which makes its home in the desert.
* Airlines have cut their lift into Las Vegas, but city officials remain hopeful that as load factors improve so too will lift.
* The privately owned and operated Las Vegas Monorail has no immediate plans to continue its expansion plans (Phase II is to extend the Monorail to downtown Las Vegas and Phase III plans extend service to the airport). These plans are still on the books, but the Monorail is seeking more funding before this discussion will resume.
* Visitors can easily connect with downtown via The Deuce, a double-decker bus line which operates up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and via the Las Vegas Express Bus, which has makes less stops, but has a designated lane to expedite traveling time.
Free Las Vegas
In response to agent concerns over the price of show tickets, the panel mentioned that there are plenty of free programs in Las Vegas as well.
* This summer, the Fremont Street Experience will be featuring a 1980’s summer featuring 100 bands that will play, for free, for 100 days straight.
* Other free programs include the fountains at the Bellagio, the volcano at the Mirage Resort and Casino, the Sirens of TI (also known as the pirate show) at Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, the Carnival in the Sky at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino and the light show on the canopy at the Fremont Street Experience.
* Las Vegas also features countless places to see fine art. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art just put in a new installation of scenic art that includes work from Monet and a range of other artists. CityCenter also has $40 million worth of art, most of which has some relation to sustainability. Nancy Rubin’s Big Edge, in Vdara, is a work that includes wood from reclaimed boats and kayaks, for example.
* Red Rock Canyon is a local favorite. The park is one of the top sandstone rock climbing locations in the world.
* Hoover Dam’s new Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge provides a great vantage point. The bridge’s pedestrian side looks over the Hoover Dam, allowing visitors to see it from a different perspective.
* Bootleg Canyon, near Hoover Dam, is one of the top mountain biking locations in the world, featuring more than 50 miles of bike trails.
* In the Black Canyon area, clients can take a tour of the oldest gold mine in Southern Nevada and learn the early history of Nevada.
* Exotics Racing School offers a luxury car driving experience. It offers a road course and where you can drive the latest Lamborghini or luxury car, under the guidance of an experienced instructor.
* With Sun Buggy Fun Rentals, clients can ride dune buggies through 14,000 acres in the Nellis Dunes. Guests can chase their guide over rough terrain in an hour course.
* Las Vegas offers plenty of hotels that don’t include gaming. MGM Resorts, alone, feature three: Vdara, The Hotel and the Signature Collection. Other hotels have reconfigured their lobbies so guests don’t have to walk through the casino.
* So far, however, there aren’t any non-smoking casinos. Most do feature non-smoking areas, however. Smoking regulations have changed, with casinos being one of the few remaining locations where it is okay to smoke, and it doesn’t appear as if these regulations will affect the casinos anytime in the near future.
Deals & Discounts
As hotels and casinos veer away from across-the-board rate reductions, visitors will still find plenty of deals in Las Vegas.
* Summer and the two weeks before Christmas are the slowest time in Las Vegas and plenty of packages will remain available during those times.
* Right now, MGM Resorts is offering three-night air and hotel packages that include two buffets per day. These packages run through Labor Day.
* LVCVA launched a summer campaign: “Life is short. Summer is shorter. Make a Splash in Las Vegas.” In addition to giving away 50 Las Vegas vacations, the LVCVA is creating a big push to bring visitors to the city.
* One of the most popular items with guests, and least popular with travel agents, is the hotel gaming card, which offers return guests significant savings, effectively bypassing the travel agent. If gaming is a priority, there isn’t much agents can do to offset these cards. However, with only 9 percent of travelers primarily interested in gaming, the reality is that agents can capitalize on traveler vacation desires and upsell their clients on ancillary services, including food, tours and upgrades.
* All MGM properties have agent discounts, so that they can visit the city and get familiar with the products. MGM also offers a master specialist program, which is an evolving product.
* MGM Resorts recommends upselling as the best way to make money from selling the Las Vegas experience. Visitors can book suites as well as various view categories (lake views, fountain views, strip views, etc.) all of which provide a higher revenue base for agents.
* LVCVA recommends understanding which products pay commissions. It has a page on its site dedicated to commissions so agents can easily find the best commissions.