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It’s hard to believe that it has been just four years since Las Vegas was a shining symbol of Great Recession cutbacks, incomplete promises and presidential finger-pointing. But even in its darkest days, the destination stayed true to itself, continuing to market its in-your-face, no-regrets getaways — and the formula seems to be working. In mid-December, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) announced that the city had broken all previous inbound tourism records, welcoming more than 40 million visitors.
“Las Vegas couldn’t have reached this milestone without the continued investments of our resort partners, and the more than 40 million people who came to experience all the destination has to offer,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of LVCVA. “Ongoing developments in the destination, including new, renovated and rebranded resort properties, exciting new attractions, world-class entertainment, incredible culinary offerings and more are what keep first-time visitors and loyalists returning to Las Vegas time and time again.”
“New developments” might just be the Las Vegas battle cry these days. More than $9 billion in tourism infrastructure investments are either underway or have recently been completed in the city.
And it seems that with so many new things to experience here, people might be returning to travel agents to ask their advice on what to see and do. In fact, 15 percent of visitors reported using the assistance of a travel agent to plan their trip to Las Vegas in 2013, a number that jumped two points over the previous year, and is at its highest in five years.
“Don’t forget that the 15 percent reflects domestic and international visitors,” said Art Jimenez, senior director of leisure sales for LVCVA. “When broken down, nearly 9 percent of domestic travel is booked through a travel agent, while 39 percent of travelers of international origin use a travel agent.”
Open NowAmong the newest projects on the Strip is Delano Las Vegas, located at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, in the space that was once known as TheHotel. The all-suite Delano brings a South Beach vibe to Las Vegas and is among the unique — but growing — category of nonsmoking, nongaming properties along the Strip. A joint venture between MGM Resorts International and Morgans Hotel Group, the 1,100-room property exudes an intimate feel. The public spaces are designed to encourage lounging and gathering, a welcome respite for travelers who prefer to keep casino culture at arm’s length.
Also new to the Strip is SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, which opened in August at the site of the former Sahara Hotel. The property’s 1,600 guestrooms and suites are located in three different towers, each featuring a distinctive experience and price point. Los Angeles natives in particular will feel right at home on the property, which features familiar dining venues such as Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, Katsuya, Umami Burger and The Griddle Cafe (although the alcoholic milkshakes and floats served at The Griddle Cafe are a uniquely Las Vegas experience).
Las Vegas has recently seen a huge wave of increased tourism, some of which can be attributed to travel agents as well as new developments. // © 2015 Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
Franklin, the cocktail lounge of the new Delano Las Vegas hotel. // © 2015 Delano Las Vegas
The all-suite Delano brings a sophisticated South Beach vibe to Las Vegas. // © 2015 Delano Las Vegas
Las Vegas Arena will have a balcony looking out to the Strip. // © 2015 Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
The 20,000-seat Las Vegas Arena will host a variety of events. // © 2015 Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
MGM Resorts’ The Park is an outdoor dining and entertainment district. // © 2015 MGM Resorts
The opening of Cromwell Hotel Las Vegas made waves last May when it became the first stand-alone boutique hotel on the Strip. Featuring just 188 rooms, including 19 suites, the Caesars Entertainment Corporation property is at the site of the former Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. The property recaptured media attention a month later with the opening of Giada, celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis’ first restaurant. Located on the high-energy corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, the hotel and restaurant feature wide-open, worth-the-visit views of the Bellagio fountains, Caesars Palace and Bally’s Grand Bazaar Shops.
Another significant new project of 2014 was the $223 million Linq Hotel & Casino, which opened in October in what was formerly Quad Resort & Casino, and Imperial Hotel prior to that. The 2,256-room property is attached to the also-new Linq Promenade, which introduced a revolutionary concept to Las Vegas Strip visitors: an outdoor pedestrian plaza. Home to a number of high-profile restaurants and entertainment venues — and anchored by The High Roller, the world’s largest observation wheel — Linq is providing Las Vegas visitors with some much-needed breathing room.
Projects Under DevelopmentBut Linq Promenade is certainly not the only daring new project planned for the city.
MGM Resorts International, which is investing $350 million in current development projects, is also planning an outdoor dining and entertainment district known as The Park, which is slated to open in 2016. Connecting the New York-New York and Monte Carlo hotels and a new 20,000-seat Las Vegas arena, the 8-acre park will feature virtually unheard-of Strip-adjacent landscaping, including shady trees, native plants and desert blooms.
“Beautiful public places are highlights of many of the world’s finest cities, and Las Vegas shouldn’t be the exception,” said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. “To create this picturesque outdoor destination, we are literally taking down the walls and opening the doors at our resorts to develop a unique dining and entertainment district that complements its lush new surroundings.”
In advance of the opening of The Park, both New York-New York and Monte Carlo are undergoing significant transformations of their Strip-facing facades, which are being redesigned as plaza environments. BLVD Plaza opened in front of Monte Carlo in late 2014, and a similar project is underway at New York-New York.
Also set to open in 2016 is a $375 million indoor arena by AEG and MGM Resorts International, which broke ground in May. Located west of the Las Vegas Strip, the new 20,000-seat arena follows in the footsteps of MGM Resorts’ Village, a 15-acre outdoor arena that opened in 2014.
Agents Do Their PartAs new developments open on and off the Strip, travel agents have ample opportunities to earn rewards for booking Las Vegas. A good starting point for them is the “Cash in on Vegas” program offered by LVCVA.
“I don’t think any other destinations are doing rewards programs at this level,” Jimenez said. “Basically you log in and the system tells you how many points you have. Then, there’s a rewards catalog. You can cash in your points, and the system connects you with the hotel or attraction.”
For next year, LVCVA plans to offer many new incentives for travel agents.
“For one of the incentive programs, we’ve partnered with Delta Air Lines and are rolling out a very robust program with them,” Jimenez said.
But according to Jimenez, travel agents can build commissionable programs with just about any major wholesaler.
“By using a wholesaler, agents can earn more commission,” he said. “Where they might earn 10 percent on individual components and no commission on airfare, they can earn up to 15 percent by booking the entire package with a wholesaler.”
For agents who prefer to create their own bookings, or add on to an existing package, LVCVA’s travel agent portal offers a comprehensive list of tourism partners, a travel industry contact and the commission amount offered.
In spring, LVCVA will also roll out its semi-annual Double Down program, where agents can earn rewards and commissions from their preferred partners, as well as rewards points and incentives from LVCVA.
Additional benefits for agents who sign up for the Cash in on Vegas program include monthly giveaways, webinars, invites to local in-market presentations and invites to fam trips.
And there are still plenty of rooms to book.
“We have more than 150,000 total hotel rooms and an occupancy rate that averages nearly 90 percent,” Jimenez said. “That’s still 15,000 rooms per night we need to fill.”
Jimenez can be sure that travel agents will do their part to fill those rooms — helping Las Vegas on its way to another record year.
6 LAS VEGAS EXPERIENCES FOR NON-GAMBLERS
Operate Heavy EquipmentClients can dig, push and pile dirt when they take control of heavy equipment such as bulldozers and excavators at Dig This, a supersize sandbox experience. Guests have their own private work areas and guidance from construction experts as they learn the mechanics of using and operating heavy equipment.
Feed a Sea TurtleThe newest member of the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, OD was first found in 1999 off the coast of North Carolina. The injured turtle recuperated and was tagged and released, but in 2008, he was found with a collapsed lung in the Florida Keys. No longer able to live in the wild, he was offered a permanent home at the Shark Reef Aquarium. OD is now a central part of a new series of programs where guests can interact with resident animals, including feeding stingrays, a zebra shark or OD himself.
Shift Into Gear, NASCAR StyleAt the Richard Petty Driving Experience, drivers can enjoy the drama of NASCAR racing. Clients ride along in a two-seat NASCAR race car driven by a professional driving instructor who reaches speeds of up to 155 mph.
Take a HikeWith more than 1,000 miles of trails in the Las Vegas Valley, it’s easy to enjoy the great outdoors during a Vegas getaway. The new app, Neon to Nature, launched by the Southern Nevada Health District, connects visitors to the valley’s walking paths and trails. Find urban or rural trails and get detailed information about each one, including location, distance, surface type and level of difficulty.
Take in the ViewIt’s probably not surprising that the world’s tallest observation wheel can be found in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas High Roller officially opened March 31 on Linq Promenade and offers stunning views of the city and the valley beyond. There are 28 cabins, each holding up to 40 people, and the wheel rotates to 550 feet in the air (nearly 60 stories). One ride is one rotation, which lasts about 30 minutes. The best bet might be the Happy Hour cars, which includes an open bar for the duration of the trip.
Mingle With LocalsWhile downtown Las Vegas might be “Vintage Vegas,” it is also home to a thriving dining and entertainment scene. Sure, you can zipline your way across Fremont Street and watch a Viva Vision show on 12.5 million LED lights, but when you’re done being a tourist, hang with locals at the Fremont East district or visit Downtown Container Park, an eco-friendly shopping plaza, with shops built from shipping containers.