Las Vegas. What vision will prevail?
High stakes gambling in Las Vegas isn’t limited to the casino tables. Bets are constantly being taken on the future of the city itself. What vision will prevail?
While gaming was the rationale for an earlier Las Vegas, investors in the new century wagered that entertainment, gourmet dining, upscale lodging, designer shopping, spas, clubbing, and fine art would be the tourism magnets of the future.
Several resorts in Las Vegas don’t even have a casino on their premises. It is said that about 70 percent of total resort revenue is from non-gaming activities.
The entrepreneur most closely associated with this transformation is Steve Wynn, who has owned and sold some celebrated hotels, such as Bellagio, Mirage, and Treasure Island. Wynn’s own name adorns one current property.
Wynn was also a force encouraging more elaborate entertainments in Las Vegas, such as the Cirque du Soleil, with shows such as O and Mystere, and the Siegfried and Roy magic-and-animal performances. The Cirque performances continue. Roy met a cruel fate in the jaws of one of his own prized tigers, so the Siegfried and Roy era has ended, except that some of the splendid cats in the menagerie are on display in a Secret Garden environment at the Mirage.
The newest mega-resort is Aria, completed in 2009. The Aria restaurant Sage, with its James Beard Award-winning chef, Shawn McClain, epitomizes the fine dining emphasis of 21st century Las Vegas. Aria is like a modern reflection of Bellagio, a trend-changing establishment, whose Circo restaurant helped mark the celebrity-chef restaurant as a replacement for inexpensive buffet dining. The Crystals at City Center shops at Aria parallel the Via Bellagio as examples of upscale shopping, with a cluster of exclusive designer names. The Spa at Aria is also an industry leader in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas now has 120,000 hotel rooms, a number that few other destinations in the world can match. Anyone flying into McCarran International Airport, which is large but well organized, may wonder if this is an underestimate. A new Terminal 3 opened in 2012, adding international flights from another 15 countries. Despite the precarious economic times, Las Vegas edges close to 40 million visitors a year.
In more detail, here is what awaits you in the new Las Vegas.
The Emphasis on Entertainment
The Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas, such as Beatles Love, Ka, Zumanity, O, and Mystere, are in a class by themselves. One is tempted to suggest that they embody the genius of American showmanship, but that would be incorrect. The Cirque du Soleil originated in Montreal, so this new art form epitomizes the genius of North American collaboration. The imaginative energy of Cirque and the entertainment resources of Las Vegas have united in a spectacular way.
The genius of Cirque fits well into the Las Vegas mind set. Gymnastic feats, extravagant sets, inventiveness, and originality all epitomize the tradition of Las Vegas showmanship. It is amazing that, day after day, year after year, these Cirque shows continue to pack in the audiences. Beatles Love passed its 5th year of existence in 2012. Mystere had been playing to audiences for an incredible 18 years as of 2012.
Adding to these blockbuster entertainments is the enduring multi-year performance records of individual superstars. Celine Dion is an example. She has her own style, emphasizing intimate songs and an accompanying dance troupe. Celine Dion attracts legions of fans over several years.
As another strategy to attract the masses, Wynn judged that a select collection of world-famous art could become a major tourist attraction in Las Vegas, which had never been known for this kind of interest. So he set out to acquire notable paintings, emphasizing popular 19th and 20th century masters, investing some $300 million. His Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art displayed some choice works, such as Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Dora Maar, Paul Gaugin’s Bathers, and Vincent Van Gogh’s Peasant Woman against a Background of Wheat. Later, the collection changed, as paintings were bought and sold. But the public, awed by the amount of money paid for these treasures, lined up eagerly and paid an entrance fee to see them. Before Bellagio, cultural art in Las Vegas meant the Liberace Museum, featuring the glitzy pianist’s outfits and instruments. While the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art could be said to have “purchased” high culture, shows such as Ka, O, and Mystere are original modern high-culture creations that reflect the sensibility of Las Vegas.
The “downtown” casinos along Fremont Street eyed the competing “strip” casinos and all their growing attractions with much concern. To spruce up Fremont Street, the movers and shakers decided to transform it into a pedestrian mall and install a massive vaulted and electrified canopy overhead. This Fremont Street Experience canopy shows six-minute light shows at the top of the hour each evening. The 2.1 million lights in the canopy can be programmed with any possible color in a computer-generated tour de force. Fremont Street is a lively bar scene, while the Strip is more of a club scene. Fremont Street emphasizes value rather than ultra-luxury. One lively aspect of Fremont Street is its First Friday street celebration of visual and performing artists.
As mentioned earlier, if shopping can be considered a form of entertainment, then Las Vegas could be said to outdo California’s Rodeo Drive. A stroll around Crystals at City Center adjacent to Aria or down Via Bellagio at Bellagio takes the visitor past boutiques of Giorgio Armani, Prada, Channel, Tiffany & Company, Moschino, Hermes, Fred Leighton, and Gucci. The Shopping Mall, a runway celebration with ongoing fashion shows adjacent to dozens of major retailers, continues this 24/7/365 vision of upscale merchandising in Las Vegas.
Will Las Vegas Continue to Flourish?
Will the well-to-do traveler choose Las Vegas because of the upscale entertainment, hotels, and fine dining?
The titillating appeal of potential sin in Las Vegas continues to allure, capsulized in the marketing motto, “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.” This implicit marketing mantra appeals to a large class of travelers, women and men, who would like to get lucky at something other than slots.
Las Vegas is innovative in the boy-meets-girl aspect of travel. The club scene thrives in the nightlife world, such as in the 1-Oak club at the Mirage. However, Las Vegas has also evolved a “Daylife” and “Nightlife” style of club, taking advantage of its year-around warm weather and outdoor pool settings. Club Liquid at Aria is an example of this “Daylife” fun. The club is for adults only, with a cover charge, and emphasizes pulsating music, drinks, and a party atmosphere, where everyone at the party is wearing a bathing suit.
Doomsayers continue to predict that the Las Vegas bubble will burst, that too many new hotels have been built. The prediction of doom for Las Vegas requires constant revision as the destination shows resilience, adjusting to economic downturns, but avoiding any apocalyptic collapse.
Who knows when the next winning or losing card will be dealt? Big bets have been placed.