As the gambling Mecca of the world, Las Vegas has long had a reputation for sordidness, often being referred to in the same breath as the word ‘sin’. This status began during the city’s formative years, emanating from the instrumental role organised crime syndicates played in establishing its opulent casinos and indulgent attractions.
The city itself, with all its neon lights and ceaseless activity, is unlike any other. Its surrounding areas all look towards a buzzing core – the famous Las Vegas Strip – while the majority of its inhabitants work in the tourism industry. The whole city is geared towards receiving and catering for the millions of visitors who descend on it each year.
For decades, gambling was the mainstay of the city and the reason most people would visit. As its popularity swelled, so did the number of casinos, slot machines, free drinks and light-less days. Once such a reputation is earned, it is almost impossible to shake – and yet, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is attempting that very feat in a bid to reimagine and diversify the Vegas that we all know and love – or indeed, hate.
The new face of Sin City
Along with the rest of the country – and the world, in fact – Las Vegas suffered from a serious setback following the crash of 2008: with 67,000 properties having to shut up shop, Nevada was forced to deal with the biggest foreclosure rate in the whole of the US. After reeling from the loss, the state and the LVCVA embarked on a fresh approach and a huge marketing drive to promote a different image for Sin City. As such, in recent years Las Vegas has found a new lease of life and is attracting a far broader range of visitors than ever before.
Las Vegas suffered a serious setback following the crash of 2008. Nevada was forced to deal with the biggest foreclosure rate in the whole of the US
The success of this campaign is evidenced by last year’s record-breaking figures, which saw an incredible 42.3 million domestic and international visitors flood into Las Vegas. What’s especially interesting is that, during 2015, gambling revenue on the strip declined, accounting for only 34.9 percent of the city’s total revenue, according to the Gaming Control Board.
“While gaming continues to play an important role in Las Vegas’ visitation landscape, more than half of the destination’s current tourism revenue is generated by non-gaming experiences”, said Chris Meyer, VP of Global Business Sales at the LVCVA, in reference to the restaurants, accommodation, entertainment and other leisure activities within the city.
Importantly, 2015 does not appear to be an anomaly, given that gambling revenue for the strip has fallen for the second year in a row, indicating an ongoing trend could now be in full swing. This is demonstrated further by a recent visitor profile survey published by the LVCVA, which showed only 10 percent of those interviewed came to Las Vegas primarily to gamble.
In response, “several resort hotels, including properties like Vdara, Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, are currently operating as non-gaming venues”, Meyer told Business Destinations. Furthermore, “many traditional casino-hotels have also introduced towers and entrances that completely remove the need to walk through a casino floor in order to reach your room”.
While gaming may still be the lifeline of Las Vegas, the push for diversification is clear, with events and trade shows constituting a significant part of this shift. And so, with more and more companies visiting the city each year thanks to its high-spec facilities, abundant choice and large spaces – not to mention its world-class entertainment options – the MICE industry has now become deeply ingrained in Las Vegas’ culture. Last year alone, 21,000 events were held in Las Vegas, which together drew in a whopping 5.9 million attendees. As Meyer told Business Destinations, such numbers mean the city has now been “recognised as the number one trade show destination in North America for a record 22 consecutive years”.
The MICE appeal of Las Vegas is helping the city’s ambition to become a world leading business destination. According to Meyer: “It’s huge for us, and a vital part of the Las Vegas economy, generating an estimated $9.3bn impact. The industry also supports 66,500 jobs, supporting $2.7bn in local salaries and wages.” In line with this increasingly important draw for tourists to Las Vegas, the LVCVA is spending $2.5bn to improve the 3.2 million sq ft Las Vegas Convention Centre District, with a $20m refurbishment already having been completed.
Meyer continued: “It’s so important to focus on the meetings and event industry, as it is predominantly these delegates that fill our hotel rooms midweek and spend more time in the city during their visit than our leisure travellers typically do. It’s not surprising that people are choosing the city to hold their meetings and events – after all, where else in the world can you experience the Grand Canyon, a world-class show and fantastic nightclubs and dining experiences, all in one day?”
Where to stay
3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South
702 693 7111
Perhaps best known for its world-famous Bellagio fountains – made up of more than 1,000 individual jets that soar up to 460ft into the air – the Bellagio Hotel is one of Las Vegas’ most prominent icons. Opened in 1998 at an original cost of $1.6bn, the hotel offers nearly 4,000 guest rooms, including 512 luxury suites. An extensive renovation was completed in 2015 at a cost of $165m, bringing the classic Las Vegas emblem up to date with state-of-the-art technology and stunning contemporary interiors. Further facilities include more than 100,000sq ft of gaming space (including 2,400 slot machines), five outdoor pools and two wedding chapels.
Vdara Hotel and Spa
2600 West Harmon Avenue
866 745 7111
The striking 57-storey tower that is home to Vdara Hotel and Spa offers 1,495 suites, ranging in price from $149 to $2,000 per night and offering spectacular views of the Las Vegas Strip. Opened in 2009, the internationally inspired hotel offers the Las Vegas experience to visitors who prefer to enjoy the excitement of the city in an exclusive, non-gaming environment. Boasting a well-equipped spa and salon, 16,500sq ft of meeting space, a business services centre, valet parking services and a rooftop pool, Vdara continues to be one of the top-ranked hotels in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas’ downtown area is particularly crucial to the bid to mould a new cultural image for the city. In recent years, a great deal of investment has been poured into this area with the aim of rejuvenating and transforming it into a tourist attraction in its own right. Reinforcing this shift are the numerous start-ups that have been entering the area, together with a host of trendy restaurants and bars.
“The recent renaissance of Downtown Las Vegas (DTLV) is really exciting as we see the arts and culture investment pump new life into the veins of the area”, Meyer said. “When the Golden Gate Hotel opened at One Fremont Street in 1906 it really was the birth of the Las Vegas we know today. This deep-rooted history gives DTLV its unique identity, setting it apart from the Las Vegas Strip.”
The Fremont Street Experience is a terrific example of DTLV’s development, featuring street shows, special events and free concerts throughout the year that never fail to draw in an eclectic crowd. In 2012, the National Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement (otherwise known as the Mob Museum) opened, offering tourists an intriguing insight into the impact the mob has had on both the city and the country. Moreover, now adding to the appeal of the street is the SlotZilla: a zip line that was installed in 2014 and was the first of its kind, allowing thrill-seekers to take off from a 12-storey-high slot machine to fly 1,700ft through a dazzling canopy of lights.
“One major success story for the area is the Smith Centre for the Performing Arts, home to the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra and Nevada Ballet Theatre”, said Meyer. “The Smith Centre also hosts the finest performances, from Broadway shows to world-class concerts, which has hugely helped put Las Vegas on the map as a cultural destination.”
Where to eat
Lotus of Siam
953 East Sahara Avenue
702 735 3033
Under the reign of owner and chef Saipin Chutima and her husband Bill, Lotus of Siam has become one of Las Vegas’ foremost northern Thai restaurants. With traditional recipes and a distinct cooking style passed down through generations, Chutima has created a menu consisting of hearty Thai-style stews and curries enriched with northern herbs and spices. Some of Lotus of Siam’s most popular dishes include its traditional garlic prawns, grilled salmon with red onions and peppers served in a homemade tangy sauce, and sai oua; northern Thai-style sausage made with ground pork, fresh herbs and an impressive amount of spice.
Joe’s Seafood Prime Steak & Stone Crab
3500 Las Vegas Boulevard South
702 792 9222
More than 100 years since Joseph ‘Joe’ Weiss set up Joe’s Stone Crab on the front porch of his house in Miami Beach, Joe’s remains one of the US’ most beloved restaurants. The Las Vegas restaurant, opened in 2004, is famous for its fresh stone crab sourced from the Gulf of Mexico, crispy fried shrimp, jumbo lobster tails and Florida key lime pie. The restaurant also serves a variety of prime steaks and grilled meats, ranging from marinated skirt steak with shishito peppers and lime butter to double-cut Colorado lamb chops, served with mint chimichurri.
Investing in DTLV
In the hope of further revitalising the area, CEO of online clothing and shoe store Zappos, Tony Hsieh, took a huge gamble by relocating to Las Vegas in 2010, investing around $350m in the process. Following his creation of the Downtown Project – a group of over 300 companies and entrepreneurs working to make DTLV a place of innovation and inspiration – Hsieh began the ground-breaking rebranding of DTLV with the idea of the Container Park: the popular space is filled with shipping containers and modular cubes that have been repurposed into boutique shops, cafés, galleries, bars, restaurants and other small businesses, while there is also a play area for children and an outdoor space that showcases a variety of live events.
Hsieh has also invested millions into acquiring properties, land, apartments, accommodation units and retail and office spaces, thus turning a neglected area into one that now thrives with economic activity.
“Another $50m went to Vegas Tech Fund [now called VTF Capital], with investments in more than 100 tech companies, and… the last $50m [was invested] into arts and culture, education and healthcare initiatives”, said Maria Phelan, Director of Public Relations at the Downtown Project. “For the most part, our holdings are located in and around the Fremont East Entertainment District, and our goal and purpose is to help make DTLV a place of inspiration, entrepreneurial energy, creativity, innovation, upward mobility and discovery, through the three Cs of collisions, co-learning and connectedness, in a long-term, sustainable way.
Although Vegas’ gambling identity has certainly not faded away, it is no longer the one and only face of the city
“Downtown Project was able to make a large infusion of capital in a relatively short period of time – it was officially founded in January 2012 – and that has catalysed quite a bit of change. The area has certainly gotten safer: Downtown Project has invested in a number of businesses that are family friendly, and in a lot of individual entrepreneurs and innovators. Now we’re starting to see other individuals and developers taking an interest in the area and making their own investments.
“Everything in DTLV is changing so quickly that it will likely look very different in just a few short years. As the area becomes more popular and the various districts grow and develop, both tourists and locals are realising there is a vibrant community away from the Strip, with its own set of unique, fun businesses and experiences. In addition to the Fremont East Entertainment District, DTLV is home to the 18b Art District, the municipal, legal, and justice corridors, Symphony Park and more, and we’re happy to see all of those areas growing and becoming more successful all the time”.
Another strategic move played by Downtown Project was to buy the rights to the popular music festival First Friday, in addition to backing the Life is Beautiful festival. This enabled the group to tap into the theme of Las Vegas now being a place of inspiration and creativity, and as such enhanced the city’s departure from its days as a sordid playground.
In fact, millennials and families have become a target audience for this revitalised city. According to Meyer: “Our average visitor is skewing slightly younger than in previous years. Millennials visiting Las Vegas are drawn by the sunshine, famous DJs, music festivals, day clubs and nightlife. Our entertainment offering is also a key attraction for this age group, with headlining acts such as Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez kicking off residencies on the Strip and appealing to this younger demographic.”
Where to meet
Las Vegas Convention Centre
3150 Paradise Road
702 892 0711
Covering a total area of 3.2 million sq ft (including two million sq ft of exhibition space) and hosting thousands of events annually, the Las Vegas Convention Centre is one of the busiest such facilities in the world. Situated adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip, the centre is located within three miles of over 100,000 guest rooms and most of the city’s major attractions, making it an ideal location for events of any size. The centre is well known for its wide range of facilities, such as its 144 meeting rooms (which alone equate to more than 241,000sq ft of event space) and grand lobby area.
Sands Expo & Convention Centre
201 Sands Avenue
702 733 5556
Located adjacent to the world-famous Venetian and Palazzo hotels, the Sands Expo and Convention Centre offers more than 7,000 suites, along with exquisite restaurants, entertainment, shopping and nightlife, all under one vast roof. Boasting more than 2.25 million sq ft of flexible meeting and exhibition space, Sands is able to provide an impressive array of services to meeting organisers and attendees, including catering and cleaning services, audio-visual expertise, and electrical and plumbing assistance. Sands’ catering team offers an immense, customisable menu and is capable of hosting groups of up to 13,000 people at one time.
Las Vegas also has a budding food culture, which is growing with fervour year upon year, as evidenced by the number and variety of new restaurants popping up. According to Meyer: “Long gone are the days of dining in 24-hour buffets. Las Vegas now plays host to some of the finest restaurants in the world, and every year more and more top chefs are putting their name to the city in the form of a new dining concepts and restaurants. Of course buffets still exist, but even these restaurants are starting to adopt a higher quality in cuisine. Celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Alan Duchasse, Daniel Boulud, Joël Robuchon, Nobu Matsuhisa and Julian Serrano all have restaurants in the city – just to name a few.”
As Meyer mentioned, the city’s emerging food scene offers far more than just traditional dining, with several key events emerging throughout the social calendar. One such example is the popular wine and gourmet festival, Uncork’d by Bon Appétit, which showcases a line-up of renowned chefs, cookery workshops, gastronomic experiences, themed feasts and intimate dinners. With food culture taking on a life of its own in recent years across the entire globe, tapping into this escalating trend is another element of the city’s new direction. Moreover, outdoor recreation spaces are also appearing in unlikely places. For example, the LINQ opened at the centre of the Strip in 2014, offering an open-air resort that features shops, restaurants, bowling alleys, bars and, at its core, the High Roller – the world’s tallest observation wheel.
In April of the same year, MGM Resorts International revealed the Park, a tranquil area of plazas and promenades in between the New York-New York Hotel and the Monte Carlo that is filled with trees, desert landscaping, water features and artwork. Echoing this growing trend further is the recent announcement made by Wynn Resorts of its own outdoor recreation area, the Wynn Paradise Park; a 38-acre lagoon lined with white sand beaches that will offer visitors a chance to experience an array of water sports. It is projects such as these that help to provide an entirely different appeal for Vegas as a destination.
A change of direction
Las Vegas has always been unique: it is a city that never sleeps, beckoning travellers from all across the globe. Although its gambling identity has certainly not faded away, it is no longer the one and only face of the city.
The LVCVA, along with numerous investors, hotel groups and leisure companies, set about a highly ambitious plan not so long ago to instigate a transition for Las Vegas; one that would entail an evolution of sorts. And it appears to be working: as the Disneyland of the MICE industry, the highly popular destination is a huge attraction for corporate travel, while it has also become a cultural hotspot, showcasing an abundance of the arts.
What’s more, the city and its supporters are cleverly tapping into highly popular global trends, such as the foodie scene and a renewed interest in outdoor activities, attracting a vast range of people from all countries and age groups.
The new and improved city really does have something for everyone, and what’s more, it is no longer just the city of sin. Las Vegas is now cool – really cool.
Las Vegas city diary
SlotZilla zip line
One of Las Vegas’ most popular new attractions, SlotZilla gives visitors the chance to hurtle down the glittering Fremont Street on a 1,700ft-long zip wire, landing at the historic Golden Gate Casino. At 12 stories tall, the multimillion-dollar SlotZilla – the zip wire’s starting point – is the largest slot machine in the world.
Fremont Street Experience light shows
The gigantic, 1,500ft-long video screen at the famous Fremont Street Experience is the biggest in the world. Made up of more than 12.5 million LED lamps, the screen displays a free six-minute show every hour from dusk onwards, lighting up the entire strip with the most spectacular audio-visual displays imaginable.
770 Las Vegas Boulevard North
The Neon Museum is dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of Las Vegas’ world-famous neon signs. The site includes the outdoor exhibition space known as the ‘neon bone yard’, a visitor centre inside the former La Concha Motel lobby, and the North Gallery, which houses a rare supply of rescued signs.
Banger Brewing tours
450 Fremont Street
Dedicated to the art of creating great tasting, locally brewed craft beer, Banger Brewing is one of the city’s most vibrant breweries. Established by five friends with a shared love of drinking beer in the city they love, the brewery offers free tours along with a variety of special events, such as an ‘all you can drink all day’ deal for $30.
300 Stewart Avenue
$19.95 in advance
The Mob Museum is devoted to preserving and conveying the history of the Las Vegas mob. Providing a world-class interactive journey from the birth of the mob to the shadows and whispers that still fill today’s headlines, the museum provides an authentic look at the continuing battle between the mob and the law.
129 East Fremont Street
Touted as the best pool in Downtown Las Vegas, the Tank is a $30m complex complete with its own 200,000 gallon shark tank. Private tours of the shark tank are available once a week, while the Tank’s three-storey waterslide – which features a clear passage through the shark enclosure – is open daily.
The Berlin Wall
200 North Main Street
Chunks of the Berlin Wall have found their way across much of the world, but the men’s bathroom in Main Street Station Hotel – where large chunks of the wall are on display – offers perhaps one of the most unusual chances to see it up close. Women may also ask to be escorted into the bathroom for a closer look at the memorial.
National Atomic Testing Museum
755 East Flamingo Road
Nevada’s history as a testing site for atomic bombs is explored at the National Atomic Testing Museum. Showcasing some of the rarest artefacts tied to this controversial programme, which began in 1951 and still runs to this day, the museum displays large nuclear reactors and personal atomic weapons across 8,000sq ft of exhibition space.