Things haven’t looked good for business travel to Las Vegas for a few years. Since 2006, the city has suffered a 29 percent reduction in convention attendance. But amid the gloom, one sector of group travel has weathered the storm surprisingly well: hobby-related trade shows.
Creation Entertainment, which puts on conventions across the country for fans of genre television and movies, has seen attendance at its annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas climb steadily in recent years. In fact, thanks to the company’s efforts, the city holds the world’s largest Star Trek convention each year—and is shooting for the record books again during this year’s event, set for Aug. 5-8 at the Las Vegas Hilton.
“We’ve been running Star Trek conventions for 30 years,” says Gary Berman, co-CEO of Creation Entertainment. “Once the Hilton opened Star Trek: The Experience, it made perfect sense to bring one to the Hilton. And even though that attraction has closed, the Hilton has been a great home for the convention, and we’re continuing there.”
Initially, some in Las Vegas thought twice about catering to Star Trek fans. Worried that the devoted fan base didn’t know blackjack from fizzbin, Berman says executives were afraid that Trekkies (or Trekkers, depending on who you ask) “wouldn’t bring good money into town.” But they soon discovered they were wrong. Those who grew up watching the original Star Trek are now well into middle age, an ideal demographic for the gaming tables and restaurants here. The runaway success of WMS Industries’ Star Trek slot-machine series is just further confirmation that the franchise is a valuable commodity for casinos, if they approach it correctly.
Even in the face of the city’s worst slowdown in history, Star Trek fans continue to come each August, spending money and having fun, while sedate business travelers are cutting back. Why is that?
“We’re finding, both in Las Vegas and across the country, that the last thing our fans want to give up is their hobby,” Berman says. “This becomes their vacation, and they’re going no matter what.”
Yet there’s more to the convention than fans getting out their Starfleet uniforms. Berman says it’s about “joining together with thousands of people who get together for a week in Vegas to celebrate a positive vision of the future [and] to have fun.”
Certainly, there’s a great deal to see and do at the convention, even for casual fans. General admission tickets for all four days run $119—less than many shows on the Strip. Single-day admission is as low as $30, less than many bargain afternoon shows.
For the cost of admission, fans can shop for rare collectibles and attend panels featuring stars drawn from Star Trek’s five television series and 11 movies—everyone from William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy of the original series to Sir Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation to stars from later spin-offs Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. You can even “punch it” with Bruce Greenwood, who played Capt. Christopher Pike in the 2009 Star Trek movie, which introduced the franchise to a new generation of fans.
Autographs and photo opportunities with the stars cost extra, as do evening parties and other special events, such as the Saturday night concert, in which the Nevada Pops, conducted by Richard McGhee, performs some of the franchise’s most beloved orchestral scores.
Then there is Creation’s play for the record books. In typical Vegas fashion, conference organizers are planning to shatter the world record for “Largest Group of People Dressed as Star Trek Characters” (it’s currently 508). With an expert on hand to certify that each costume is up to par (no throwing on a pair of Vulcan ears while wearing jeans and a T-shirt), they mean business.
In the end, the convention is offering Star Trek fans the chance to do what fans of the Rat Pack once came to the Sands to do: spend a few days with people who share their interests, while meeting and mingling with their idols. So the Star Trek convention is proving that the success stories of today’s Las Vegas follow the lesson of old Vegas—give people what they want, and they’ll be back for more.
For more information about the Official Star Trek Convention 2010, go to creationent.com. The author will be there, but not in costume—unless you’ve got a Gorn outfit you’d like to lend him.