The Palms’ Big Break

In the beginning, Las Vegas catered mostly to serious gamblers and casual vacationers. In the late 1950s, business travelers entered the mix. Later on, the town tried to be everything to everyone—both family-friendly and high-roller heaven, at the same time.

Since the onset of the recession, though, niche marketing has blossomed in Las Vegas. Whether it’s Trekkies, porn stars or March Madness bettors, Las Vegas hotels are bending over backward to make groups feel welcome, even when they don’t fit the traditional profile of the Vegas visitor.

That’s why it’s not really so surprising that the Palms and MTV joined forces for the second straight year to promote spring break in Las Vegas, March 20-22.

The casino has had a decadelong relationship with MTV. When George Maloof invited MTV to film the 12th season of The Real World at the Palms in 2002, it put the new resort on the map, changed the public perception of Las Vegas and opened the city up to a different generation. And in 2007, the Palms hosted the network’s annual Video Music Awards. So the spring-break partnership fits the well-tested marketing strategies of both the network and the hotel.

“The Palms is a center of pop culture, and so is MTV,” says Jon Gray, senior vice president and general manager of the N9NE Group, the entity that runs most of the Palms’ nightlife and restaurants.

The Palms gains tremendously from MTV’s promotion of spring break, Gray says. The property is using the event to showcase itself to guests who will probably come back this summer for more clubbing and sunning.

You might think things can’t get much better than being young, off school for the week and unleashed in Vegas. But the real attraction is the access to exclusive MTV Spring Break events at the Palms: live performances from such artists as Young Jeezy and B.o.B, movie screenings with former Real World cast members and pool parties with cast members from current reality television scourge/fascination Jersey Shore.

Many spring breakers are making their Vegas travel plans through StudentCity, a travel company with an almost absurdly specific mission: to bring college kids to spring break destinations, from Panama City Beach, Fla., to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. StudentCity has an exclusive deal with the Palms that lets students who book through it get free entry to MTV concerts and parties, restaurant discounts, deals on suites and $15 in drinks at a casino bar per day. The company even throws in a coupon book. When Jackie Gaughan debuted coupon books for bargain-conscious downtown visitors decades ago, he probably never imagined they would be part of spring break.

In many ways, the MTV/Palms/StudentCity partnership could be a template for getting along in post-recession Vegas. MTV is providing the sizzle—all of those exclusive events and worldwide promotion—and the Palms is providing a place to party. StudentCity, meanwhile, is delivering the partiers. That’s how you fill rooms in a property that doesn’t have a national hotel affiliation or a network of regional casinos around the country.

The best part is that, for now, everyone comes out ahead. The Palms gets to fill its rooms during the midweek and will see its pool and club revenue skyrocket. MTV secures a place to film. StudentCity makes money arranging the travel. Unlike the soon-to-close Playboy Club, which involved a licensing fee whose value was debatable (how do you quantify exactly how many club-goers were lured by the Playboy affiliation?), this is probably a partnership that will last.

But the benefits for the Palms go beyond driving midweek occupancy once a year. “This keeps the Palms top-of-mind for college students,” Gray says. “StudentCity has very loyal customers, and it’s great being a part of that. Having that endorsement is great for us.”