What a Concept: Accessible Fun, in Vegas

Last week, I accompanied a group of visiting MBA students from London for a series of site visits and meetings with executives at properties up and down the Las Vegas Strip and Downtown. Their reactions, and this week’s responses to the announcement that Genting is building a themed, family-focused property on the site of the failed Echelon project got me thinking that maybe moving Las Vegas back on track isn’t as hard as we think.

The group got an impressive overview of how the various companies and casinos strategically
position themselves in an extremely competitive market with shrinking margins. More importantly (for present purposes) is that they were a group of about three dozen visitors (many of them first-time) smack dab in the demographic profile that the LVCVA covets: Young international visitors with a respectable chunk of disposable income and a healthy desire to see what Vegas has to offer. And they did, dining, gambling and nightclubbing the length of the Strip for four days, enjoying themselves tremendously.

Then we went Downtown, and everyone’s perspective flipped. It wasn’t just getting to talk strategy with casino owners themselves; it was the vibe of East Fremont, which was not just fun, but accessible, just far enough off the beaten path to not feel like a sanitized pre-packaged resort amenity, but still a safe cab ride from their Strip hotel. Tellingly, most of them returned Downtown later that night instead of spending another night on the Strip, and many of them wished they had booked rooms Downtown.

These were visitors who had money to spend and were willing to pay Strip prices, but found that they preferred Downtown when they really wanted to have fun, as opposed to
checking things they’d seen off their to-do list. The behavior of this focus group should really tell Strip casino managers what they need to do to boost their bottom lines: Let people enjoy themselves at prices they don’t feel self-conscious about.

It’s like when you pay far too much for toys for your kids than you should, thinking it’ll make
them happy, and they just want to play with the box it came in. Because with imagination, a box is a better toy than most toys. Until they’ve been conditioned to want it, kids don’t want or need expensive toys–they just want a chance to play.

Likewise (and it seems almost too commonsensical to say, but I will anyway) most visitors to
Vegas are looking to have a good time, and more often than not they don’t need too much to do it. Like a good six-dollar drink. Or the chance to have a real casino owner buy them said drink. Las Vegas does need spectacle: volcanos, dancing fountains, and resident DJs—that’s what gives people the excuse to book the trip. But to get them to open their wallets while they’re here—and to feel good about doing it—casinos need to offer value as well.

I’m not the only one thinking this. Caesars Entertainment’s Linq seems to be aimed mostly at the middle market, with an emphasis on nightlife that’s within reach for most visitors. Caesars is providing spectacle–the High Roller–but is hoping that the restaurants, bars, and performance venues will be just as much of a draw. That’s a $550 million bet on accessible fun.

And Genting’s Resorts World Las Vegas is looking to fill the fun gap, with an Asian theme and
possibly a panda exhibit. As frequent Vegas Seven Tweeter of the Week Misnomer (@Misnoper)said on vegastripping.com, “They lead off with, ‘Hey, we’re building a resort and it’s going to be fun!’ Fun! What a novel concept!” People are ready for this.

We’re having two futures of Las Vegas presented to us: ultra-luxe, mass exclusivity (whose epitome is the soon-to-open Hakkasan), and something more accessible, whether it’s a place to bring your family or a part of town where it’s fun to hang out. They both can co-exist, and it’s cheering to see that people in the industry are smart enough to appreciate that it’s going to take both to keep Vegas
moving forward.