Keeping a Season Ahead

Boutique is suddenly in on Las Vegas Boulevard. From Victor Drai’s just-starting reboot of Bill’s to the Nobu Tower at Caesars Palace to the Delano’s takeover of the erstwhile THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, brands-within-brands and specialized service are all the rage—a trend that promises to remake the Strip.

But the original boutique hotel-within-a-hotel on the Strip, the Four Seasons, is generating some buzz of its own with a two-phase renovation that’s just started its second half. Sharing the Mandalay Bay complex with the Delano Las Vegas, it’s got something the other boutique projects don’t: a history in town.

When Mandalay Bay opened in March 1999, much of the attention was on the boutique Four Seasons component. It was an unusual arrangement—the Four Seasons had its own lobby, spa, pool area, restaurants and meeting rooms in a structure to the south of the main resort, with guest rooms on floors 35 through 39 of the Mandalay Bay hotel tower. Partnering with Four Seasons was the cornerstone of Mandalay Resort Group CEO Glenn Schaeffer’s bid to establish Mandalay Bay as a property rivaling Bellagio, Caesars Palace and the Venetian and transcend the company’s value-property past (Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, Monte Carlo).

Then, in 2005, MGM Resorts acquired Mandalay, and the flagship property was no longer a flagship. That didn’t impact Four Seasons as much as the main resort, since the boutique hotel has its own management that’s responsible to Four Seasons brass, not its Las Vegas landlord.

Still, the guest rooms at Four Seasons hadn’t been substantially renovated since their opening in 1999—14 years ago, an eternity in Las Vegas (the Stardust’s hotel tower was 16 years old when it was declared hopelessly outmoded and imploded in 2007). And while there is something timeless about the ultra-high-end design of Four Seasons, that brand is no longer the undisputed champion of boutique Vegas; the arrival of Mandarin Oriental at City Center in 2009 means another option for guests looking for a non-gaming hotel with exacting service standards.

So last year, the property renovated its 343 standard rooms and 81 suites. In a project finished in early December, the rooms were given a new art deco-inspired look. That’s an interesting choice, and one that presents a marked contrast to the “barefoot chic” of the Delano South Beach (presumably a template for the Las Vegas model) and recent MGM remodels at Bellagio and MGM Grand. “We wanted the new rooms to reflect the energy and the excitement of Las Vegas while maintaining a level of sophistication Four Seasons guests expect,” says Four Seasons Las Vegas general manager Mark Hellrung.

Those guests, Hellrung says, are looking for something significantly more “stylish and modern,” so at the end of the day the room renovation is about following customer tastes.

The latest phase is spicing up the lobby and pool garden area with Press, a “relaxed yet sophisticated” indoor/outdoor bar that speaks exactly to the exigencies of the post-recession Strip: It will be a true multipurpose outlet, serving coffee, pancakes and networking opportunities in the morning; beer and paninis in the afternoon (with ESPN playing on TV); and becoming a full-service bar that also offers small plates in the evening.

Multiuse is in style because of shrinking margins across the Strip. Pools double as dayclubs, “vibe-dining” restaurants transition into nightclubs, and properties try not to let a single square foot go to waste.

Another addition could start a trend: When Press opens in April, guests will enjoy free Wi-Fi and charging outlets, no matter when they visit. That’s a welcome acknowledgement that, in 2013, guests expect to be connected—and for free. In Las Vegas, visitors will likely share pictures and videos of their exploits—the kind of social-media marketing for which most hotels would pay far more than the cost of bandwidth.

The renovation is a great example of how competition is necessary to the city’s continuing appeal as a tourist destination. If Four Seasons was the only upscale boutique property in town, there wouldn’t be much incentive for this kind of change, and it would inevitably grow stale.

This is the kind of competition that built Las Vegas, and with 150,000 or so hotel rooms in town, visitors have plenty of choices. As long as someone wants an edge, be it free Wi-Fi or newer rooms, it will never pay to rest on your laurels, which ultimately means better quality all around. Even if you’re not staying in a boutique room, you’ll see the results.

Suggested Next Read

The New Center of the Neighborhood

The New Center of the Neighborhood

By Geoff Carter

The best thing about the redevelopment of downtown Las Vegas is that it’s begun to make a place for every cultural institution that’s needed one, from a gallery district to a performing arts center. The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, which until recently operated out of a 6,000-square-foot storefront, has desperately needed such a place. Now, it’s got one.