The tough economic times are taking their toll on Las Vegas and that dynamic is putting the consumer in the driver’s seat when it comes to booking a Sin City vacation. It’s something travelers haven’t seen in Las Vegas since the dark and dismal days following 9/11. In October 2009 alone (the most recent stats available), the market saw some severely steep declines. Nevada gaming revenues dropped 22.3 percent year over year, while revenue on the Strip crumbled 25.8 percent. According to the Nevada Gaming Commission, statewide gaming revenues were $905 million, while on the Strip the gambling take was $475 million. For the year, gaming revenues in Nevada are down 18.2 percent.
And though things seem grim in Las Vegas, the silver lining—for travel agents, at least—is those agents armed with the right information can book their clients into five-star experiences at four-star prices, or four-star experiences at three-star prices.
On our last trip to Vegas just a few weeks ago, we spoke to cab drivers, cocktail waitresses, dealers, restaurateurs and consumers. The story was exactly the same wherever we went: People are still coming in droves, but they’re keeping a much closer eye on what they’re spending, both on and off the casino floor.
Anecdotally, cab drivers reported they were getting about 40 percent of normal business (even when compared to the traditionally slow month of December), as people opt to stay at one resort or hoof it between properties. Restaurateurs are reporting that people are splitting an appetizer instead of having one each and ordering wine by the glass rather than bottles. At the nightclubs, owners of several high-end venues told us that groups are opting to buy one or two bottles at about $350 a pop rather than three or four.
Tightening pockets have led to hotels conceding first, and many are offering up deals unheard of just last spring.
“Like any challenge, the downturn has produced a couple of opportunities for travel agents,” says Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “People are now focusing around experiencing the types of attractions they thought were out of their reach in previous visits.”
Jicinsky notes that with Las Vegas offering price points not seen in several years, travel agents can approach selling the destination to their customers in two ways. They could suggest their customer spend the same, but trade up to a higher-tier property, or stay at the same-tier hotel and get a whole lot more for their hard-earned dollars.
“There is a real opportunity here for hotel stays,” says Jicinsky. “The same goes for restaurants, too. There are many special deals at signature restaurants managed by celebrity chefs, like two-for-one deals and all-inclusive packages. Meals can be as low as four courses for $50 for a dinner that used to have an average check of $100.”
He also said travel agents can find great deals on individual property websites. He cautioned that deals constantly change, so vigilance is a must to ensure you’re telling your customers about bookable packages. “They change weekly, so you have to stay on top of it and revisit them on a regular basis,” he notes.
How to Approach the Deals
Although the deals are great, keeping track of all the bargains, packages and noteworthy events can become an exhausting experience. Instead, Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president and co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel Inc.—a leading corporate travel consulting firm—said that information overload can keep you from finding the best deals for your customers.
That’s why she suggests working with preferred partners who can do it for you. “Get information from a consortium, such as Virtuoso. Also, as a travel management company, we post last-minute availability and specials because people need a place to go. This allows the agent to know they can go to one or two places to see what is there and be confident they are getting the best information,” she says.
At Caesars Palace, interest-generating events are driving bookings
Meanwhile, forward-thinking casino resort companies are not simply retreating. They’re throwing more value into the mix and aggressively wooing potential guests in the hopes of stealing market share. One company doing this is Harrah’s Entertainment. With many properties in the mid-market, the company is well positioned to gain customers looking to stretch their dollars or explore new experiences.
At the company’s Caesars Palace Las Vegas, General Manager John Unwin isn’t getting swayed by the emotion-driven panic that has set in at other resorts around town. The resort is in the middle of a massive $1 billion expansion project that will include elements such as a new 665-room hotel tower and the just-unveiled redesign of the 542-room Forum Tower, which Unwin said has been extremely popular with the resort’s travel industry partners.
“Caesars has operated during many economic challenges. An example is the 1992 opening of The Forum Shops at Caesars, which was built during the first Gulf War,” says Unwin.
Caesars is also adding interest-generating events. “The Comedy Festival, during the usually slow weekend before Thanksgiving, and Bette Midler’s New Year’s Eve performance are examples of compelling events that drive room bookings,” says Unwin.
Some of the best deals seem to be last-minute. Wilson-Buttigieg recently returned from a visit to Las Vegas, where she spoke with many lodging industry professionals that told her booking windows are shortening. Translation: If your clients are looking to book a last-minute Vegas vacation getaway, that’s where you might see the best package pricing.
The LVCVA’s Jicinsky is seeing exactly the same phenomenon. “Hotels, tour operators and airlines are doing low-cost packages meant solely to entice last-minute bookings. The key to taking advantage of those deals is to have flexible travel dates and respond quickly,” he says.
Finally, reach out to your established client base and let them know there are amazing deals out there. They may have no idea about the bargain bonanza taking place right now. Plus, even if they aren’t looking to go on vacation, at least you’re connecting with them and showing them you are looking out for their vacation needs, says Wilson-Buttigieg.
“We only live once, so we might as well enjoy it. That is my message that I am telling people in my company, and there is no harm in telling a client that,” she said.