Key Takeaways From US Airways Vacations' Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt

Team Red travel agents gather for a celebratory photo on Awards Night with the Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt's sponsors and hosts. From left are: Paulina Salen, Celebrity Coaches of America, Inc.; Michael Schmeltzer, US Airways Vacations (USAV) and American Airlines Vacations (AAV); Bruce Graycar, Graycar Travel Agency; Chris Ames, USAV & AAV; Isabel Lemus, Wynn Las Vegas; Teresa Ridley, Prestige Travel Systems; Art Jimenez, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority; Tracey Clarke, World Travel Agency Inc.; Patricia York, Leisurenet Travel; Susan Burcaw, All Ways Travel and Ramona Halley, USAV & AAV.
Team Red travel agents gather for a celebratory photo on Awards Night with the Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt's sponsors and hosts. From left are: Paulina Salen, Celebrity Coaches of America, Inc.; Michael Schmeltzer, US Airways Vacations (USAV) and American Airlines Vacations (AAV); Bruce Graycar, Graycar Travel Agency; Chris Ames, USAV & AAV; Isabel Lemus, Wynn Las Vegas; Teresa Ridley, Prestige Travel Systems; Art Jimenez, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority; Tracey Clarke, World Travel Agency Inc.; Patricia York, Leisurenet Travel; Susan Burcaw, All Ways Travel; and Ramona Halley, USAV & AAV.

By Ana Figueroa

Recently we took part in the 8th Annual US Airways Vacations Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt. It was a whirlwind few days designed to reward top-producing agents for their Las Vegas sales.

Surprisingly, many had never been to Las Vegas. Others hadn’t been there in years, making the event especially timely. Las Vegas is immersed in another big makeover, with re-openings, renovations and new construction once again in high gear. 

Also in the midst of a massive makeover is US Airways Vacations. It’s about to become American Airlines Vacations, and the transition was a big discussion topic. Fortunately, AA Vacations president Michael Schmeltzer was in attendance and quite approachable.

For agents, the Scavenger Hunt offered the chance to meet colleagues from across the country. They also got to know some key US Airways Vacations personnel. Present were Scavenger Hunt mastermind Chris Ames, director of products and sales; Ramona Halley, national sales manager; and Linda DeMarsh, product manager for Nevada, New Orleans and City Escapes. 

Upon arriving in Las Vegas, agents knew little more than that they’d be staying at ARIA Resort & Casino. An airport arrival packet assigned them into groups of five, designated by a color. (We were assigned a different color team for each activity.)

Team Yellow members Shawna Johnson and Camille Bennett take on the Slot Tournament.
Team Yellow members Shawna Johnson and Camille Bennett take on the Slot Tournament.

This year’s Scavenger Hunt consisted of five separate activities; only one was a true scavenger hunt, but all featured properties in the US Airways Vacations portfolio. 

The first event was a kickoff breakfast at the venerable Riviera Hotel & Casino. From the Top of the Riviera—the only ballroom with a Strip view—we heard welcome remarks from Halley and Ames. 

Schmeltzer made some brief comments as well. He reassured agents that the “long, special and productive relationship” with them would carry over to the new American Airlines Vacations. The latter’s commission policy (or lack thereof) has long been a sore spot. 

Privately, Schmeltzer mentioned that announcements will come soon about new competitive commissions on air and land; an enhanced online shopping experience; and expanded vacation packages, among other things. After a bountiful breakfast at the Riviera, the competition began in earnest.

A slot tournament yielded excited squeals and shouts as teams frantically hit the “spin” button to rack up the highest point total. Afterward, it was off to the Tropicana Las Vegas for a site inspection of the newly remodeled property.

The Housekeeping Challenge at Tropicana tested agents’ powers of recollection.
The Housekeeping Challenge at Tropicana tested agents’ powers of recollection.

Unbeknownst to agents, a room tour would test their powers of recollection during a surprise Housekeeping Challenge

All soft goods were removed from a standard room. Teams had 45 minutes to recreate the room using items on a cart such as sheets, pillows and toiletries. Only one team successfully completed the challenge. 

After lunch at Chayo Mexican Kitchen at the Linq Promenade, the teams learned their next task. They had to shoot a 30-second video commercial for Las Vegas. The resulting videos (some of them hilarious) were judged according to strength of message, creativity and overall appeal.

Martini-making contest at the Golden Nugget
Martini-making contest at the Golden Nugget

That evening we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres at trendy Tao at The Venetian, famously frequented by reality show personalities. Then it was off to a Venetian showroom for “Human Nature: The Motown Show.” One of the consistently highest-rated shows in Vegas, it showcases an improbable quartet of (white) Australian singers performing Motown’s greatest hits. The surprising crowd-pleaser had everyone on their feet, dancing and singing along.

Bright and early the next morning, we set off for downtown Las Vegas bedecked in Scavenger Hunt T-shirts in team colors. We had breakfast at the Canyon Club at Four Queens Hotel & Casino, followed by an informative presentation by Kelly Messina from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The full-blown scavenger hunt ensued. Teams were given a few hours to decipher clues. Some were silly: “Take the collective weight of the group and send in a photo.” (Fortunately, there’s a giant scale on Fremont Street.) 

Some required some research help from Google (which was allowed). 

Others required good-old fashioned luck: “Find a neon saw with an eight-letter word that is misspelled. What is the word?” Our team was one of the few that stumbled upon the elusive neon sign. Formerly festooned on a hardware store, the word “hardware” itself was spelled backwards.

Lunch at Gold Diggers at the Golden Nugget followed. Its location was one of the Scavenger Hunt clues and not all teams made it by the appointed time. Afterward came the final (and arguably most fun) event of the week; a martini-making contest on the Gold Diggers’ balcony. As zip-liners flew by (yes, there is now a zip-line across the Fremont Street Experience), teams got to work. Our team’s offering, dubbed “Pineapple Upside Down Cake Martini,” came in second place. 

The Scavenger Hunt closing dinner was an elegant affair at Wynn Las Vegas. Cocktails on the Sunset Terrace were followed by a delicious dinner at the Lafleur room in the Wynn conference center. The menu included petit filet of black cod, braised beef short rib and milk chocolate yuzu tangerine bar. It was the gastronomic highlight of the week, and it certainly made the case for Las Vegas as a prime special-events venue. 

So had the Scavenger Hunt itself. 

In the end, Team Red took home first place, splitting some $15,000 in airline and merchandise gift certificates. But the real winner was Las Vegas.

 

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