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Impressions from a first trip to Vegas…

April 16, 2009

The Las Vegas experience is so large that I don’t think a person could begin to really comprehend it in weeks or months, much less a few days.   I wasn’t sure what to expect, my pre-conceptions were a jumbled mix of stories from friends, TV and movie dramatization (Casino, Leaving Las Vegas, Oceans 11 & 13, etc), and the occasional news story covering  one of the massive implosions of obsolete casinos and other landmark buildings.  

In person, the city felt alive and ever changing.  Even in these difficult economic times, large scale construction was evident up and down the strip, juxtaposed with empty lots scoured of all but some residual vestiges of concrete and asphalt.   “Wonder what used to be here, when was it built, and when was it razed?”,  were the thoughts flowing through my head as I gazed out the bus window during the meandering ride from the airport to our Hotel, Bally’s.

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Each Casino resort has a distinct personality and brand experience – a carefully orchestrated mix of ingredients which can be broadly categorized, but the intracacy and attention to detail make each unique.    These ingredients are common building blocks – the physical size and appearance of the resort, the restaurants and bars, the entertainment options – shows and performances, and of course – the gaming floor itself.   Doing a cursory walk through of half a dozen of these, I began to get a sense of the very different personalities of each property.   I think this would be a great experience for anyone trying to understand branding and what it takes to create a unique and signature experience. 

Adjoining Ballys was Paris,  in which we spent a number of hours.   I was quite taken with the place – the architecture and the 1/2 scale Eifel Tower.  We dined at Ah, sin! the Asian restaurant there and found the sushi to be excellent.

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We took the elevator to the top of the tower on Monday and really got a sense of the place at night.

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Looking down on the city…

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The Belagio and it’s last water fountain display of the night…

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I took this picture blindly over people’s heads, and pointing down just guessing the angle needed to capture the display.   One gets a small sense of the drama of the aquatic display synchronized to music.

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Leslie was enjoying her birthday I think! 

So many sights and experiences and so little time.  We caught a couple of shows – Jubilee! which afforded the big production classic Vegas showgirls replete with feather boas and all manner of plumage and sparkle.   Between production numbers, we were amazed by some truly super human performances which unfortunately I couldn’t film and would be at a loss to explain in five thousand words or less.   My personal favorite was the performance by two fellows who seemsed a cross between Olympic gold medal gymnasts and Mr. Universe body builders.  One knelt while the other placed a palm on the top of the first one’s head and proceed to lever himself off the ground into a fully extended parallel plane and then into a full single hand stand.   Then, the guy who was kneeling, slowly rises to a standing position with the second guy still maintaining the one arm hand stand on top of his head.  The routine went on from there, and I was awe struck.  This wasn’t done with momentum, but with incomprehensible amounts of strength, balance, and precision. 

Another night we shuttled over to the Rio and watched the Penn and Teller show.   They did about ten bits, and mix up their act so it’s not the same every night.  I’d seen them on Letterman before, and was completely stupefied by several of their stunts.  They explain the concept of misdirection, and I’m left wondering if the explanations themselves are misdirection.   They did this bit during the show – the set up was slightly different, but same saw and same girl, and same end result. 

After the show, all three were available for pictures and autographs.   We didn’t bring our camera and I passed up a chance to meet them.  Even still it was something to pass within arms length of them as we exited down the hallway.   Security was waiting in the wings – the guys in suits with the ear pieces standing vigilant in case someone got out of hand.

The crowds and the streets were something unto themselves.   We stopped to donate to a performer and snap a quick picture.  His movements were fantastic and were accompanied by whiring motor sound effects.   How cool would it be for this guy to go to a club and dance?  I bet he could do a mean version of  “the robot”.

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Vegas was full of some great marketing, and some ineffective and annoying examples as well.   The timeshare sellers had apparently struck some cross promotional deal and had strategically set up kiosks in line with some of the main entrance and exits, and in the passage way between two of the resorts.    I hate confrontation, and after saying “no thank you” for about the 50th time as we journeyed to and fro during our stay, the prospecting companies had racked up some seriously strong negative brand equity in me.  No point in trashing them here, but if you have to be overly aggressive in your selling tactics, it should tell you that your product, service or offering isn’t what the market really wants or needs right now.

Also making my list of bad or at least tasteless  marketing was this…

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There were a couple of competing businesses and their ad trucks drove up and down the strip.   Moreover, the rival company had hired an army of troglodytes – packs of five to ten grubby looking individuals  on every corner, attired in bright and random colored t-shirts emblazed with the company name and phone number.  These packs of promoters would group themselves in the crowd and try to press promotional materials to anyone who would take them.  The sidewalks were littered with these baseball card sized hand-outs featuring nearly nude photos, the common service phone number and tag lines like ” ask about our $47 special “.     I can’t speak for everyone, but I found it an unsettling concept in equal parts that these services were being advertised and discounted like you were ordering a pizza, to your door in 20 mins.

Yikes!    This  just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that  you’d want to go cheap on – like discount brain surgery.  I found it incongruitous, but then maybe I’m just not the target audience, so it’s not really for me to say whether or not the promos are effective.  

The city made a distinct impression on me, and like NYC, I think it was a good impression overall – my parting criticisms aside.   As far as vacations go, I think I prefer the all inclusive Island experiences because you pay once, and then are treated like a king or queen – no questions asked.   In contrast, Vegas felt more like a Disney or Universal theme park in which everything costs multiples of what it is worth elsewhere – land of the $12 burger, the $40 breakfast for two of waffle, bacon and coffee, and that everything is extra.   Still when you add it all up, it’s about a wash and some  experiences you just can’t put a price on.  The buildings, the shows, the extravagance of it all creates a fresh perspective for our daily lives.  

I’m greatful for the time and the opportunity to have experienced some of this.   I think it was a good investment for Leslie and myself – to punctuate a birthday milestone and to have done something memorable.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    April 16, 2009 4:14 am

    Glad to hear you guys had a good time – and you had Candice & I rolling over the discount brain surgery remark 😀

    I too prefer the all inclusive resort. When I was in Vegas, we ate at some uber-hip restaurant in one of the hotels. The cheapest thing on the menu was $30 or $40, the tiny eating area crowded & loud, food so-so, and the table cleared so fast you might have still been chewing. Let me tell how much I scoffed at one of our party telling me I needed to tip big because this is Vegas. I’ll tip big when they earn a big tip – those people got nothing. But I digress…

  2. April 16, 2009 4:25 am

    Tim,

    Yeah, the service at times was a bit off – odd since they had plenty of employees and employed a team approach – someone does the drinks, another handles the food. Casual dining was overpriced, while diner at the steak house came out in line with the likes of Ruth’s Chris, etc. I think the strategy is to attract with a low opening big, and then drive up the attach rate of profit multipliers.

    I wanted to play Black Jack, and most of the Casino’s had minimum $15 bet tables open – whith $25, $50, and $100 min bet tables vacant. Go figure. Hooters has a casino as well, and had people advertising $3 min bet black jack available 24/7. We walked down there and wound up playing for several hours and I think the people were more personable at the tables. Probably a better strategy overall – getting people to play and stay. I guess it depends what you want – the plywood construction hardly compares to the zillion tons of polished marble down the street, so I conclude it is really about creating value by aligning costs with the experiences that people want to pay for.

    Glad you liked the humor!

  3. Jane Loyless permalink
    April 16, 2009 12:37 pm

    Sounds like you had a good time – glad you got back safely and (hopefully) all rested up! 😉

  4. April 18, 2009 3:31 pm

    mark – i gotta agree with tim above… your “discount brain surgery” analogy was hilarious.   i just about fell off my chair. 😀

    you definitely experienced more than i did when i was in vegas.   i only spent part of a day there killing some time with friends while racing at lake havasu.   i remember seeing many of the same attractions though and your account brought back some memories.

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