Posted by: nickgerlich | September 28, 2007

Feeling Lucky

If someone were to strap me down tomorrow and tell me I could never go back to Las Vegas, I suppose I could say that I have been fulfilled and seen just about everything there is to see. After 20 trips to the gambling mecca of North America, there are only a few things left to do, other than reruns.

Besides, on one of the more recent trips, I saw Wayne Newton, otherwise known as Mr. Las Vegas. That’s almost as good as saying I spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express.

But, alas, I will be back later this semester, to deliver a paper at yet another academic conference. And if it’s like every other time, I will hardly recognize the place in the 8 months that have elapsed since the last time.

Las VegasEarlier this week I was preparing a description of, and justification for, a new undergraduate course in Hospitality and Tourism Marketing we plan to offer at WT. To make my case, I cited some stats about Las Vegas to show just how huge the market for tourism can be. To wit:

  • There are over 132,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas, with an occupancy rate of 89.7%, at an average room rate of about $120.
  • There were nearly 39 million visitors to Las Vegas in 2006, and collectively they spent almost $40 billion.
  • Gaming revenues are over $10 billion per year.
  • Over 6.3 million people attended a convention there in 2006.

Not bad for a city of 500,000 (and a metro area in Clark County of 1.5 million).

Las Vegas has proven itself virtually immune to fluctuations in the economy. Furthermore, it has solidified its emphasis on the darker side of living. While in the early-1990s it tried to lure families to town with more kid-friendly activities, the city has returned to its roots with the “What happens here stays here” ad campaign.

And it has resonated with tourists. Sin sells, right? The Palms Hotel even twisted it around to boast, “What happens at the Palms never happened.” The rest is up to your imagination.

Ironically, I am not into gambling at all, and I only go to a show every other trip. Mostly I just like the desert. And Las Vegas is conveniently located in that regard.

I am also a big fan of the retail and restaurant scene in Vegas, probably influenced by the fact that I taught Retailing at WT for 17 years. You can’t help but use Las Vegas as a case study, because it has everything.

Strictly speaking, Las Vegas is an anomaly. Why would people go to a town where they are extremely likely to lose their hard-earned money if they decide to gamble? What could possess a person to throw caution and money to the wind?

Because it is an escape. And because there is an outside chance that you might actually walk away a winner (if you know when to quit, that is).

I suppose there is an irrational side to each of us. Some have better control of it than others, but the point is, the equivalent of 1 in every 7.5 Americans go there each year. Your neighbors. Co-workers. Family. And probably even your fellow parishioners.

There’s a social commentary in there somewhere. Have we sunk to such levels of decadence that we no longer care about our money? Our morals? Do we “need” a special place where we can go to live on the wild side, knowing it will all stay there after we return home? Or do we have so much free time and money that it simply doesn’t matter any more?

I’m not sure. It saddens me every time to see people drunk beyond their imagination, frittering away their personal lives and finances in one big weekend. On the other hand, they sure look like they are enjoying themselves.

Prudish? I think not. I like to have fun as much as the next guy. I just don’t want to come home knowing that there’s a part of me left behind in Vegas that I’d rather not talk about.

Dr “I Must Be Getting Old” Gerlich


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