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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
January 19, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Rumor of the Week: Another Strip Hotel Rebrand
There's a rumor picking up steam, being reported by a couple of different outlets, that a major hotel on The Strip is going to get a complete makeover and a new name. Nobody is saying which hotel it is but the gossip says it'll be one of the big properties, that it will be on The Strip, and that it will be to the level of Sahara's transition into the SLS or Bill's into The Cromwell. The most obvious candidates are the older hotels - Riviera and Tropicana - but it could be one of the 90s era theme hotels as well
9. Next Vegas Implosion: February 10
If you have been itching for another Vegas implosion your next opportunity to see one is going to be on February 10, 2015. That's the date when the Clarion - formerly the Greek Isles, formerly the Debbie Reynolds, formerly the Paddlewheel, formerly a bunch of other stuff - will be brought down to make way for a new hotel and shopping complex that is being proposed for the land. The closed last year and crews have been taking out the valuable stuff in advance of the date with dynamite.
8. M&M Soul Food Opens North Strip Location
If you are a fan of soul food and have been using the fact that it's not located directly on The Strip as your excuse of why you haven't visited the stellar M&M Soul Food Café, your excuse is now pretty much shot. The restaurant has opened a new location at 2211 Las Vegas Blvd. S., in between the SLS Las Vegas and Stratosphere. Both have the same menu of classic American soul food (smothered fried chicken, BBQ, gumbo, collared greens, and more) and the original location will remain open. Read the full review of M&M Soul Food.
7. Bacchanal Buffet Prices Go Up
The most expensive buffet in Las Vegas just got even more expensive with some quietly raised prices at the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. Breakfast (served Monday through Friday) is now going to cost you $31, lunch (ditto) is $38, dinner is $53, and the weekend brunch is $50... all plus tax. That's up about $10 across the board from when it first opened in September of 2013 and edges out places like the Wynn and Bellagio buffets by a few bucks. It's a great buffet but $31 for breakfast?! Read the review of the Bacchanal Buffet.
6. The Voice Comes to Vegas
No, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton won't be spinning in their chairs in Sin City anytime soon, but some of the singing competition show's former contestants will be hitting the Vegas stage with a new show called Voices at Sunset Station. Hosted by country-rock singer Ryan Whyte Maloney, who was on the show last year, and Cali Tucker (the niece of country star Tanya Tucker), the first edition of the show, which debuted this past weekend, featured former Voice wannabes Kristen Merlin, Jake Worthington, and Michael Austin. The production is not officially endorsed by the TV show but apparently they aren't condemning it either. More editions are planned with a rotating series of singers. Check out the review of Sunset Station.
5. Bellagio's Chinese New Year Display
The Chinese New Year display celebrating the Year of the Goat is up and running at the Bellagio Conservatory. The typically over-the-top scene features pagodas, hanging lanterns, a mountain with a waterfall, gold coins symbolizing luck, and lots and lots of goats, unsurprisingly (no, not real ones). It will all be on display through March 1 and is free. Read more about the Bellagio Conservatory.
4. Sam Smith, Jessie J., and More Added to Rock in Rio
The big Rock in Rio festival coming to Vegas in May has added even more acts to the lineup including British soul singer Sam Smith, pop singer Jessie J., Charlie XCX, Tove Lo, Empire of the Sun, and Foster the People to name a few. They join previously announced acts like No Doubt, Bruno Mars, John Legend, Joss Stone, Metallica, and Deftones in the two weekends full of concerts that will be held in a new festival ground under construction across the street from the SLS Las Vegas. Tickets go on sale January 20 - as many as 80,000 people are expected to attend. Visit RockinRio.com for more info.
3. Mob Museum Exhibit Hitting the Road
In an effort to introduce the facility and its collection to a larger audience, the Mob Museum has created its first traveling exhibit, which will not be traveling all that far to start. The display will feature infamous mobster John Gotti's 1972 Jaguar XKE Convertible plus informational displays about various mafia figures and will be found at The Plaza Hotel in Downtown Vegas, about three blocks from the museum, through June 30. After that the exhibit will move on to points elsewhere, although where exactly is to be determined. Read the full review of The Mob Museum.
2. Celine Dion Delays Return To Vegas Again
According to a report published last week by TMZ, Celine Dion has informed Caesars Palace that she will not be coming back to her show there until at least the end of the year. When she originally went on hiatus to care for her husband who is battling throat cancer, she anticipated returning in March of this year but that was recently pushed back to summer and now to possibly 2016. For the record, nobody has commented on this on the record so the official story is still a big shrug. The hotel will have a few less dates to announce now that... (go on to story #1)
1. Mariah Carey Signs Caesars Palace Headlining Deal
As had been rumored for weeks, pop chanteuse Mariah Carey used the Ellen Degeneres Show to officially announce that she will be doing a residency at Caesars Palace in the 4,000 Colosseum showroom. Called Mariah's Number 1's, the shows will feature Carey, one of the best-selling female artists of all time, performing 18 of her biggest hits in a new production designed specifically for Vegas. Unlike Britney or Celine's multi-year deal, this one is a limited residency consisting of 18 shows across three months this summer. They start May 6 and run through July 26. Tickets range from $55 to $255 and go on sale today. Read more about Caesars Palace.
Resort Fee Update: Eight More Hotels Raise Fees
I should create a macro that writes this story for me. In November I wrote a piece about a bunch of hotels raising their resort fees including most of the Caesars Entertainment properties. In December I wrote another piece about MGM Resorts raising the fees at all of their Vegas properties.
Well, it's January and guess what? More hotels have raised their resort fees. I'm thinking ALT-8 would be a good keystroke for the macro.
This time the news shifts back to Caesars Entertainment, which recently "standardized" the fees at all of its properties in Vegas at $25 per night. That lasted about six weeks because now Caesars Palace, The Cromwell, Nobu, Paris, and Planet Hollywood have all gone up to $29 per night, plus tax. That puts them just a buck under the high-water mark of $30 per night set by hotels like Bellagio, Aria, and Mandalay Bay.
Nothing has changed in what the resort fee covers, which is basic wireless Internet coverage, fitness center access, and a few other little things that you most likely won't ever use.
And even the Downtown hotels are getting in on the act. The Golden Nugget has gotten rid of its "Downtown Destination Fee" of $5 that included nothing and replaced it with a $20 per night fee, plus tax, that includes Internet, fitness center access, two bottles of water in the room daily, parking, and a coupon book.
With the bulk of MGM Resorts hotels at $30, this is now the new high-bar and you can expect that it will be matched soon by the other high end hotels that are still charging $25 like Venetian, Palazzo, and the Cosmo.
As of this writing there are only a handful of hotels still holding out and not charging the almost universally despised fees: Arizona Charlie's, The California, The Cannery, The Eastside Cannery, The Four Queens, The Fremont, M Resort, and Main Street Station. I'm expecting that at least a few of those are going to fall in the next six months, mostly in the Downtown area.
As always you can get a full list of the resort fees at the major hotels in Vegas and what they cover on the Resort Fees page.
But before you go check that out, let's take a look at whether or not the resort fees deserve to be as hated as they are.
Analysis: Are Vegas Resort Fees as Outrageous as They Seem?
Pretty much everyone hates resort fees - everyone except the people that profit off of them, of course. Lots of folks are insisting that the omnipresent add-ons are the primary reason why they aren't coming to Vegas as much anymore; or at all in some cases. They have driven up prices to a point that makes Vegas hotels unaffordable, they argue.
But one of the Vegas4Visitors Facebook fans made a good point in a comment last week, which basically boils down this: even with the resort fees, Vegas hotels are still probably the best bargains around.
Before we look at the specifics, let's talk about what a resort fee is, why hotels are charging them, and where you can get socked with them.
Nearly every major hotel in Vegas is now charging a resort fee, an additional nightly charge that ranges from $5 on the low end (Best Western Mardi Gras) to $30 on the high end (Bellagio and several other hotels). This fee may be just that - a fee that doesn't get you anything other than a bigger bill - or it could cover various services and amenities such as wireless Internet service, parking, gym access, and the like.
Hotels like charging them for a couple of reasons. First, they rake in a lot of money - an estimated $2 billion in 2014. Second, they allow hotels to advertise lower base rates on travel aggregation sites like Travelocity and Expedia, which allows them show up higher in search results, which gets them more bookings.
Vegas has been leading the charge on instituting resort fees pretty much everywhere - even at hotels that can't legitimately be called a "resort" but it is not a uniquely Sin City thing. Many major properties throughout Florida, especially around Orlando, and in Hawaii also charge the fees and the practice is spreading every year. ResortFees.com is currently tracking hundreds of hotels in more than a dozen states that are charging resort fees and more are expected to join the bandwagon.
But when you stack it all up in comparison, are the resort fees that Vegas charges really as outrageous as they seem?
To start to figure this out, I picked a random Friday night in February to start the analysis. I used Travelocity and to try to create an apples to shiny apples equity, I only looked at 5-star hotels according to that site's rankings.
First I looked at Vegas. Bellagio was advertised at $239 per night. Add in the $30 per night resort fee and you get $269. Aria was $219 plus the same $30 so $249. The Venetian was at $269 and is currently charging a $25 per night fee, so $294. And The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas was at $290 plus a $25 fee for a total of $315. All of these rates were for those hotel's standard rooms, which start at around 500 square feet and go up to nearly 700 depending on the hotel and all include self or valet-parking, wireless Internet, and fitness center access.
Next, let's go across the country to Manhattan. On the same night the 5-star Ritz-Carlton at Battery Park was asking $295 per night with no resort fee. However, they charge (hold on to something) $70 per night for valet parking and $13 per night for Internet access. They do offer free fitness center access but it still brings the total to $370 per night for a 425 square foot room, smaller than any of the Vegas rooms surveyed. And believe it or not, that hotel was one of the cheapest available. The Trump Soho was $345, the Four Seasons was $585, and the Mandarin was $695, all for smaller rooms and all before adding in charges for parking and Internet service.
But okay, so New York City is notoriously expensive. Let's try another major city like Chicago. The Four Seasons, $300; The Ritz-Carlton, $365; The Langham, $396 - all before add on charges and all for small rooms.
Los Angeles? The London, $499; the SLS, $479; and the L'Ermitage, $644!
I think you see where I'm going with this. Even with the resort fees, there are very few places that you could go in the US to get equivalent hotel rooms for less money and certainly nowhere as exciting as Las Vegas.
Having said all that... resort fees still suck!
The asterisk in the above headline is important, or at least the company that it is regarding would like you to think so. Caesars Entertainment did not file for bankruptcy last week; Caesars Entertainment Operating Company did. What's the difference? It's complicated.
Caesars Entertainment is the parent company of hotels in Vegas like Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, The Flamingo, and Paris Las Vegas among others but they don't technically "own" any hotels. Instead, they own secondary companies that own hotels and other assets.
For instance, Caesars Entertainment Resort Properties owns The Flamingo and other properties nationwide but runs, on paper, as a separate division. Ditto Caesars Entertainment Operating Company, which only owns Caesars Palace. Think of it like Buick and Chevy's relationship with General Motors. That's not a perfect analogy but it's pretty close.
Even more complicated is the fact that there's a completely separate (again, on paper) company called Caesars Acquisition Company, which owns Caesars Growth Partners, which in turn owns hotels like Planet Hollywood, The Cromwell, and Bally's. CAC and Caesars Entertainment, both roll up to the same investment company that owns everything.
It wasn't always like this. Caesars Entertainment owned all of its hotels at one point but started the corporate shuffling a couple of years ago in anticipation of this bankruptcy. The company has been sagging under more than $24 billion in debt that it couldn't knock down but it didn't want to file Chapter 11 against everything and risk losing its most valuable assets. So they started spinning off various hotels into various subsidiary companies and loading up CEOC with the bulk of the company's overall debt; $18 billion worth of it, to be specific.
They then worked with their various top tier creditors to structure a bankruptcy only for CEOC that will allow at least partial repayment of what is owed and enable all of the other hotels within the spider web of divisions to say "not me" and the overall parent company to wipe out about $10 billion worth of its debt with the stroke of a pen.
Of course the structured bankruptcy has not made everyone happy. While most of the top tier creditors are getting a big chunk of their money back, most of the smaller creditors are walking away empty handed (or close to it). Several of them have banded together to file an injunction trying to stop the plan that Caesars has been working on and force an unstructured bankruptcy against the entire company and all of its divisions. A judge was willing to at least hear their plea and has put a temporary stay on the proceedings, but it it is widely believed to just be a hiccup that won't stop the overall deal.
The biggest question is what does all of this mean to you, the consumer? Most likely absolutely nothing. Because of the shuffling and planning, most of the hotels in the Caesars empire aren't affected at all and Caesars Palace, the lone hotel owned by CEOC, will be business as usual. The parent company has gone out of their way to reassure employees and guests that nothing is changing and they are even trying to incentivize rewards club members with extra points when they gamble. If you are a Total Rewards member, you probably got the same email that I did offering a 50% bonus on tier credits through March 31st, 2015 counted retroactively back to January 1st.
So, to recap, a division of Caesars has declared bankruptcy, which will allow the parent company to get rid of nearly half of its debt and absolutely nothing will change for the company or the way it operates. Don't you wish your finances worked like that?
Rating Vegas Headliners
When I posted the update about Mariah Carey's headliner gig at Caesars Palace on Facebook I erroneously stated that the singer was the best-selling female artist of all time, a claim I took from a press release without checking it, as did just about everyone else who wrote about the story. Of course the best-selling female artist is Madonna and I corrected the post accordingly.
But it got me to thinking about the relative success of artists who are or have done Vegas headlining gigs and how they stack up against one another in the various ways in which we quantify their success.
Let's start with sales. There are usually two numbers that are used when gauging the number of albums an artist sells, the official certified total units as measured the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and then the claimed units, which artists and their PR people usually say is higher than the certified total because of things like global sales in markets that the RIAA doesn't count.
For the purposes of this exercise, though, let's use the RIAA numbers since those are the ones that get these artists gold and platinum records to hang on their walls.
Elton John, who has had two headlining gigs at Caesars Palace, leads the Vegas pack with 161.6 million albums sold. This places him fifth on the all-time sales list behind The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.
Second place, with 142.8 million sales is country superstar Garth Brooks, who performed for two years at Wynn Las Vegas.
The rest of the list features Planet Hollywood's Britney Spears at 77.1 million; former Caesars Palace headliner Shania Twain at 72.5 million; Prince, who did a three-month stint at The Rio a few years back, with 61.9 million; Cher, who did a couple of years at Caesars, at 40.5 million; and Olivia Newton-John, who is performing at the Flamingo, with 34.7 million.
But what if we look at it a different way by counting the most number one singles each artist has had. Mariah's new show at Caesars Palace is called "Mariah's Number 1's" and the press release touts that she has had 18 of them. That's more than any other Vegas headliner on the Billboard's Hot 100 list and ties her for second place of all time with Elvis (first place goes to The Beatles).
However, if we count the Country charts, Garth Brooks actually leads the race with 19 number one singles during his career.
Elton John comes up next on the pop charts with nine number ones followed by Prince with eight, Olivia Newton-John and Britney Spears both with five, and Celine Dion and Cher both with four. Shania Twain had seven number ones on the country charts.
Since we're talking about concerts, though, there is one more number worth looking at, which is money raked in by tours. Billboard Boxscore released a ranking of the Top 25 touring acts from 1990-2014 and four of our Vegas headliners made the list: Elton John came in at number six with $786 million total; Celine Dion was not far behind with $737 million, good enough for eighth place; Rod Stewart got the fifteenth spot with $497 million; and Cher squeaked in at number 23 with $351 million.
In case you're curious, the top act on that particular list was The Rolling Stones who have raked in over $1.5 billion in the last two and a half decades. I guess they don't need a Vegas residency!