The Birth of The Vegas Tourist

 

The Vegas Tourist?

One of the questions I get is “What was the idea behind starting this website and podcast?

The easy answer is that as a Las Vegas chauffeur, I got tired of battling against the Las Vegas propaganda machine and wanted to give those traveling here, a real look at what is the Las Vegas tourist scene.

An insiders look behind the curtain on how this town really operates and what is really going on. Then it kind of expanded and changed as I switched from being a Las Vegas chauffeur to be a tour director.

The one thing that has not changed in all these years is my love for not only the history of this town but for the people who have come here and made something out of it… The business side of what makes Las Vegas famous can be as exciting for me as the tourist side.  I love telling people about the who, what, why, and where of not only Las Vegas, but the entire southwestern United States. “Las Vegas and Beyond”
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Out of Frustration, Comes Brilliance?

I moved here from Minnesota in 2001. Las Vegas was in the tail end of its last major boom.  Over 5,000 families were moving here every month and only 3,000 were moving out.  Every month we had 2,000 more people living here than we did at the end of the previous month. After 100 years of booms and busts, Las Vegas finally hit the one million mark for the population.  Five years later we hit the two million mark.  We literally doubled our population in five years and it wasn’t slowing down.

The daily occupancy rate for any hotel in the nation in 2001 was about 55% on a good day.  Here, 95% occupancy was considered a bad day!  We were building and adding hotel rooms as fast as we could get the permits printed.

There was something here for just about everybody. From the twenty-five cent roulette at the Klondike to the High Limit Poker rooms at the Bellagio and the Venetian.  From the ninety-nine cent shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate to the three hundred dollar dinner, (minus the eight hundred dollar bottle of wine you watched the beautiful “wine angel” working on a pulley system on the wine tower, get for you) at Aureole in the Mandalay Bay.

Moving here?  In 2001, about 90% of all jobs here were tourism-related positions.  If you showed up here on Monday morning looking for work, there was a pretty good chance you could have a good-paying job by Monday afternoon. It most likely wasn’t what you had a degree in or what you were doing before, but it would be a good job sometimes with benefits and a flexible schedule.  Many people I knew then had several jobs.  The keyword being “flexible”. If you expecting Monday to Friday, 9-5 with weekends off, you were laughed out of the office. Literally.

On the other side to that “flexibility” it was often easy to work a schedule around other things. You were often off on days other people were working.  We could travel midweek pretty cheap!  Living here, the stores and support services off the tourist corridor, worked with our hours. Walmarts open 24 hours seven days a week, dentist offices open until 9 pm. Last call in the bar? No such thing.

The first question you were often asked in the job interview was “will you show up when scheduled?” If you answered “Yes”, they were already filling out your time card and figuring out what locker to give you.

There was one catch when moving here.  Moving here, you needed to understand that you did not move into a new state, you moved into a different universe.  You will hear me say this a lot and its true; Las Vegas operates in its own little universe. Unlike any other city, state, or country you have been in.  Vegas is nothing like where you came from. If you don’t understand that, it will eat you up and spit you out really quickly.  You will not survive here.
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Minnesota Nice 

For me, I had a little problem getting into the whole Las Vegas tourism culture.  I was born with a deformed gene. Its called the “Minnesota Nice” gene. I can’t lie to people for the sake of making a buck and I don’t like people who do that to me.  I swear that if I could neutralize that gene living here, I would either be a multi-millionaire or buried 8 miles out and six feet under… Nothing in-between.

I loved the town. Las Vegas was a really fun city and for me, it held a certain vibe I couldn’t get anywhere else.  But the way it operated, the behind the scenes part of what made the bright lights sparkle, started to rub on me and went against my Minnesota Nice morals(?). The more I worked the Strip, the more I developed a love/hate relationship with the universe of Las Vegas.

One thing I learned talking to the old-timers here, Las Vegas, like the state it sits in, was created by corruption and that corruption, the good and the bad of it all is always evolving. Staying the same, yet in many ways changing with the times. What you see here is not always what is real.  Steve Wynn named his first mega-resort on the Las Vegas Strip correctly.  The Mirage!

Why This Website?

Like I said at the beginning, the idea for this website and podcast was born out of frustration. As a chauffeur, I was always irritated when I picked up a guest outside one of a resort and as we drove to their hotel, they complained about the time and money they wasted on a horrible show that the reviewer said: “The best I have seen all year!”.  To them, the reviewer was 1000% wrong and they had just wasted one night out of their three-night stay, seeing a horrible show.  (average stay in Las Vegas is three nights).

I would get frustrated when I heard those stories.  I felt bad for my guests.  You, the Vegas tourist (get it?), took time out of your busy lives to travel to Las Vegas. You spent a lot of money and time planning your trip. You were wanting to have a good time when you did get here. You wanted to leave the real world behind and escape into the fairytale land of Las Vegas. You wanted to drink too much, eat too much, party too much, and gamble responsibly.  Not spend time in a theater seeing a show that was nothing like you were expecting and you based your decision to buy tickets on what many would assume was an unbiased “professional” reviewer.

Unfortunately, I heard a lot of bad stories all because the guest didn’t know how Las Vegas tourism really worked.  So I wanted to counter that narrative or at least give another viewpoint to what was being pushed by the modern version of the Las Vegas propaganda machine. (a website maybe?)

I would ask my guests which reviewer did they read?  They would tell me and I would smile.  Then I would explain to them why the review they read was what it was.  At the time, the people still relied on major newspapers, TV and radio as their main sources of information. There was no  Yelp.com. The explanation I gave was usually well received and helped in my tip as they would thank me for my honesty and that they wished they talked to me first!
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Here’s How The Vegas Media World Works

Here in Las Vegas, we have two main newspapers:  the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun.  Meaning we had two primary “show reviewers” and gossip columnists. Because they were the big dogs in the world of Las Vegas media, their reviews held a lot of power over the success or failure of a new Las Vegas production. And each reviewer had different criteria for how they reviewed a show. What the uninformed reader didn’t know was that neither one based too much of their reviews on the actual show.

When a show is to open on the Strip, they would hold a media event. The show on that night was not open to the general public, or if it was, the media and other invitees would have the front row seats. These people were not only the media people (local, national, international) but the city’s entertainment VIPs, the doormen, concierges, and anyone else seriously involved in the selling or promotion of the show tickets around town.

At the media event prior to the show, you usually got to meet the primary cast, hear some words from the show’s director or producer, be able to interview the people behind the production, etc, etc…. And you were usually served complimentary food and beverage.

Being a chauffeur, like cab drivers and such, I was considered an important marketing person for these shows, thus, “freebies”!!  So having been to many of these events, I started to notice why the published reviews were how they were.  Speaking to others at these events, I would hear the same or similar comments.  Of course, always “off the record”.

Here is what I learned. One reviewer based a lot of his opinions about the show on what food was served at the media event.  The other reviewer would base part of his review on how well he was served a certain brand of drinks at the media event by a certain flavor of a young cocktail waitress. These points were not highlighted in the review itself, but it set the mood and tone for what they were going to write.  Bad time at the media event meant a bad review of the show.  A good time at the media event meant a good show review.

So to sum it all up, for all their glorious words of praise or their words of scorn about the show, the cast, or how the show was put together, the review was really based on how or what they were served at the media event before they were escorted to their front row or box seats. Or as another media type joked to me one time: You could put a (heavily overweight) lady wearing nothing but a tutu reading the Las Vegas phone book in french, standing on a dark stage, and if you did your media event right, both of these people would give the show a five-star “best new show of the decade” review!

My Frustration

So why would they not review the show for the quality of the show? Easy answer. Follow the money.  In 2001, when I started chauffeuring here, the Stip was controlled by five different companies.  No one resort company controlled more than 25% of the market.  You had the MGM competing with Mandalay Bay competing with The Wynn competing with… You get the picture…

By 2005, you had the MGM owning 55% of the Strip and Caesars owning 40% of the Strip. The other 5% were The Wynn, The Venetian, etc… Now, as a local media company, newspaper, or TV station, you survive by selling local advertising.  Selling advertising as a media company when your town is controlled by only two companies means you will everything in your powers to make sure you do not print anything that offends anyone in the management of these two companies!

So when a new show opened in a resort and it sucked, the review will never really say it sucked. Even when the Chris Angel debacle opened at the Luxor in 2008, they never really said the show sucked!  They danced around it in so many different ways, saying everything they could but “it sucked”! BTW, It Sucked!!

If they say anything bad about something the resort spent millions of dollars on, that resort stops advertising with your company for a while.  So you dance around it and claim that it was good even if it was bad.  But not in those exact words.

If being a Las Vegas local and you knew something bad happened on the Strip, you had to read the LA Times to know what happened!

So I needed to say something.  I needed a place to let off my frustrations. A place to let others know what real people living and working in Las Vegas felt about what to see, do, and experience while visiting here and traveling around here.  Talking with another chauffeur who was making a great side business marketing Las Vegas weddings on the Internet, he told me to start a website. With the warning that if I want any of the money from the two golden gooses, meaning Las Vegas casino advertising money, I needed to kiss the golden ring of the marketing people over at MGM and Caesars marketing people.  Yea, that ain’t going to happen!!

That’s It! I will start a website talking about Las Vegas tourism and beyond!  So if I am going to build a website where I talk about Las Vegas tourism, what do I call it? Who is it for?  Hmmm…..

The Vegas Tourist was Born

Looking at the registration, I registered the domain name TheVegasTourist.com on July 4, 2006.  Why that name?

Because my first choice for a domain name, VegasTourist.com was already taken.  That domain was basically a website showing a bunch of affiliate links for Las Vegas and other cities’ hotels and shows. No real content. Wanting that name and without much more thought or reason behind it, I added the word “the” to the domain name and it worked.  Looking back, I like this name better than what I first wanted!  Fate!

Ironically, after a few months of operation and publishing some content as well as a Podcast, I was at a networking event and was talking with a group of people.  One of the men huddled in the group was raving about his new “Vegas” website and telling the others how wonderful it is and why they need to check it out and to advertise with him.

Someone asked him the name of his website and he told them  “That’s the best part, its really easy to remember.  It’s the Vegas Tourist Dot Com” .  As others were writing it down, he had to clarify that the word “the”is not part of the domain name. Causing several to ask what happens if they typed in “The Vegas Tourist Dot com”?  I smiled and said “You get my website” and I walked away smiling!!  I knew I had the better name!

 

Posted by Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony is The Vegas Tourist! Popular Tourism Ambassador, a frequent contributor to Las Vegas forums as well as travel media and bloggers. Loves to help people discover new things to see, do and experience while visiting Las Vegas and Beyond!

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