Observing Las Vegas: Part 1

Earlier this month, I spent five days wandering around Las Vegas as one of the approximately 153,000 attendees of the CES trade show. For those not involved in the tech industry (or who don't care about tech at all), this is the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which exists to help vendors promote their new and upcoming product lines to buyers, sellers, journalists and other tech professionals.

Like thousands of others, I stared at the elaborate booths and less elaborate booths, and met with vendors who tried to convince me that their new products were the best thing since the vacuum tube. I also tried to simultaneously get from point A to point B, check where my next appointment was, figure out how late I was, and examine some of the other booths around me without crashing into too many other people doing exactly the same thing.

However, one thing I like to try to notice when I go each year isn't how the tech industry is doing, but how Las Vegas itself is doing. Over the years I've been going there — first, for the Comdex industry show and now for CES — the city has undergone several phases. When I started, it was just starting its "Las Vegas is for families" phase; building hotels like New York New York and MGM that were made to appeal to both parents and kids; building amusement parks in the back of hotels (I think it was at the MGM, but I don't remember for sure)… While the gambling and other adult entertainments were still there, the newer hotels were pushing for a cleaner look.

After a while, that waned, and somebody decided that Las Vegas was the town for sophisticated high rollers. They forgot about families with kids and started building hotels that were absolutely for adults: huge, glitzy, and featured expensive shops and gilded hotels/gambling areas. The result was hotels like the Aria and the Wynn, where the shops and the restaurants are Fifth Avenue prices and higher.

Unfortunately for Vegas, it was about this time that the economy crashed. Building projects stopped dead; conventions were cancelled or cut down drastically on the number of hotel rooms needed (I remember two years ago when all the inflated hotel prices were suddenly cut in a desperate effort to stop the number of attendees who were backing out). And pushing high-class and high-cost hotels and restaurants turned out to be one of the worst-timed moves that any city could make.

So what is Las Vegas like now? From my point of view, not nearly as healthy or as much fun as it was. And I'm stressing that it's from my point of view, because there are several factors that are affecting my opinion, including the hotel I stayed at, looking around the city as I drove from hotel to hotel, talking to cab drivers (one of my favorite activities in Las Vegas), observing the number of people in the casinos…

But enough for now. I'll continue on this theme later…

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