LAS VEGAS – Las Vegas has mostly shelved its attempt to rebrand itself as a family-friendly wonderland. But theres one exception: the dreaded holiday season, when visitor numbers crater and room vacancies soar.
In an attempt to lure tourists, Las Vegas casinos are staging increasingly elaborate holiday events.
The Bellagio has again transformed its conservatory into a faux winter wonderland featuring a 42-foot-tall Christmas tree, a life-sized candy house, a walk-through snow globe and topiary polar bears, all a few paces from the gambling floor.
The casinos famous dancing water fountains are leaping to Christmas classics, and tourists are taking photos with a 250-pound chocolate Grinch.
The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace is showing its Christmas cheer with Elf Aquarists, divers in elf-style wetsuits who feed the aquariums tropical fish during daily shows.
Perhaps the most elaborate of all the exhibits is Winter in Venice at the Venetian, which the casino advertises as a public gift in banners strung outside its ersatz Italian facade.
December is traditionally the slowest month in Las Vegas. Last year, tourist volume fell from a high of 3.53 million visitors in March to a low of 3 million visitors in December, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. November and January didnt look much better.
Keith Salwoski, spokesman for the Venetian and Palazzo hotel-casinos, said the winter extravaganza, now in its third year, has helped convince families to seriously consider a holiday vacation to Sin City.
Every photo that is shared during the holidays, for instance, helps to change the perception of the destination for the Christmas traveler. Suddenly, spending Christmas in Vegas is on the radar of travelers, he said.
Beautifully costumed actors stroll around the casino halls, greeting children and posing for silly photos with adults. Outside, a 65-foot Christmas tree made of lights shines like a beacon, tempting pedestrians to come inside.
Helen and Bob Harrison spent a recent afternoon gazing at a cluster of white birds and poinsettias arranged in front of an indoor waterfall near a bank of slot machines at the Venetian. The Wichita, Kan., couple were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary and had decided to spend the week visiting all of the Strips Christmas exhibits.
I used to work in a flower shop, and I just love this. The design that goes into it – we dont have anything like that in our city, Helen Harrison said. Its nice to not have to go to Europe to see all this stuff; it saves on travel.
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, a few blocks over, has doubled the size of its rooftop skating rink this year. Chief marketing officer Lisa Marchese said the casino is going for a ski lodge perched over the Las Vegas Strip aesthetic. Skaters can huddle around fire pits and buy smores kits for $14.