Reinvention has long been among Las Vegas' strengths and the construction cranes that hover over the Strip are symbolic of the city's ability to recast itself: a desert boomtown, gangsters' paradise, cheap getaway, family friendly playground, haven for bacchanal and an outpost of preeminent hospitality, dining and shopping. But the city may be out of aces as tourism slows, unemployment mounts, the home market craters and major projects are delayed or scrapped.
Las Vegas' emergence in the Nineties as a first-class luxury destination was perfectly timed. American and foreign fat cats alike had money to gamble away -- and developers bet the cash they didn't put down at the gaming tables would be shelled out in the glittering resorts and boutiques of Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany and HermÃ¿s, among others.
However, as excess has fallen out of fashion in the economic downturn, the game has suddenly changed.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be," said Beth Simons, who was in town recently with her husband for an orthopedic surgery conference. "We live a nice lifestyle; this is just too much. I don't know who it appeals to now."
Vegas marketers are aware that another image makeover is needed. They've resorted to a strategy of promoting the city as an affordable vacation option, and discounts abound.
"We have to remind people that we are still the Old Vegas," said Bryan Allison, vice president of marketing for Vegas.com, a travel Web site.
Vegas.com has created a deals section featuring free upgrades at Cirque du Soleil shows and hotel discounts of as much as 50 percent, along with spa, food and beverage credits.
Some retailers complain the deals are attracting the wrong crowd -- one without mountains of cash.
"Foot traffic is good because people are coming for free," said a manager at the Paris Las Vegas hotel, who declined to be named. "It doesn't mean that they are going to spend when they get here."
Las Vegas' high-end retailers insist that the draw of the best-quality products will eventually prevail. The Crystals, a luxury retail temple slated to open in 2010 as part of the multibillion-dollar CityCenter Development, is a testament to that enduring belief, despite cutbacks, delays and financial difficulties. At the same time, major casino and retail operators such as MGM Mirage, General Growth Properties Inc., Harrah's Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands are struggling to meet debt obligations.
It's a sharp reminder that what used to happen in Vegas now doesn't.
This blog was written by Anne Riley-Katz and Rachel Brown.