Las Vegas: The next Detroit?

Well the news from Las Vegas just keeps getting darker.  Gaming revenue was down 15% and tourism was down by 10% in November.  The bad news is that December numbers will probably be bleaker.  It was the 11th straight month of continuing declining numbers.

People who are actually visiting Las Vegas are not spending the large amounts of money they once did.  The Consumer Electronic Show is reporting a decline of 30,000 people at the show last week.

All this bleak news got me wondering if Las Vegas is headed the way of Detroit.  Despite its protests to the contrary, Las Vegas has for too long depended upon the gaming industry.  It seems the only way the City and the County know how to market themselves is to encourage people to come to Las Vegas and gamble.

Like Detroit and the automobile industry, Las Vegas and the gaming industry are linked together when the economy turns sour.  Gaming revenues and tourism numbers are at lows not seen since 2004.

They keep hoping that upcoming conventions will staunch the flow but with CES reporting 30,000 fewer people, chances are the upcoming conventions will all be reporting fewer people.

Taxes on gaming revenues are down over 20% due from last year.  CityCenter is pulling back on the number of condo towers they are going to have.  Boyd Gaming is keeping a skeleton crew going on the Echelon but it is basically not moving forward at any great speed.  The Manhattanization of Las Vegas has come up against the bursting of the housing market bubble.

The sad part is that it doesn't have to be this way.  The Las Vegas Valley has a myraid of ways it could be promoted.  There's Lake Mead and Hoover Dam.  The Dam is  one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century and should be on more Americans must-see list.

There are history museums devoted to Natural History and early Las Vegas history.  There is a museum dedicated to Atomic Testing.  You can even sign up and take a tour of the Nevada Test Site.  There are art museums, a children's museum, historical neighborhoods, walking tours and driving tours.  You could spend a day at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve walking along nature trails and learning more about the importance of water to the desert.

There are day trips to the Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon, Mt. Charleston, Bonnie Springs Ranch.  You can tour the old Techatticup Mine in Nelson.

The point is if Las Vegas wants to continue to tie its fortunes to gaming then it has to wake up and realize that the good times are not endless.  They are like Detroit in that they are a company town with the majority of their tax revenues, jobs and financial well-being all tied to one industry and when that industry takes a dive it takes the economic health of the town with it.

It's time that the City of Las Vegas, the County and the Convention Authority realized that Las Vegas has much more to offer visitors than just gaming.  Whether its the area around Fremont Street or the Strip, Las Vegas has culture, the arts and cultural tourism that has for too long been ignored due to the thinking that gaming is the end all and be all of what Las Vegas is all about.

After 11 months of bad news and with more coming in the months ahead (because the economy is not going to turn around overnight) now would be good time to rethink the idea of tourism in Las Vegas before it's too late.

The auto industry is getting a federal bail-out and Detroit will get a reprieve.  A federal bailout for the gaming industry is a pipe dream that isn't going to happen any time soon.  If Las Vegas doesn't want to be left in the ashes of history, it's time to start thinking of other ways to promote the town so that all the eggs aren't in one basket.

Cultural tourism should be at the top of the list of ways to promote the town that don't include gaming.