No major city in America has reinvented itself as many times, especially in such a short period, as Las Vegas. Just look at the recent decades. In the ’80s, it was a discount afterthought. In the ’90s, it was family and theme heaven. The new millennium brought in ultra-luxury and sky-high prices on everything from rooms to shampoo in the sundry stores.
For the better part of the 2000s, the watchword was “expensive.” The average room rate soared to over $200 a night, significantly higher than what visitors, once lulled by lower double-digit bargains, were used to paying. It was not unusual for the high-end hotels to charge $400 or even $500 for a standard room.
And why not? The crowds kept coming. Occupancy rates in Vegas were well over 90%, nearly 30% higher than the national average. Flush with big returns on their stock investments, equity in their homes, or simply easy-flowing credit, those who could afford it flocked to the city in record numbers, generating record profits for the casinos. Vegas became hip, drawing a younger and more affluent demographic that lined up to pay for the fancy hotel rooms, the exclusive nightclubs, the celebrity-chef restaurants, and the high-limit gaming tables.
The Average Joe, on the other hand, got priced right out of town. For a lot of people—the people whose money had helped build those massive hotels and casinos—the idea of a Vegas vacation became cost-prohibitive.
But then came the global economic meltdown and Vegas was hit hard. The number of visitors coming to the city dropped dramatically, and those who came spent a lot less money in the casinos. By 2010, the average room rate plunged to the lowest level in nearly a decade and more rooms were going empty, with occupancy rates in the low 80% range—still good when compared to the national average, but scary for a city that depends on filling those rooms to keep its economy going.
Many gaming companies fell into bankruptcy, and while their casinos have remained open, their bank accounts have slammed shut. Just like many Americans who ran up too much credit-card debt or maxed out their home equity, the gaming companies are operating under obligations that run into the billions, and they are having a hard time paying the bills.
As the national economy improved and we moved into the second decade of the new millennium, so did the Las Vegas economy. Visitation and occupancy rates perked up, and people seemed to be willing to spend money again. As importantly, Vegas reinvented itself once again, becoming a major venue for music festivals and nightlife, and drawing younger crowds than it had in decades.
In the long run, this could wind up being good news for Average Joe tourist and music lovers. Room rates have remained lower, and most of the new stuff planned for the city—attractions, shows, concert venues, restaurants, and so on—is aimed squarely at the midmarket crowd. While rates will certainly go up as the economy improves, the hotel companies are skittish about the idea of returning them to their sky-high levels because they are worried that the national mood of extravagant spending has changed.
Welcome back, Joe. Las Vegas has missed you.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.