Tuesday, May 11, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Related Document (.pdf)
In the old days — say, five or 10 years ago — a resort's swimming pool was a place to park yourself, maybe indulge in an umbrella drink and build a tan before heading out to dinner, a show or gambling.
But the emergence of nightclubs — and then swimming pools as daytime extensions of nightclubs — have altered the rhythm of Vegas night life, and even led to a new category of entertainment: day life.
At one end of the Strip, impresario Steve Wynn is spending $68 million to turn a side entrance of Encore into a party pool complex featuring 26 cabanas, eight two-story, 350-square-foot bungalows, a restaurant and poolside blackjack and craps.
And at the other end of the Strip, the Tropicana will soon open a 4.2-acre pool area in association with Nikki Beach, which operates pool parties worldwide and which will tie the new pool into the hotel's South Beach-style renovation.
All told, of the seven new or expanded pool complexes opening along the Strip this summer, five are playing to the pool-party day life crowd — Aria's Liquid, a new pool complex at Caesars Palace, an expanded beach club at Hard Rock and new pools at Encore and Tropicana.
In a bruised economy, pool parties are the new revenue darlings, even if they still fall short of the kind of money raked in at the nightclubs. In this economy, everything counts, and resort owners have realized the profit of spinning off their nightclubs into dayclubs.
"At night, people come out and they're loaded to the gills and ready to spend," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of Las Vegas Advisor, an industry newsletter. "I think the thinking with day life was, 'Let's get some more of it. Not everybody is going to the clubs every night. Let some people who wouldn't normally go out to the clubs get involved in what we're doing during the day.' I think it's more an extension of the club."
As if young, hard-bodied adults needed more than other young, hard-bodied adults as an excuse to while away the day under the Las Vegas sun, these pool parties host celebrities such as Paris Hilton and performances from Snoop Dogg. They rent miniature suites in the form of cabanas with beds, flat-screen TVs and around-the-clock service. They've got their own entrance lines with velvet ropes at the door and have the ability to charge night life prices, raking in as much as some of the city's biggest nightclubs on a busy weekend afternoon.
"They've gone from being these very small places where the high roller's wife would enjoy some sun to becoming entertainment complexes," said Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner, whose resort just spent tens of millions of dollars on a pool complex.
It's a trend that started on the yachts of St. Tropez and white-sand shores of Miami's South Beach, where the partying starts during the morning hours and the booze flows straight through sundown.
Before opening Encore Las Vegas, Wynn traveled to St. Tropez to see how the French had mastered this scene.
"There's a restaurant or a swimming pool. There's a DJ. And there's everybody lying on the sand and swimming. All the yachts anchor in the afternoon off the shore and they have lunch ... It's a long, late lunch, then everybody redresses and takes a nap and then hits the club scene at 10 or 11 until four in the morning," Wynn told the Sun before Encore's opening.
Wynn has tried hard to re-create the French Riviera vibe in his nightclubs. First, Wynn opened XS, which opens directly to an adult pool during the warmer months.
And now comes his Encore Beach Club, which will be situated directly alongside the Strip — where tourists will be tantalized by the sound of DJs and splashing.
The role model for these new pools is Hard Rock's Rehab, where each Sunday hundreds line up as early as 6 a.m. to gain entrance. On this year's opening day, the party brought more than 6,000 people to the pool. Cover charges start at $20, but can range as high as $200, depending on the headlining performer. Once you're in, cabanas start at $2,000 and cocktails are as much as $25 apiece.
"I think you have to tip your hat to the Hard Rock Hotel and the Rehab, the party scene on Sundays. I think that was probably the first indication that you could make real money with pool parties," Selesner said.
"We changed the model for this town," said Phil Shalala, vice president of marketing at the Hard Rock. "We opened up our pools to noncasino guests. That was very different from anyone else in town. People kind of thought that was a no-no, but it's proven to significantly increase revenue."
And it has for Hard Rock. Food and beverage revenue grew by $4.4 million in 2009, primarily because of a $2.3 million increase at Beach Club, the property said in an annual regulatory filing.
Much of its business has become centered on Rehab. Shalala said Hard Rock's weekend check-in trend has changed, with guests checking in on Saturdays, rather than Thursdays or Fridays, and staying through Mondays to experience the debauchery at Rehab. The hotel gives its guests complimentary entry to the Sunday party.
Demand for pools at Hard Rock increased so much that it added a 2.5-acre complex with a sand-bottom pool, and another pool and its bar two stories above the main level.
Other resorts have followed suit with the day life trend. Nightclub and restaurant operator Light Group opened its first pool, Bare, at the Mirage in spring 2007 and MGM Grand opened Wet Republic in spring 2008.
Selesner said more party pools will be coming.
Caesars Palace spent about $60 million and took two years to build the Garden of the Gods complex. The resort opened five of the eight pools this summer, creating a massive three-level, 5-acre pool complex in the center of its Roman-style buildings.
"With a pool complex of this size, we can attract 5,000 to 7,000 people," Selesner said. "When those people pay their admission and have their drinks and use some of the other attractions we have going on here, that can generate a lot of revenue. But equally important to the revenue it generates, it creates a lifestyle experience that makes Las Vegas different from any other town. I think that is what is driving business in particular this summer in what is still an economically challenging period."
Selesner said the resort tried to build different environments for all of its clients — pools for families and hotel guests, secluded pools for VIPs and the adult pool party at Venus.
Venus is one of six topless pools in the Las Vegas Valley and is run by nightclub operator Pure Management Group. The price for a Venus cabana starts at $1,000 and includes a "complimentary" bottle of champagne. For another bottle, pool patrons have to pay at least $250.
"Nightclubs came to Las Vegas in a really big way 10 years ago, and in Las Vegas' continuous evolution to reinvent itself, pools have become an area of opportunity to drive marketing and incremental sources of revenue," Selesner said.
Light Group opened its second party pool at CityCenter's Aria this spring. The 16,000-square-foot complex, called Liquid, averages crowds of more than 1,000 people, but has more of a low-key and upscale vibe compared with other pool parties in town, Light Group President Jodi Myers said. Myers said a party pool such as Rehab doesn't make sense at all resorts.
"We had to be respectful of the Aria brand," Myers said.
But sometimes the pools aren't always for parties. Sometimes resort pools are just that — such as the new pools at CityCenter's resorts Aria, Vdara and Mandarin Oriental, and some of the pools at Caesars. It's all part of appealing to a range of guests.
"In the old days, the central focus was of course gambling," Selesner said. "As we've evolved over particularly the last 10 years, we're attracting people who are coming for entertainment, for nightclubs, for celebrity chefs, for shopping — and the pool has just evolved with that."