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Chris Jones

Expert: What Happens in Las Vegas Has More Options

10 May 2005

"You'd be hard-pressed to say you ever ran out of things to do there." PETER GREENBERG TRAVEL EXPERT

Las Vegas' maverick spirit has typically served it well, whether it's been for legalized gambling, relaxed liquor laws or its wink-wink attitude toward so-called "outcall dancers."

These days, the city's efforts to buck another common travel trend is enabling it to outperform most other popular destinations, noted travel expert Peter Greenberg said.

"The entire travel experience today, sadly, is more or less about taking your options away from you," said Greenberg, an author and travel editor for NBC's "Today" show. "What Las Vegas has always done -- and it's done so even better over the past 10 years -- is give you more options.

"You'd be hard-pressed to say you ever ran out of things to do there, and that leads to what everyone in Las Vegas loves to hear: people are going to come back."

Over the years, Greenberg said, this city has evolved from a place he had to cover to one he looks forward to visiting. Its transformation from a gaming-first venue to home of world-class shopping, restaurants and entertainment epitomizes the so-called "Field of Dreams" model he dismisses as a myth almost everywhere else.

"They keep building it, and people keep coming," Greenberg said. "It doesn't work in the normal paradigm of things, but Las Vegas defies the odds and the normal approach to travel and tourism. If the city builds another 50,000 rooms, it would probably fill those too."

Las Vegas last year hosted a record of nearly 37.4 million visitors, with 38.2 million projected this year. The city benefits from a three-tiered approach to visitors, Greenberg said, headed by an estimated 19 percent who were first-time visitors in 2004.

Rookie visitors, Greenberg said, "think they're breaking the rules because that's the image that Las Vegas projects." Repeat visitors understand they can't actually break rules here, Greenberg added, but they come back because, "You sure as hell can finesse (the rules)."

Greenberg's third tier includes past travelers who move here full time, thereby bolstering the local economy with added taxpayers, workers and consumers.

"You're getting growth on all of those levels," Greenberg said. "And the numbers are going to keep going up because we are addicted to travel, always have been."

The Travel Industry Association of America has projected that overall spending by domestic and international visitors in the United States will increase by 5.3 percent this year to $624 billion.

"When Sept. 11 happened and they interviewed all of the (people) who said, 'Oh, we're not traveling,' they misinterpreted that to mean that we didn't want to go," Greenberg said. "(People) were desperate to go -- we just needed to know that we could. And now that we've found out we can, we're doing it in huge numbers."

Still, Greenberg admits he's far from confident in the Transportation Security Administration, whose airport security workers are described in his new book as "Morons in Uniform."

"Airport security before Sept. 11 was nothing more than a psychological deterrent against truly emotionally disturbed people," Greenberg said. "Airport security after Sept. 11 was designed to make people who don't fly very often feel better, but the people who do fly often know better.

"What's the point of strip searching nuns looking for tweezers when they're not inspecting the cargo that's being carried on my plane? What's the point of banning cigarette lighters when you're allowing people to bring up to four books of matches on a plane?"

Greenberg, a former Newsweek correspondent, in 1980 parlayed his frequent journeys into a syndicated newspaper column.

"People don't need me to tell them that the sunset is nice in the Bahamas," Greenberg said. "What they want me to tell them is while the sun was setting in the Bahamas, the airline lost my bags, the hotel had no record of my reservation and the cab driver just took me on a 25-mile ride into town that should have been two (miles).

"It told (readers) which cruise ships had good maintenance and which didn't; which airline lied in its brochures and which didn't; or which hotels had bad water pressure and which didn't," added Greenberg, who trained in an airline flight simulator and worked with a ship's captain, among other tasks, to deepen his own understanding of how the industry functions.

Greenberg is scheduled to speak Wednesday at a luncheon sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. His remarks at the Las Vegas Hilton will be accompanied by a theatrical production illustrating how the city evolved from a small desert railroad stop to become a globally renowned travel and entertainment destination.

Tickets to the 11:30 a.m. luncheon can be purchased on site for $59. Call 641-5822 for more information