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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

Tourism: What's My Line?

15 May 2006

Strange days are coming, Las Vegas.

Strange days indeed.

Over the next week, those in the right place at the right time can spy a would-be governor changing dirty bed sheets at a busy Strip hotel.

City councilmen will bus restaurant tables as chief executive officers pull down six-figure salaries for parking cars under the hot desert sun.

And somewhere downtown, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will pour dozens of martinis -- and pass them down the bar for others to drink.

Such is the absurdity surrounding this year's National Tourism Week in Southern Nevada.

The pending turn of events were arranged by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, whose board members will temporarily join other local leaders in performing rank-and-file travel industry duties.

The job shadowing program is intended to be a fun way for local leaders to thank the community's hotel, casino, restaurant and entertainment employees and their customers. Some participants will even return to their first jobs in the hospitality industry.

"There are so many new people who have moved into Las Vegas who may not be directly employed in the travel industry. It's important for us to get the message out about the economic impact," said convention authority President Rossi Ralenkotter, who'll spend Wednesday afternoon as a Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot attendant.

The Travel Industry Association of America, a Washington-based trade group, said the U.S. tourism industry generates $1.3 trillion each year.

Last year alone, Southern Nevada's 44 million visitors had an economic impact of $38 billion.

Local room taxes generated from 1996 through 2005 provided $247.5 million for road improvements, $321 million for schools and =$477 million for local government uses.

From now through 2015, those totals are projected at $564 million, $916.5 million and $972.5 million, respectively.

"Those of us who live here benefit from the travel industry," Ralenkotter said, citing the 269,000 local tourism industry jobs, or nearly one-third of Clark County's workforce.

Added Goodman: "Without tourism, we're El Paso, (Texas). And we're not El Paso."

Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, who is not on the convention authority board, agreed to work as a chef at a tony Caesars Palace restaurant. He'll be in the kitchen at Bradley Ogden from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday.

"My family doesn't think I cook very well," Reid explained. "I'm trying to learn something."

Kidding aside, Reid said the job shadowing program highlights the daily efforts of so many local residents.

"Tourism is the driving force of our economy and there are a lot of people who work hard every day doing jobs that create tax revenue" for the community, Reid said.

Chuck Bowling, an MGM Mirage executive, will work the bell desk at MGM Grand from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday. In the process, he'll return to his professional roots.

"When I was in Atlanta (attending) Georgia State University, I worked my way through college as a bell man and front desk clerk at the Omni International, which is CNN Center now," Bowling said. "It was a tremendous opportunity to make money, and, more importantly, start my career.

"I had no idea that it would take me to the opportunities I enjoy now."

Neither did Tom Jenkin, whose first job was a fry cook at the Holiday Casino, a small Strip venue owned by Shelby and Claudine Williams. That casino is now part of Harrah's Las Vegas, and Jenkin gradually worked his way up the ranks to become president of Harrah's Entertainment's western division.

Jenkin's story is often repeated during Harrah's new employee orientations. While he's flattered, and somewhat embarrassed, by the attention that brings, Jenkin said his career demonstrates the opportunities available in the travel trade.

"There are lots of stories like mine in this company. With a little bit of luck, good timing, patience and hard work, good things can happen," said Jenkin, who will Thursday afternoon take his old position behind a frying pan, this time at Harrah's new Penazzi restaurant.

Las Vegas City Councilman Larry Brown will join the grounds crew at Cashman Center from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday.

Brown said baseball brought him to town in 1983, when he played for the Las Vegas Stars.

"These are the guys that I get to see during the baseball season, always working behind the scenes getting the field ready and making a good impression for the fans."

Goodman, who will serve his favored gin martinis from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Claude's Bar in the Golden Nugget, said he'll be lost if a customer orders another type of mixed drink.

Still, working as a bartender was a natural fit given the mayor's gift of gab and love of distilled grain beverages.

"They're the ones who really can talk with the customers," Goodman said of bartenders. "Dealers can't talk to them, pit bosses can't talk to them, but when somebody's sitting in a bar and wants to relax, the bartender -- like a psychiatrist -- can talk with them and tell them about Las Vegas."

Gibson, who is an attorney, mayor of Henderson and a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, chose to work as a housekeeper at Bally's because it brought to mind summer work he performed years ago.

While attending college, Gibson worked for a company that cleaned and resealed kitchen floors in casinos. He also loaded furniture into rooms at downtown's Plaza.

"I didn't have any fun in a casino when I was younger," said Gibson, who hopes his appearance will draw deserved attention to housekeepers, a hard-working group he said is often overlooked.

"I just hope they have (a uniform) that will fit me," said Gibson, whose Bally's shift runs from 6:30 to 9 a.m. Monday.