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Renovating hotels to compete in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS - With about $2 billion in new hotels and renovations in 2013 and continuing into the new year, Las Vegas wants to make sure its rooms are the nicest in the country, as competition for tourists intensifies.

LAS VEGAS - With about $2 billion in new hotels and renovations in 2013 and continuing into the new year, Las Vegas wants to make sure its rooms are the nicest in the country, as competition for tourists intensifies.

Casino hotels up and down the Strip have done more than freshen bedsheets. They've either remodeled, refurbished, or rebranded; added amenities and topflight chefs; or, as in at least one example, added a hotel within a hotel - to be different.

"What makes Las Vegas a premier tourist destination is the fact that it is always changing, adding new attractions, and enhancing older ones with the goal of providing guests with a new or different experience with each visit," said Kevin Bagger, senior director of strategic research and analytics, at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority - the resort's chief marketing arm.

As more states offer casino gambling, Bagger said, the upgrades were another way for Vegas to distinguish itself as a true vacation destination.

"Las Vegas has long been more than a gaming destination, and there's no other place that can match the overall value and variety of experiences in Vegas," he said. "Recent [hotel] renovations are part of the ongoing evolution of Las Vegas over the years to offer a diverse collection of amenities that appeal to a wide range of guests."

The Vegas room count as of March was 150,454. By 2014, that will grow to 153,373, thanks to new hotels, such as the $100 million Downtown Grand Las Vegas - formerly the Lady Luck Hotel & Casino - at 206 N. Third St.

The 634-room Downtown Grand opened in October as the first new hotel in historic downtown Las Vegas in nearly three decades, and was designed to encourage exploration of its surrounding neighborhood.

"Las Vegas is a city that is constantly reinventing itself to cater to the evolving and growing interests of the city's 40 million tourists," said Seth Schorr, chief executive officer of the Downtown Grand, where the average rate is $69 weekday and $109 weekend.

Fall 2014 will see the completion of SLS Las Vegas, a rebranding of the old 1952 Sahara Hotel Casino. The new luxury boutique hotel and casino will offer 1,600 guest rooms and suites, 30,000 square feet of meeting space, and acclaimed restaurant and nightlife brands.

MGM Resorts Inc., which owns some of the ritziest properties on the Strip, recently renovated two of them, MGM Grand and Bellagio.

In 2012, the company invested $160 million to redesign all of MGM Grand's 4,200 guest rooms and suites in the main tower and added new bars, restaurants, a nightclub, and more. In the last two years, it invested $110 million in a complete redesign of nearly 4,000 rooms in both the Bellagio tower and spa tower.

Next year, it plans to transform the all-suite THEhotel at Mandalay Bay into Delano Las Vegas. The new hotel will open in third quarter 2014 and feature an entirely new suite design.

"Las Vegas is an incredibly competitive hotel market, offering a tremendous variety of wonderful options for visitors," MGM Resorts spokeswoman Jenn Michaels said. "Room product is at the top of the list of deciding factors for guests in choosing a hotel."

Michaels said that more than 60 percent of MGM Resorts' revenue in Vegas comes from non-gaming activities, including overnight stays. That figure is comparable to the rest of Las Vegas, where the mix is now 36 percent gaming to 64 percent nongaming revenue.

In the last 36 months, Caesars Entertainment Inc. - which owns nine Vegas casinos - has invested a billion dollars in developing new properties and enhancing existing ones in Sin City. They include a $32 million renovation of 756 rooms at Bally's Las Vegas.

In February, it completed the 181-room-and-suite Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace, a $30 million renovation of the casino's former Centurion Tower. The project introduced a boutique hotel-within-a-hotel concept, where chef Nobu Matsuhisa offers in-room dining featuring his renowned cuisine. This is Matsuhisa's first hotel venture and includes actor Robert De Niro and Caesars Palace as partners. Average daily rate is $249 weekday and $349 weekend.

Early next year, Caesars Entertainment will open the Strip's first stand-alone boutique hotel, a $185 million project that will occupy the former site of Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon. The hotel, yet to be named, will feature 188 rooms and suites, a restaurant concept from chef and television personality Giada De Laurentiis, and a nightclub by Victor Drai.

"Nobu Hotel and the new boutique hotel are good examples of the type of savvy development and building that will predominate in Las Vegas over the next few years," said Phil Auerbach, Caesars Entertainment's senior vice president of hospitality marketing. "Rather than building new mega-towers as in years past, the new generation of Las Vegas visitor is looking for unique, unexpected experiences."

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