Kirvin Doak Communications
Tuesday, June 8, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
Forget those small but well-stocked minibars and glittering views. Las Vegas hotel rooms may soon be known for their well-appointed kitchens — places where visitors can avoid the town’s staggering array of high-priced restaurants and watering holes by eating meals prepared in their rooms and guzzling mass quantities of chilled, store-bought booze.
The real estate crash and accompanying tourism downturn in Las Vegas have pummeled demand for condo-hotels, the hotel-managed condominiums many buyers purchased as investments. The rooms in these hybrids resemble those in hotels in every way, but also have kitchenettes.
The operators of struggling hotels aren’t welcoming the new competition from properties such as Vdara, a 1,495-unit condo-hotel at CityCenter. Its CEO Bobby Baldwin recently said he expects buyers to close escrow on only 175 of those units, with the rest expected to be owned and rented by the company just like any of the other Las Vegas hotel rooms owned by parent company MGM Mirage.
Such rooms are sometimes overlooked in the usual discussion of supply and demand because they are purchased by individuals who supposedly use them throughout the year like a reserved hotel room. In reality, many owners of condo-hotel units rarely use them and instead bought them as investments expecting to generate a steady stream of rental income.
Similarly, the under-construction Cosmopolitan is expected to rent all but 315 of its 2,200 condo-hotel units nightly when the 3,000-room property opens in December. Like Vdara, many condo-hotel buyers refused to close escrow on their units and instead filed suit to recover their deposits. Of the total, 315 units are still under contract to be sold to buyers who opted out of a class-action settlement.
“We are taking all steps necessary to complete, deliver and implement a condo-hotel program for these units, in anticipation that the remaining buyers will close per their original contracts. Regarding the rooms which are not part of the condo-hotel program, we feel that the Cosmopolitan will offer a unique experience that does not yet exist in the Las Vegas market,” spokeswoman Amy Rossetti said.
Condo-hotel units that didn’t sell at Trump International and Palms Place have also become part of those hotels’ rental inventory, to be occupied by visitors rather than owners.
Including the time-share tower PH Towers Westgate, which has become a hotel expansion of Planet Hollywood, all of these projects account for more than 5,000 new hotel rooms at a time when there aren’t enough visitors to go around.
The Strip kitchens may not be like yours at home. For one thing, Vdara isn’t expecting to stock plates and silverware, which will be available upon request.
Aria's high-roller gambling business was a small bright spot in the property’s otherwise poor performance in the first quarter.
CityCenter’s hotel-casino captured 8 percent of the Strip’s high-rolling baccarat business, adding to MGM Mirage’s increasing market share in this segment, MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren said last month. With Aria, the company has about 47 percent of that business, up from 37.5 percent a year ago, he said.
Asian gamblers appreciate the high-roller pit being so close to restaurants and the private entrance, lobby and elevators leading to Aria’s penthouse suites for big players, Murren said.
The high-limit areas “are very opulent and forward-thinking and incorporate design elements from Macau,” he said.
More hotels are going “green” with recycled carpeting, sustainable woods and organic paints. Less sexy, but no less important, are other improvements under way in hotel rooms worldwide.
Hotels are installing directional bedside lighting as consumers seek better reading light than those offered by traditional lamps that shine brightest vertically, according to executives at last month’s Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas.
Some properties are ditching traditional, padded desk chairs for more comfortable ergonomic chairs that can conform to different body types. Others are adopting conveniently located media panels for various electronic devices, such as cameras, laptops and BlackBerrys. The all-important bathroom is getting high-end fixtures and, in some cases, tiled walls that look fresher and clean easier than wall coverings.
High-end hotel customers also want variety and local color, and not necessarily uniformity, within a single chain of properties, executives said.
This means more hotels elsewhere will be grabbing some of Las Vegas’ claim to fame, where big corporations own many hotels, each offering a different style and flavor.
Hotel companies based outside of Las Vegas say their properties’ unique environments are designed to reflect each location’s natural or urban surroundings — a technique for which Las Vegas, with its fantasy themes, is not known.
Customers want localization, not globalization, Dana Kalczak, vice president of design and construction for Four Seasons, said at the conference.