Cary Grant to Elvis: Sahara bets on storied history

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LAS VEGAS -- The Sahara Hotel and Casino is unique in many ways, from its exterior signage (complete with the famed camels) to its Moroccan-themed casino, whose not-so-subtle decor includes crystal chandeliers, gold-painted ceilings, stained glass and mosaic tiles.

Still, what sets the Sahara apart from just about every other property on the Strip is its 51-year history.

Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Spencer Tracy stayed here; Tony Bennett, Marlene Dietrich and Don Rickles made their Las Vegas debuts here; and Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret filmed parts of "Viva Las Vegas" here.

Now that's impressive -- at least, Sahara hotel officials hope clients think so.

The property, which opened in 1952, is one of the few remaining hotel-casinos in Las Vegas with a past, according to Susan Schulz, director of hotel operations.

Besides that, Schulz said, what has contributed most to the property's longevity is its reputation, name recognition and the value guests receive when they stay here. Average room rates range from $45 to $50 per night.

"That's definitely a great value," said Michele Yegge, the Sahara's director of sales.

So much so that guests keep returning year after year.

While gaming still is a big draw, the Sahara Hotel and Casino also offers guests a glimpse into Las Vegas' past. "We have a large repeat clientele that is loyal to the Sahara," Schulz said. "They enjoy the old Vegas feel [of the property] and want good value -- but at the same time they are looking for fun and excitement."

According to Yegge, "The nostalgic feel is something that people really enjoy. One of our showrooms features black-and-white photos of celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor, and people just love looking at them. It kind of gives you a feel that it's traditional Vegas."

While long-time clients have become part of the Sahara's demographic fabric, they are by no means the only group to whom the property appeals.

"We appeal to the younger age group as well as the middle," Schulz said. "We have a good mix of mostly leisure travelers. We're not homing in on one market."

To keep things fresh, the property periodically updates its public spaces, something that's been done fairly recently, according to Schulz.

The Casbar Lounge recently was renovated, and the Sahara Steakhouse -- formerly known as the House of Lords during its Rat Pack heyday -- has reverted to its original moniker. (See House of Lords serves up nostalgia.)

In August, Schulz said, the Sahara will embark on a renovation of the 1,100-room Tangiers Tower that is expected to last until December.

Besides standard and deluxe room categories, the property offers several types of suites, including mini and one-, two- and three-bedroom models.

Room rates usually are commissionable at 10%; however, through September, the property offers an increased commission program for travel agents that features 20% commission on deluxe room bookings.

To receive the increased pay, agents must book directly with the hotel via telephone or, in the case of a group, through the sales department, and mention Code 20%, Yegge said.

"If they mention that code, they'll get that commission, but rooms can't be booked on the GDS or online," she said. "They have to be phone bookings."

Construction also is continuing on the property's monorail station which, when the Las Vegas monorail begins operations in January, will make the Sahara the route's northernmost point.

In other news, the Sahara's parent company, Gordon Gaming, is seeking to evict the 75,000-square-foot Nascar Cafe from the property. Schulze and Yegge declined to comment.

For more information about the Sahara, call (888) 686-2121 or visit www.saharavegas.com.

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