Desert attractions up, rates at hotels down

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LAS VEGAS -- The economic downturn and the sputtering travel industry mean that agents have an opportunity to sell the spontaneity of Las Vegas, according to Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage, which owns Bellagio, MGM Grand, the Mirage, Treasure Island and the Golden Nugget.

Unlike in recent years, agents can successfully pitch a Vegas trip to their clients on a Tuesday, and the customer could be rolling the dice at the craps table that Saturday.

"From the customer's point of view, it's a great time to come," said Feldman, who added that the firm is focusing more on drive markets, particularly Arizona and California, and short-haul air markets like Denver, Salt Lake City and Seattle.

Rates also are down compared with last year. MGM Mirage rates from late October were as low as $159 for midweek accommodations at Bellagio and $79 at the Mirage. Although business might be off, there are still things happening in the desert, with an assortment of new restaurants and attractions at Vegas hotels, not to mention some new rooms.

The Mirage, on the Strip, will complete an extensive room renovation in March. At the Mirage, MGM Mirage recently began a major room renovation that is projected to be finished in March. It is the second full-scale room renovation since the hotel opened in 1989.

The $32 million cost covers all of the hotel's 2,767 rooms, which will be given one of two color schemes -- soft yellow or cranberry. Among furnishings added will be armoires placed in all rooms and two phones with dual lines.

The Mirage also opened a 90,000-square-foot events center in April, bringing the property to more than 170,000 square feet. The center can be subdivided into ballrooms of 10,000, 30,000 or 60,000 square feet.

At Bellagio, the firm's most upscale hotel and casino, new features include a restaurant called Nectar and a nightclub named Light. Light is based on clubs of the same name in New York and the Hamptons on Long Island.

Nectar, which opened in late August, has a diverse menu, with such items as fried green tomatoes, spare rib salad and buffalo mahi mahi.

Through Jan. 6, Bellagio will host Cheval, an equestrian show that features 30 horses and 27 human performers. Tickets start at $49 for adults and $30 for children.

MGM Grand added a new restaurant of its own, Nobhill, which opened its doors in July. The venue tries to replicate a dining experience from San Francisco, with cuisine created mainly from ingredients from the Bay Area.

Art fans have a new attraction to consider in Las Vegas, the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, which is housed at the Venetian. The exhibition space, which opened in early October, has more than 63,000 square feet and is hosting the "The Art of the Motorcycle" exhibition.

The museum is a collaboration between the Guggenheim Foundation, which operates the New York museum of the same name, and the Hermitage, the massive collection in St. Petersburg, Russia. Exhibitions at the space, at the front of the Venetian, will last about six months.

Another exhibition focuses on impressionist and early modern paintings from the collections of both museums. The show will feature works by Chagall, van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso and Cezanne, among others. Admission is $15 for adults, $11 for students and $7 for children ages 6 through 12.

For more information, visit www.guggenheimlasvegas.org.

Caesars Palace, which is owned by Park Place Entertainment, will pay 12% commission to agents for stays completed by the end of the year. Park Place also is investing $65 million to build a 4,000-seat theater, scheduled for completion in 2003.

The facility will be known as -- what else? -- the Colosseum. The property recently finished remodeling 600 guest rooms. Caesars Palace also added two new restaurants and a 49,000-square-foot event pavilion. For reservations, call (800) 634-6661.

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