What is your idea of true Las Vegas excess? A chance to meet Celine Dion after her sold-out Las Vegas show? Or perhaps a doctor on hand to inject an anti-hangover dose of vitamin B after a night of hard partying? If that’s not enough, how about a chef flown in from the Middle East to serve up an authentic feast of lamb and couscous?
Las Vegas is laying out the red carpet like never before, with hoteliers turning the desert hot spot into a fantasy island. For travellers who want the most extravagant experiences, who want to be treated like Jay-Z and Beyonce, to have enhanced VIP access and every need catered to – Las Vegas is setting itself up to make it all possible.
Many of the newer and more extravagant services are targeted at high-net-worth travellers from Asia. The city now puts on a fanciful Lunar New Year celebration, while the stores in the all-luxury Crystals shopping mall, which houses some of the finest brands in the city, have at least one Chinese-speaking staff on hand at all times. The Bellagio is now home to a spectacular Diaoyutai State Guesthouse banquet, and adrenalin junkies from Asia are flocking to Dream Racing, where they can try their hand at racing high-powered Ferraris around a speedway.
But still, regardless of the visitor’s origin, Las Vegas is increasingly being seen as a city where anything is possible. A butler at the sumptuous The Villas at the Mirage – starting price: US$3,500 a night – had 12 hours to arrange for a famous magician to be flown in to perform at a young girl’s private birthday party.
Elsewhere, the occupant of the US$6,000-a-night Presidential Suite at the Bellagio hankered for exotic cuisine, and had the entire place decorated in a Middle Eastern theme, complete with a chef flown in from the region to prepare dinner for him and his guests.
“We have a whole separate part of our company that is dedicated to getting people the best experience possible,” says James Lungi, co-founder of Vegas Luxury Group VIP, which operates a little outside the fray. “It’s for people who don’t care about getting a deal. We offer them things other people can’t, treat them like superstars.” Among the requests that Lungi and his business partner, Rodric Hurdle-Bradford, regularly field include getting clients into the hottest clubs in the city – even if there are a thousand people lining up outside.
“We help them walk in the back door, get whatever table they want, meet the DJ or whoever the act is, get them super extra special attention, let them have the celebrity treatment – even if they are not a celebrity,” Lungi says.
Hurdle-Bradford adds that, given his company’s network of connections with concierges, show producers and restaurateurs, they can make just about anything happen: tickets to a sold out show, meetings with superstars afterwards, private dining at exclusive chef’s tables.
“One of the unique angles we have, especially with an Asian clientele, is letting them know where are, say, the best baccarat tables in town,” Hurdle-Bradford says. “We have a network of gambling experts from all backgrounds, and can find out the best places to play pai gow or whatever else. That kind of insider information isn’t available just anywhere.”
Of course, that level of service comes at a price: clients who book table service at the hottest nightclub might run to US$500 a bottle with a US$3,000 minimum, plus tips and tax, so it’s not inconceivable to spend US$5,000 on a night out – before even getting to dinner, which is where the services of another innovative company, Hangover Heaven, comes in.
Founded by board-certified anaesthesiologist Dr Jason Burke, the company – actually a state-of-the-art clinic on wheels, specialises in ridding hard-drinking party-goers of the excesses of the evening. For US$3,000, you can get two hours of treatments on the luxury bus parked outside the party venue/hotel bar/ club. After one too many cocktails, step out to the bus and get some anti-nausea pills, an IV treatment of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, and B-12 shots. If the bus, which has the name of the company emblazoned on the front, is a bit too indiscreet, Burke and his staff can arrange VIP service in-room. “There are a lot of hangovers in Las Vegas,” Burke says. “We have our routine clients but there are also a lot of VIPs and high rollers who want to get treated in the comfort of their room. “And there’s always a difference between how people of different cultures and ethnicities respond to drinking.”
Patients he has tended to from Southeast Asia and Japan often experience “Asian flush” after drinking, as a result of an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body.
“It causes a lot of misery associated with hangovers, very quickly,” Burke says. “They can go from being fine to being hungover after one or two drinks.” Burke is looking at opportunities to franchise the business in cities such as Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai.
Still, outside of excessive drinking, there are plenty of other reasons to come to Las Vegas – shopping not least among them.
Crystals, which bills itself as the only all-luxury retailer in the US, specifically focuses on brands that have a passionate following in China, says the mall’s general manager, Farid Matraki.
“When brands come in and want to open here, one of our questions is ‘how strong are you in Asia?’,” he says.
“If they don’t have a following there, most of the time we are not interested.”
Tourism from Asia is on the up: about 1million visitors a year are Asian or Asian American, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Shopping, dining out – authentic Chinese cuisine and gastronomic French and Italian fare, and of course indulging in some sophisticated gaming – are at the top of their agendas. Matraki says he can at least take care of the shopping part of things. As a result, Louis Vuitton, one of the most popular luxury brands in Asia, has its biggest store in North America at Crystals, and will soon expand to be more than 30,000 sq ft. The same goes for Hermès, Prada, Gucci, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels – their outposts at Crystals are among the largest in their portfolios. Valentino and Loro Piana will also open later this year.
Crystals’ focus on that market is paying off; shoppers from Asia make up between 25 and 30 per cent of the mall’s customers but account for fully half of the revenue. Being part of MGM Resorts International, which also owns prestige properties like the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay, gives Crystals almost unfettered access to high-net-worth guests who get the white glove treatment even while shopping. “Whatever the customer requires – someone to walk with them, to translate – we take care of it,” Matraki says. “I have walked with customers myself, introduced them to store managers, helped them choose pieces, make sure they have the best experience. Every store in the mall has to have at least one Chinese speaking staff at all times, and other staff speak Korean and Japanese.”
The extravagance is, not surprisingly, spilling over into everything else. Former professional race car driver Enrico Bertaggia recently set up Dream Racing in Las Vegas, allowing takers to sign up for a Full Throttle package, which includes private helicopter rides, simulator training and then laps at up to 322 kilometres per hour on the speedway in a Ferrari F430 GT – for US$5,500. “These cars are not street legal, and are for people who are passionate about cars,” he says, adding that customers can also choose from a stable of Porsches and Lamborghinis. “Many times, they enjoy it so much they come back.”
More attention is also being paid to fine dining. Last month, the Bellagio hosted a series of dinners showcasing the cuisine of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse of Beijing. The gourmet feast, prepared by executive chef Hao Baoli, who has cooked for more than 1,000 world leaders, was priced at US$500 a person.
“If we know one thing about our Chinese guests, it’s that they enjoy their traditional cuisine,” says Scott Voeller, vice-president of brand strategy and advertising for MGM Resorts International. “So we’ve made sure that we have an incredible line-up of restaurants at our luxury properties, from Pearl at the MGM to Jasmine at the Bellagio.”
High-end eateries such as Joel Robuchon and Le Cirque always have waiting lists, and hotel staff have been trained to rearrange hotel furniture for high-networth visitors if need be, not to mention have a specific floral arrangement picked out, or an eclectic beverage.
“It’s not unusual for us to fly our VIP customers in,” he adds. “It’s about anticipating their every need, and then delivering.”