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December 20, 2014

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TOURISM:

Successful Hollywood movies continue to sell Las Vegas

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FRANK MASI / WARNER BROS.

The Hangover” actors, from left, Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha, appear in a scene at Caesars Palace’s reception area.

Ever since “The Hangover” debuted in June 2009, people from all over the world have gone to Caesars Palace to book a night at the suite where members of a bachelor party woke up from a night of debauchery they couldn’t remember.

And Caesars employees are frequently asked, “This isn’t the real Caesars Palace is it? Did Caesar live here?” That was a line from “Hangover” character Alan Garner, portrayed by funnyman Zach Galifianakis, when the group checked in.

No, Caesar didn’t live there. And “The Hangover” suite, an amalgamation of three Caesars suites and a little Hollywood magic, existed only on a soundstage in Southern California.

But that hasn’t stopped tourists from asking about it and wanting to get a look at some of the places they saw in the movie, which grossed $467.4 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, and is considered the most successful R-rated comedy in history.

Debbie Munch, Harrah’s Entertainment’s vice president of public relations in Las Vegas, said guests from Israel to Australia have made trips just to see the infamous “Hangover” suite in Caesars Palace.

“ ‘The Hangover’ turned out to be a great opportunity for us to show off Caesars Palace as it is today,” said Munch, who has worked at Caesars and its sister properties for 27 years. “This compares to the ‘Rain Man’ phenomenon. Even today, we get requests for the ‘Rain Man’ suite.”

The Academy Award-winning “Rain Man,” a 1988 drama that starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, included shots in Caesars’ two-level Emperors Suite featuring a floor-to-ceiling glass wall and a stunning view of the Strip.

“The Hangover” and “Rain Man” were just two of scores of films and television shows shot at Nevada locations. The Nevada Economic Development Commission’s film office, is aggressively pursuing more projects.

Charlie Geocaris, film office director, said film production generates revenue for the state as well publicity it could only dream of generating on its own budget.

“Last year was the 10th consecutive year that production revenue reached more than $100 million for the calendar year,” Geocaris recently told the Economic Development Commission.

In 2009, productions in the state generated $102.5 million, down from the $110 million in 2008 and off from the high-water mark of $135 million in 2001. Geocaris said the film office spent $882,135 in its budget in 2009, resulting in a return on investment of $116.15 collected for every dollar spent.

Since the office was established in 1982, film and media production generated $1.9 billion in revenue for Nevada companies. On average, 400 productions a year film in the state — from the high-profile feature films and television shows to music videos and TV commercials. Geocaris’ four-person team helps companies find appropriate locations to shoot and steer out-of-state companies to Nevada-based production facilities and vendors.

The film office publishes a Nevada Production Directory that lists the vendors and contacts in the state so that professionals from Hollywood and beyond can find local help.

The office also sponsors a screenwriting contest that this year had an Aug. 31 deadline. The rules assure the state will get business — 75 percent of the locations in a script must be filmable in Nevada.

One thing that Nevada doesn’t have is incentives for film production — an issue that would have to be addressed by lawmakers. Nevada is one of six states that don’t offer some form of incentive to lure film companies. Some, of course, would argue that Nevada doesn’t need to offer incentives since many filmmakers have a fascination with the state, particularly Las Vegas, and would come anyway.

Although the office can measure how much film production means in revenue to local vendors, it’s a little harder to gauge the effect on tourism popular movies have.

Other states and countries have chronicled tourism success stories. New Zealand attributes a 40 percent increase in tourism since 2001 to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Preston, Idaho, has a “Napoleon Dynamite Festival” since the release of the offbeat 2004 film. And 65,000 people a year travel to Iowa to see a baseball field surrounded by cornfields, just as James Earl Jones as Terence Mann predicted they would in 1989’s “Field of Dreams.”

Television shows have scored some big tourism points for Las Vegas. The original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” developed by Chaparral High and UNLV graduate Anthony Zuiker, has spawned the interactive “CSI: The Experience” that opened at the MGM Grand a year ago. In 2009, “CSI” was watched by 15.8 million viewers a week, and MGM Grand says hundreds of thousands of visitors have found their way to the $5 million, 12,000-square-foot CSI attraction.

“Pawn Stars,” the History Channel’s highest-rated show with 5.1 million viewers per episode, draws hundreds of fans to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop on Las Vegas Boulevard South every day.

And then there’s “The Hangover,” a film I criticized when it came out because of its stereotypical treatment of residents, and the attitude it projected that it’s OK to be stupid and out of control in Las Vegas. After writing that, many suggested to me that I lighten up.

Maybe it’s easier to lighten up knowing that Caesars Palace gets so many requests for a suite that doesn’t exist from people willing to pay $4,000 a night for the place.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who heads the Economic Development Commission and sat in on Geocaris’ report on the film office and tourism, quipped: “$4,000 a night? Is that with or without the tiger?”

Allegiant Air cyber mystery

Jeff Timmons of Toronto was minding his own business on his home computer recently when he received an e-mail from Allegiant Air sharing with him the itinerary of an Allegiant customer for a future flight.

Timmons, who works in the banking industry and immediately recognized the seriousness of what had happened, played phone tag for nearly a week before finally reaching someone at the Las Vegas-based airline who would listen to him about his concern.

“I guess if I were in their position, I’d be pretty anxious to find out what I had and what happened,” said Timmons, who has never been an Allegiant customer and had never heard of the airline before getting the e-mail.

He said the e-mail included the last four digits of a credit card number and every detail about where and when the customer was flying. He said the e-mail address of the customer was nothing close to his, so he didn’t figure it was typographical error by the customer or someone who input the information.

“I didn’t know anything about the company, but I know if it were my information going to someone I didn’t know, I’d be concerned,” Timmons said. “I guess it really concerned me that the first people I talked to kind of shrugged it off.”

Jordan McGee, director of corporate communications for Allegiant’s parent company, Allegiant Travel Co., acknowledged the incident and said the customer was notified and wasn’t overly concerned about what had happened.

McGee said Allegiant’s cyber sleuths are at work trying to find out how someone with no previous contact with the airline could have been e-mailed a customer’s itinerary.

Southwest to Newark

Southwest Airlines, the busiest air carrier at McCarran International Airport, has negotiated a lease agreement with Continental Airlines that would enable Southwest to operate up to 18 round trips a day from Newark, N.J.

The lease at Liberty International Airport is contingent on the closing of the proposed merger between Continental and United by Nov. 30. The Justice Department has given its blessing to the merger.

Bob Jordan, Southwest’s vice president of strategy and planning, said the deal opens the door to starting service to Newark in March with the maximum number of flights available by June.

“We are excited by the opportunity to initiate service from Newark, N.J., and we plan to enable that service starting next March through continued flight schedule optimization using our existing fleet,” Jordan said in a release. “We’ve seen tremendous demand for Southwest Airlines in the New York City-Newark area in the past year.”

Liberty International is just west of New York City.

Dallas-based Southwest said it is working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the New York Port Authority and New Jersey and Continental and United to complete arrangements for beginning service, including acquisition of gates and facilities.

Details on what cities Southwest would serve from Newark, fares and when service would begin have not been determined.

Las Vegas is one of Southwest’s largest markets and the airline frequently offers nonstop round trips to Las Vegas when entering new markets.

Southwest offers a nonstop round trip between Las Vegas and Long Island’s MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y., but that service will end Nov. 7 when the next schedule takes effect.

Southwest also flies into LaGuardia International Airport, but is restricted from offering a nonstop route to Las Vegas by perimeter rules imposed by the Port Authority.

Continental, the only carrier offering nonstop flights between Newark and Las Vegas, operates an average of six flights a day on the route. Continental customers often connect through Newark on trips to Europe.

United has not announced what it plans to do with the routes it and Continental have in Newark, but some analysts have speculated they would decrease their presence there and focus on United’s hub in Washington.

“The divestiture of (takeoff and landing) slots at Newark by the combined Continental-United will ensure competition is enhanced and we appreciate the Department of Justice’s role in finding a fair solution,” Jordan said.

Southwest operates 217 flights a day in and out of Las Vegas, according to McCarran figures, by far the most by any carrier.

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