You might not know it, but your mom’s favorite singer also happens to be one of the world’s best-selling recording artists of all-time, and the woman that potentially saved Las Vegas. While she is best known for her soaring vocals, powerful ballads, and French-Canadian accent, Celine Dion also holds the record for Las Vegas’ two highest grossing concert residencies. Her shows pumped millions into the local economy and more importantly, started a trend that put Las Vegas back on the map for a whole new generation of travelers.
Las Vegas has experienced many booms and busts in its illustrious history as Sin City, an oasis in the desert for all that entertains and excites. Once known as the home of Frank Sinatra and Elvis, Vegas slowly lost ground as more and more casinos opened up around the US. Whether on Native American lands or in states that legalized gambling, more competitors than ever entered the space with the hope of capturing a piece of the lucrative gambling and travel market. Consumers were the real victors as competition drove prices down and casinos were forced to adapt and find new ways to attract customers or feel the pinch of dwindling revenues. So what steps did Vegas take to change, renew and drive popularity up and competition down ?
Collaborating to Beat the Competition
For years, Vegas had catered only to gamblers and had a reputation as an adults-only haven, leading to stagnant visitor numbers and gaming revenues, the most important indicator for a city built on casinos. Sin City needed a rebrand and a jolt in the arm or they would be left behind in the desert, and a Canadian chanteuse was just what the doctor ordered.
Around the turn of the century, Cirque du Soleil was redefining Vegas shows in terms of production value and creativity. Celine’s husband and manager, Rene Angelil, was a notorious gambler who loved Las Vegas, and went to see O at the Bellagio. He struck a deal with former Cirque creative director Franco Dragone to create “a fusion of song, performance art, innovative stage craft and state-of-the-art technology” that had never been seen before. Caesar’s Palace even built a brand-new, $108 million theater, the most expensive venue in Vegas, that featured the world’s largest LED screen, for the new show. Many critics thought the three-year deal for a concert residency was career suicide, and predicted that the show would be a flop. 717 concerts, almost 3 million spectators, and $385 million in ticket sales later, A New Day… would go on to become the highest-grossing residency of all-time, eclipsing the Rat Pack and Elvis combined. When Celine left Vegas in 2008, the global economy tanked and hit Vegas especially hard, leading to $6 billion in lost casino revenues and 14% unemployment. Her return in 2011 was seen as a life raft, with UNLV estimating that she would pump $114 million per year into the local economy. She achieved that and more, selling a further $265 million in tickets alone and ushering in a new era in Las Vegas entertainment.
While Celine was the first performer to take advantage of all that Las Vegas had to offer, she helped many other stars see the built-in advantages that were there, waiting to be tapped. In part two of this blog, we’ll look at how the city itself became a hub for innovation and collaboration not just in entertainment, but in other industries as well.