VEGAS.com Press Clippings:
A Web Site That Can Handle Most Problems in Las Vegas
It's easy to make a mistake in Las Vegas. That goes without saying, as Bugsy Siegel, who made a couple of beauts, would have agreed.
Of the 32 million visitors who come to Las Vegas each year, about 16 percent come for business, most often for conventions and trade shows, like the annual Comdex technology exhibition that is expected to draw more than 80,000 people, starting Nov. 16.
Mistakes can be tragic (witness Mr. Siegel's demise by gunfire at the hands of unhappy fellow mobsters in 1947). They can be expensive. Or, in the case of business travelers just trying to decide where to stay or where to take a client or some colleagues for a swell night on the town, they can be merely embarrassing.
Howard Lefkowitz had an example when I visited him in his office in Henderson, where his window overlooks the sprawl of suburbia lapping across the desert to the glittering edge of the Strip a few miles away.
"A business guy is taking out a party one night, and he goes onto a travel Web site in his hotel and checks out Las Vegas nightlife," Mr. Lefkowitz said. "He didn't want to take his guests to the No. 1 rated club, because he knew it was always packed and they'd have a long wait at the door, which would make him look bad. So he selected the No. 2 rated club. And that night, they all realized to their embarrassment, after they got there, that it was a gay club."
Simultaneously, Mr. Lefkowitz and I exclaimed, of course, "Not that there's anything wrong with that!"
But the general problem, he explained, is that much printed or online travel information, especially for a complex extravaganza of a city like Las Vegas, is out of date, insipid, wrong, useless or insufficiently detailed.
To address that, the Greenspun Media Group created a Web site, Vegas.com, that positions itself as the leading source of reliable, detailed and up-to-date information about Las Vegas. Greenspun Media is part of the publishing and real estate empire founded by the late Hank Greenspun, the swashbuckling local newspaper publisher.
Mr. Lefkowitz took over as president of the company in late 2001, after heading Internet marketing at EarthLink and running the telemedia businesses of Home Shopping Network. He also worked for television networks and movie studios, and got his nightclub experience as a young road manager for the comedian Totie Fields before her death in 1978.
Vegas.com says it gets 850,000 so-called unique visitors monthly. It also makes money, Mr. Lefkowitz said.
The site is crammed with information of every sort about Las Vegas. But one of its most important functions is to provide the Las Vegas visitor with a kind of virtual concierge, able to get into a restaurant that's turning away customers or a nightclub show that's supposedly sold out.
"It used to be in Vegas, if you weren't a high roller being pampered by a casino, you had to have what was called a 'Guy' to get those things," Mr. Lefkowitz said. "I used to have a Guy named Minnie. I'd call and say, 'Minnie, can you get me into this place? Can you get me a ticket to that show?' Inevitably, Minnie would deliver."
Vegas.com eliminates the need for a Minnie, Mr. Lefkowitz said, adding, "We're the Guy for every person, because not everyone knows a Minnie."
As with Minnie, getting one of the best tables at that swanky sold-out restaurant, getting into the front for that booked show, getting that suite in a supposedly full hotel, or getting front-of-the-line privileges for that in-demand nightclub is going to cost you a few bucks.
Mr. Lefkowitz tapped at his computer keyboard to show how it works. One of the most popular late-night clubs in Las Vegas is called Rain in the Desert. "O.K., let's try for a party of six - tonight. Head-of-the-line pass, of course," Mr. Lefkowitz said.
Getting that imaginary party of six in on short notice was no problem. And the extra cost for head-of-the-line passes was $10 a person - about what Minnie would have expected.
Vegas.com has marketing arrangements with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, tour operators, airlines and others to bring in revenue while ensuring that its users' needs will be met with a room, a table or a ticket. The company also distributes thick loose-leaf folders with detailed information to hotel concierges. "We update them about once a week" with inserts, Mr. Lefkowitz said.
Unlike other major travel publications and consumer Web sites, Vegas.com is not coy about sin - which Las Vegas itself is again marketing as an attraction.
Mr. Lefkowitz recalled: "Two years ago when I got here, I was looking through expense reports and I see one for cash - $3,000. And of that, $1,000 is booze and the other $2,000 is listed as 'tip money.' I'm thinking, what in the world is going on in this place?"
Mr. Lefkowitz quickly learned that he was looking at the expense account for the site's reviewer of strip clubs, of which Las Vegas has more than three dozen. Business travelers, including women, are among the most avid customers, he noted.
So Mr. Lefkowitz asked a young staff member to draft a set of etiquette guidelines for strip club visitors, and post them on the site. In Mr. Lefkowitz's office, the writer, Dan Hippler, explained that he had recently taken a CBS News television crew to one of the clubs, where they interviewed him and a stripper about strip-club protocol.
"Tell him what it said under your picture on television," Mr. Lefkowitz insisted to Mr. Hippler.
"Strip Club Expert," Mr. Hippler said, rolling his eyes.
"His mother was so proud," Mr. Lefkowitz said.