ILTA 2010: It's What Happens in Vegas
When Nashville flooded a few weeks ago, one of the casualties was the Gaylord Opryland Resort that was to have played host to the 2010 ILTA convention. Speakers and attendees have been in suspense since the rivers rose, waiting to find out where ILTA would anchor. The answer is Vegas, baby! And not just anywhere in Vegas, but the brand new Aria Resort, centerpiece of the sprawling, sparkling CityCenter complex just south of the Bellagio.
I happened to be in Las Vegas this evening, so I strolled over to CityCenter for a firsthand preview of how ILTA will fit the Aria. "Strolled" hardly applies to any trudge along the Strip--a block in Vegas is five blocks most other places--but when I asked the folks at the Bellagio the best route to CityCenter, you'd think I'd asked them about the best way up K2! They instead herded me to the tram that connects the two properties--a slick little train like those that carry passengers between terminals at major airports. It signaled that Aria was going to be a different Vegas experience...and it was.
To begin, the scale of CityCenter is jaw-dropping even by Vegas standards. It's gargantuan and ulta-modern in a Gattaca-meets-Pottery Barn sort of way. In places, it's very beautiful--what they've done with stone, terrazo, glass, wood and especially plasma-cut metal, is spectacular. You really want to stop and marvel at the design and detail, especially in the intricate patterns seen in the stone flooring and the modern art collection distributed around the property. It generally works well, but not everywhere. It makes for a grand entrance and lovely lobby, but it looks spartan and institutional in the buffet. The downside of so many hard surfaces is that the Aria roars, assaulting your ears everywhere. And it's smoky, even for a casino hotel.
Just past the Cirque de Soleil Elvis extravaganza, the Aria's convention center is grand and state-of-the-art. No doubt it was a big,positive factor in the selection. There are plenty of dining venues and watering holes, and the guest rooms look very nice, especially for those with an exhibitionist streak (the modernist bathrooms I saw incorporate floor-to-ceiling windows). Best of all, the room price secured ($120/night) is very reasonable for a strip property this plush and new.
The hotel staff is green--noticably ill-trained--but everyone was friendly, if not particularly knowledgable. Example: I asked the table host in the poker room to direct me to the players club desk, and he didn't know where it was; but, another employee nicely escorted me. There were several other good-natured gaffes, but as the property has only been open for about five months, a rookie staff should come as no surprise. Fortunately, the ILTA staff are extraordinarily skilled at running their end of things.
The Aria is so big, busy and bustling (even on a Sunday night) that I wonder how it will affect the ILTA mojo. The Gaylord resorts are gilded cages--literally: they're a small town housed in a giant atrium reminiscent of the set in The Truman Show or domed Springfield. Collegiality is insured because the group is isolated with relatively few distractions. Vegas is nothing but distractions. We're going to have to work harder to coalesce.
I'm sorry to miss Nashville, having never been to the Grand Ol' Opry; but, Vegas and CityCenter are an exciting alternative. Great work, ILTA leadership! CityCenter and Aria will be a strong draw, plus, it's easier and cheaper to fly to Las Vegas than Nashville from most everywhere. Cheaper, that is, if you don't count what you lose in the slots and at the tables.