My flight from L.A. to Vegas on Sunday did not look good, at least from a revenue standpoint; only 35 passengers in a 137-seat jet bound for Vegas, Philadelphia, and Providence, R.I. L.AX usually teems with passengers going everywhere all the time, so being surrounded by empty seats and having a row to myself for the first time in a decade made we wonder about attendance at our International LCT Show.
While circling the Vegas sprawl during a sunny, windy morning descent, the plane lurched, and pitched, and bucked, until finally it landed in a way that felt like a rolling jumping jack popping up and getting mashed onto the runway. Maybe the recessionary flight wasn't ready to land in a town where unemployment is 10% and Vegas hotels and casinos are cutting room rates Wal-Mart style. Not to mention the empty, Mediterranean themed subdivisions and condo canyons that have become very squatter-friendly.
The Vegas airport was empty, my baggage was already in the claim office, and there were no lines for anything. Sunday morning? Shouldn't the place be packed with hungover weekenders headed home? I pondered these questions in a stretch limo to the Palazzo Resort Hotel & Casino, which helped offset the recessionary lurch into Vegas and the faded auras of air travel.
Whatever the reasons for the empty airports, such was not the case at our annual ILCT Show, where, yes, attendance was down compared to 2008, but far better than projected. And it certainly blew out all the rumor-mongering that preceded the show about cancellations and collapsing coachbuilders. This Show was special because it brought forth the more serious minded operators and industry stalwarts open to change and finding new ways to succeed. Despite economic pain, there was a lot of practical gain. There's nothing like a setback to focus and strengthen the mind and sharpen the plan.
I can't fully buy into the Armageddon economy just yet, given all the people I saw at slot machines and craps tables, the $8.50 turkey sandwiches at the Venetian food court, the $10 shooters, the $5 coffees (jacked up $1 from coffee houses every place else), packed night clubs, the selection of luxury goods retailers I still can't pronounce. Is this really a severe recession? And what about all those families with kids wandering around on a Monday and Tuesday? Do they have the leisure time to take the kids out of school and spend money at a casino resort?
Yes, we talked to plenty of operators down for the year in revenue and clients, but relative to some big boom growth years in 2003-2007, preceded by even bigger boom years from 1995-2001, interrupted only by 9/11 and a dainty recession that was portrayed by the media as a hands-across-America bread line.
Whatever happens in the following months, this show was a confidence builder for the industry. Group ground transportation, whether luxury or standard, will help American corporations and consumers save money. Those careful spenders will be receptive to any marketing messages that assure them of maximum value for a decent price.
Besides, even during the Great Depression, a sliver of the population dined at country clubs and bought luxury goods. In our decade, that economic class will gradually emerge, otherwise known as the governmentally stimulated. So make sure you market to all the gravy-licking porkers lubricated by the omni-busty, maxi-fluffed bailout bill stuffed with our tax dollars. Knowing the collective waste and incompetence of our federal government, get ready for someone, somewhere to have a government-supplied shovel ready job for $100k per year -- "Need a Town Car to the construction site? Can we take you to your next windmill installation gig in a stretch?"
For small business owners and operators, that will be the only way you ever get some of that stimulus redistributed back to yourself. -- M.R.
Don't let your guests down. Here are some things to think about before the event starts.
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