Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More tourists being fleeced, which surprises nobody

I interrupt my slowly evolving recap of my #VegasHalloween trip to comment on the depressing Vegas news of the week: Several more casinos will start charging visitors to park their vehicles on the property.

The announcement that casinos under the Caesars umbrella will be charging for parking is the news many of us have been waiting for. The fine folks that oversee the properties under the MGM umbrella blazed the trail with parking fees. It was presumed by many that if MGM survived the public relations storm that their parking fees reigned down upon them, the Caesars folks would follow suit, just as they did with the resort fee shell game that has been in place for a few years.

And fast on the heels of the Caesars announcement, Wynn Resorts announced that their valet customers would now have to pay for the service.

Parking fees are the latest in a growing list of gripes people have against the way Vegas casinos are doing business. Plenty of people grouse about such things, but the buck stops there. It's unlikely the few people who stop going to Vegas casinos because they charge a parking fee are going to make a noticeable dent in the bottom line. Most people are going to continue to do what they have always done, for the most part, and fork over the extra dough for parking.

Some people don't seem to be upset by the fees. Those who visit regularly, and loyal to a group of properties and are active gamblers can expect to have their parking fee waived if they are using the parking garage.

And there are those who don't drive to, or rent a car, in Vegas, so the parking fee doesn't affect them, either.

And there are some who rationalize that given the expense of parking in many major cities, the $18/day fee for valet parking at Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood, or the $13/day fee at Flamingo and LINQ isn't a big deal. (Rates for self-parking weren't announced, but Vital Vegas suggests that $10/day would be logical, based upon what MGM is charging.)

The parking fees won't affect me much. I do rent a car every trip, but I tend to stay at either Orleans or downtown, and parking is included when I stay at a downtown casino, regardless of my gambling history, as best I can tell. I just stayed at Plaza, where I hadn't gambled in years, and parking was included throughout my stay.

But I do have to wonder, will the parking fees influence my future decisions? Case in point: I wondered if I was going to have to pay for parking in the future should I want to visit the High Roller observation wheel at LINQ.

My group visited the High Roller on Halloween afternoon, and we parked in a surface lot behind the High Roller. We were there less than two hours, and if we had to pay for parking at LINQ in order to access the wheel, it would have cost us several dollars, I presume. We had a group of five, so if we had to pay to park, the parking fee wasn't going to be a deal breaker for our group, particularly since it was a first-time experience for all of them.

But it was my third trip to the High Roller. I've patronized it twice prior with my girlfriend, and at this point I don't need to do it again. But if the price is right, I'd gladly return.

A High Roller representative responded to my tweet pondering the future of parking at LINQ and noted that, not to my surprise, there won't be free parking for LINQ access. Again, would an additional fee of up to $8 really keep me from another spin on the High Roller? No, of course not. But the next time I'm planning a trip to Vegas with my girlfriend, I will have less interest in taking another spin, simply because I know that Caesars Entertainment is now charging for something they've been able to provide free for generations.

Thinking about the impact of parking fees, I had several questions about the future of Vegas.

• What will other properties along the strip do? Stratosphere and SLS are a bit isolated from the rest of the strip these days. I've never set foot in SLS, but the last time I was at the Strat on a November weekday a couple of years ago, the place was rather dull and relatively lifeless. People weren't lining up to visit the observation deck at the top of the tower, and their crappy mall was so damn dead I felt sorry for the people stuck working there. Charge people to park there and it's unlikely you're going to attract a lot of new customers.

And how about properties elsewhere on the strip that aren't under the umbrella of the big two? Can Tropicana afford to continue offering free parking? I can't picture their parking ramp, but I have to imagine that it gets used occasionally by people as cheap as me who are willing to walk an extra five or 10 minutes in order to beat MGM at its game.

When Treasure Island inevitably starts charging a parking fee, will visitors who aren't staying at a casino hotel on the trip start their day on the strip by parking at the mall and heading south on foot or by bus? I suspect some will. 

Some people will decide the daily parking fee is worth the time it saves for access to where they want to go, but some will look to beat the system any way they can. Going to Bally's? Park five minutes down the street at The Westin.

If there are ways to beat the system, there will be people who set out to do it. Any property within a short walk of the major casinos is going to have to consider how the parking fees affect them.

• How will parking fees affect the car rental companies? I'm guessing that parking fees aren't putting a significant dent in the number of daily rentals, but the fees can't be encouraging more people to rent a car. Somebody remarked today that the new parking fees will only drive more business to car services such as Uber and Lyft. 

• How pissed are the valet attendants at the major strip casinos? I'd love to know how fees have affected attendants at MGM properties. I can't imagine that people who have been parking free and tipping the valet attendant for years are going to start tipping more if they have to fork over more than $10 for a service they've been receiving free. Maybe they'll tip the same, but how much is traffic going to decrease at the casino valet if we can no longer pop in and out for an hour or two without paying a fee of $8 or more? 

• How soon will rates increase? The casinos seem to have no problem testing the limits of the daily resort fee they charge outside of your room rate. What's to stop the parking rates from increasing in a year or two? Nothing, and I expect to see rate hikes from both major chains within three years. 

• Will parking fees impact the bottom line of ancillary businesses at strip casinos? I'm not aware of proof, but there are suggestions that fewer people are dropping by MGM casinos for an hour or two to dine and shop. Could it really be enough to reflect upon the bottom line of the businesses inside the casino? It seems unlikely, but the suggestion is out there. And again, it's unlikely that parking fees are driving additional traffic to the casinos. 

It's common to read comments about how Vegas isn't what it use to be. (I wrote about that not so long ago.) It's true, although it goes both ways, I'd argue.

Regardless, I can't help but wonder, what will we be adding to our list of Vegas complaints in five, 10 or 30 years? 

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