By Troy Petenbrink on December 17, 2014
Winter travel can often be hectic with the potential for weather delays. But with so many great options awaiting, it’s worth taking the risk (and maybe buying some travel insurance). The upcoming season brings such fun opportunities as popping champagne in Sin City and cruising to Aussieland. Here our are 5 top picks.
At the Aria’s wedding chapel, spouses-to-be can choose from two lounges in which to prepare themselves for the big ceremony: one for grooms and another for brides.
Their layouts evoke traditional gender expectations, with the guys getting a pool table and the larger bride’s lounge boasting plenty of mirrors.
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Nevada, the lounge layout might give pause in how to separate the spouses. But Colleen Kestel-Raidmae, the chapel’s director, has had some experience with this — her chapel has been offering same-sex commitment ceremonies since it opened last year.
“We leave it up to the couple,” she said about which partner gets which room. “Whichever one prefers to play pool over having a larger mirror, we let them decide that among themselves. Sometimes — and this goes for all wedding couples — they’ll choose to both be in the larger room because they’re okay with seeing each other before the wedding.”
A federal appellate court ruling allowing same-sex marriages in Nevada is ushering in some changes at the Aria chapel, however. Kestel-Raidmae said she’s trying to organize chapels across MGM Resorts International’s properties on the Strip to receive training from the Gay Wedding Institute to help them better cater to same-sex customers.
In the meantime, the Aria chapel is introducing same-sex wedding promotions, making paperwork gender neutral and including photos of same-sex couples on marketing materials.
“It’s actually a fairly extensive process to make all of the changes,” Kestel-Raidmae said. “But I think everyone’s very excited. It’s something that Nevada should have done years ago.”
Since Nevada’s ban on same-sex unions was lifted last week, about one in 10 calls about reserving the Aria chapel has been from same-sex couples, Kestel-Raidmae said. To attract more, the Aria chapel is offering 20 percent off any wedding package and 10 percent off food and beverage packages to same-sex couples who book before the end of the year.
One package that includes a limo from the marriage license bureau to the hotel, 90 minutes of chapel time, the officiant, live Internet broadcasting of the ceremony and one night’s stay, regularly goes for $3,300 on a Saturday.
Similarly, Caesars Entertainment announced that same-sex couples can receive 15 percent off wedding ceremonies or vow renewals at any of its chapels through March 1. MGM and Caesars hosted same-sex weddings on Saturday, at Mandalay Bay and the Flamingo, respectively.
The embrace of legal same-sex marriage by these and other casino-resorts in Las Vegas fits into the industry’s generally strong track record of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
Caesars, MGM, Wynn Resorts and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas — companies which, taken together, account for most of the Strip resorts — have all scored 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. It is based on a survey that companies complete measuring their policies and practices relevant to LGBT employees.
Additionally, when the Nevada Senate considered a constitutional amendment last year to legalize same-sex unions, representatives from Caesars and MGM spoke in support.
What’s in it for them? Aside from cashing in on a chunk of the millions of dollars that same-sex marriage will bring to Nevada, they see it as a way to improve their relationships with customers.
Gwen Migita, vice president of sustainability and corporate citizenship for Caesars, said legalizing same-sex marriage makes a “significant difference” to guests and employees by making their Las Vegas experiences more “whole and fair.”
Phyllis James, executive vice president and chief diversity officer at MGM, said her company tries to create a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT guests.
“There’s a distinct difference in an environment that treats you on an equal footing with other customers who are not like you, and having a staff that is going to be comfortable and respectful in the way they interact with you, having a comfortable environment to walk around in which people are not … acting like you’re strange because you’re a same-sex couple and you’re walking down the hall holding hands,” she said.
Las Vegas regularly ranks among the top LGBT travel destinations as surveyed by Community Marketing Inc. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has been marketing to the LGBT demographic for years, famously this year with a commercial called “The Check In.”
As a whole, the Las Vegas tourism market may have even better luck attracting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tourists as same-sex marriages become legal in every state, said Mya Reyes, president of the Las Vegas Gay Visitors Bureau.
Until then, some couples will face the prospect of not having their marriage recognized when they return home.
“Once same-sex marriage is legalized nationally, that will change the entire scenario,” Reyes said. Still, she stressed that when it comes to the current ruling, “Undoubtedly, it will have a positive effect. I’m certain of that.”
Like the resorts, Reyes’ company is wasting no time trying to attract same-sex wedding tourism. The gay visitors bureau is revamping its website to accommodate wedding services, she said, and it’s encouraging guests to tie the knot when they come for Evolve Vegas NYE, a gay New Year’s event produced by the bureau.
Evolve Vegas NYE, the first International New Year’s Eve event of its kind in North America, takes place December 30 – January 2 in the city recently named Favorite American City to by OutTraveler. The Ultimate Package provides accommodations in the luxurious MGM Grand Hotel & Casino and admission to all events. The Party Package allows you to book your own accommodations but still “EVOLVE” with the crowd! And the single EVOLUTION ticket promises a night full on fantasy and excitement.
Headlining the Main Event, appropriately entitled ‘EVOLUTION’, will be Jujubee & Raven from Ru Paul’s Drag Race, just one of many OMG! Moments you’ll experience throughout the night. This will be the most exciting NYE party of the year as we welcome guests from more than 30 countries and provide entertainment and experiences that only happen in Vegas. Come “EVOLVE’ with us when the clock strikes midnight and you dance your way into the New Year with DJ Casey Alva, the Abbey’s resident DJ in Los Angeles. You’ll also experience the Iconic Las Vegas Fireworks from a private EVOLUTION viewing area.
Transportation will still be provided from the host hotel the MGM Grand and VIP packages are available! Tickets on sale now at www.EvolveVegasNYE.com
We’re asking people to #EvolveKISS the one you love or even SMOOCH your POOCH and KISS the competition goodbye!
There are many ways to enter! Upload to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram a kissing photo and tag #EvolveKISS! You can also upload your photo directly to our Facebook and Website! http://bit.ly/KISSLV
Get creative and practice for the special KISS at midnight at Evolve Vegas, the first International Gay New Year’s Eve Celebration in Las Vegas!
Grand Prize Winner will receive 2 tickets to the New Year’s Eve performance to Britney Spears and tickets to all 3 Evolve Vegas parties taking place December 30th– January 2nd. Second & third place photos receive American Express Giftcards!
Our main NYE Event: “EVOLUTION” will take place at the Havana Nightclub in The New Tropicana with special guests Jujubee & Raven from Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Package and individual tickets on SALE now at www.EvolveVegasNYE.com
Reyes expanding Las Vegas’ gay tourism market
Sitting in her modest office at The Lakes, it occurs to Mya Reyes that her career path has led her to one of the boldest tourism initiatives the city has ever seen — a massive three-day New Year’s Eve celebration for gay men from 30 countries in mainstream resorts on the Strip.
Reyes’ new year’s event, called Evolve Vegas NYE, is 20 months in the planning and has been about all her four-person staff has worked on since the doors of the Las Vegas Gay Visitors Bureau opened in mid-2013.
“I feel that everything I’ve done in my life has brought me here, all the international travel I’ve done and the languages I have,” said Reyes, president of the bureau and founder of Evolve Vegas NYE. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French and speaks some Italian.
Reyes fully expects that the 700 Evolve packages will be sold for the inaugural event, which includes three days of shows, receptions, parties, dining experiences and shopping tours planned Dec. 30 through Jan. 1.
It’s being hosted at the MGM Grand and the highlight of the event will be a New Year’s Eve celebration at the Havana nightclub at the Tropicana.
Reyes has been a long-time advocate for gay tourism in Southern Nevada, so she didn’t need a sales pitch to convince her that the gay market is a lucrative one.
San Francisco-based Community Market Inc. has years of research explaining why the market is so robust: For gay men and women, the average household income is $81,500, about 80 percent higher than the average American household income.
About 40 percent of gay men have household incomes in excess of $100,000.
An estimated 83 percent of gay men and women have a passport compared with 34 percent of the adult U.S. population.
Gay men and women travel more widely than their mainstream counterparts, domestically and internationally, especially for leisure purposes.
Las Vegas is consistently one of the top markets for gay travel, usually No. 2 behind New York City.
Reyes has always known that the gay market has been and will be good for Las Vegas, but the difference maker for Evolve is the international component.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has made the attraction of international guests a priority. The organization that markets Las Vegas to the world and McCarran International Airport have recruited airlines to provide nonstop intercontinental flights to the city.
Reyes believes the combination is a can’t-miss opportunity.
Reyes got her first taste of the international scene while studying French at UNLV. She received a degree in 1978 and got an opportunity to study abroad in a program at Paris-Sorbonne University.
She loved it.
“When I was about to leave, on my last day in Paris, I saw a sign recruiting for the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization,” she said. “I had heard that foreigners could work there relatively easily and that it wasn’t too hard to get a work card to be there.”
She ended up getting hired as a liaison between UNESCO and its member nations, and she worked directly with people from African countries.
When in Europe, she met her future husband, Bill Collins, a professional basketball player that had been drafted by the Boston Celtics and who opted to pursue a professional career in Italy. She spent her early career living in France, Spain and Italy.
She recalled once being transported to a hospital in a boat while living in Venice when she gave birth to one of her children.
Wanting to be a stay-at-home mother, she published a parenting magazine for 12 years and eventually moved back to Las Vegas.
But one thing Reyes continued to do in her last years abroad was to keep in touch with her international contacts. It was a move that would prove invaluable to her future.
Back in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts was completing a merger with Mirage Resorts International, and the new company announced its commitment to diversity.
When then-CEO Terry Lanni announced the program, Reyes was hired as director of supplier diversity. It turned out to be a golden opportunity to get in on the ground floor of MGM’s award-winning diversity program and work with Lanni.
“It was primarily about ethnic diversity and women and really didn’t encompass anything for the LGBT market,” she said.
But that came later.
She left MGM and went to work for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority as it began exploring the prospect of marketing directly to the gay market.
“I had talked with the LVCVA about being a part of that and decided that I wanted to become better educated about the market,” she said.
As a part of the agency, she became active in the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, serving two terms on its board of directors. With members in 83 countries, Reyes was able to re-establish international contacts and make new ones.
“It was a great opportunity to expose our destination to various markets all over the world,” she said. “And, as it turned out, they were all really great people, and not only were we business partners but great personal friends.”
When Reyes retired from the LVCVA, she knew she wanted to continue to work in the industry, so she formed the Gay Visitors Bureau and went to work developing Evolve.
She hired Donovan Kaneshiro as creative strategies manager, Matt Engh as creative design manager and Fabrice Tasendo to assist with global outreach.
The bureau has travel agency contacts in 30 countries, including 500 American Express agencies in Mexico, and the Evolve website is available in Spanish, German, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Chinese as well as English.
The inaugural Evolve will include a reception with performers from Cirque du Soleil’s “Zumanity” as a preview to the show. Following the show will be an opening reception at the Strip’s first gay nightclub, Liaison, at Bally’s.
The second day offers an assortment of Southern Nevada day trips and shopping excursions and the final day includes a performance by Frank Marino followed by the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Havana club.
Packages also include an optional two-day trip to West Hollywood, Calif.
Reyes said the side trip is particularly important for international visitors who like to expand their itineraries when making a trip to the United States.
Marino, whose Strip Divas are presenting their 25,000th show this year, is excited about performing for an all-gay audience.
“This will be the first time in my 30-year Las Vegas career that I will be performing for an all-gay audience,” Marino said. “Finally, I can do pop-culture jokes that everyone will get.”
September 28, 2014 4:03 PM
Good news for Britney Spears fans who are hoping to catch her Las Vegas show at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. Spears has renewed her ‘Piece of Me’ residency for another two years, which means she will be performing in Sin City well into the year 2017. Her original contract was to have ended in 2015.
The pop star confirmed to Good Morning Britain (quotes via Digital Spy) that she has enjoyed her Vegas stay and likes being grounded, saying, “The way I used to travel all around the world and do a different show every night, I’m like, ‘How did I do it?!”
“Promotion is a different story, and going to a different city every day, like what I’m doing now, it’s really hard,” she continues. “But being based in Vegas and having one show that you just keep going back to, the consistency of that is really grounding and really cool.”
Meanwhile, Spears has also revealed that she is hard at work on a new studio album.
There’s usually a huge buzz before the annual G2E (Global Gaming Expo) with big names being attached to new games. It’s been relatively quiet this year aside from the confirmed Friends, Mad Men and Wonder Woman slot machines we told you about last week. Things hit a new high yesterday, though, when IGT announced they’ll have not one, but two Ellen slots.
These won’t just be machines featuring comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. Rather, they will be based on her hit daytime talk show. The games will be known as The Ellen DeGeneres Show™ Featuring Ellen’s Dance Party Video Slots and The Ellen DeGeneres Show™ Featuring 12 Days of Giveaways Video Slots.
The slot machines will put players in the middle of their favorite “Ellen” moments and will come with the exceptional sound and huge screens (in this case, 42″ vertical touchscreens) that all new games do, these days.
Just as any Ellen fan would expect, The Ellen DeGeneres Show™ Featuring Ellen’s Dance Party Video Slots will have players chair-dancing while the 12 Days of Giveaways Video Slots will be holiday-themed, just like on the show. Fans will also recognize the “Know or Go” and “Wheel of Riches” bonus rounds, too. There’s no definite timeline as to when the machines will start popping up on gaming floors, but keep an eye on VegasChatter so you’ll know before you go.
“I’m so excited to have my very own line of slot machines. People are gonna have the chance to play really fun games, have their own mini dance parties and win actual cold, hard cash. I mean, honestly, what more do you want from me?”