AP Photo/Las Vegas News Bureau, Brian Jones
Visitors watch lions play at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino Lion Habitat in this 2008 file photo.
A slower economy and changing times are taking their toll on one of the most well-known hotel-casinos in Las Vegas.
MGM Grand is shuttering its popular free lion exhibit on Jan. 31, and the mega hotel and casino is closing its once groundbreaking Studio 54 nightclub in early February.
“It’s something of a big deal,” said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, a consumer-oriented travel newsletter. “Studio 54, when it came to Vegas, pretty much kicked off the Vegas of today. Prior to Studio 54, only a few places had stuck their toe into the nightlife, the wilder night scene. It was big in the day — back in the ’90s, it was a happening thing. But it’s since been surpassed.”
It’s no secret Las Vegas has been affected by the sour economy — annual visitor rates fell with the recession, from 39.1 million in 2007 to 34.4 million in 2010, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority.
Casinos and hotels are doing everything they can to attract ever-scarcer tourist dollars. That means turning a hard eye on attractions that are facing too much competition, such as the plethora of night clubs all going after a slice of the same pie, Curtis said.
“It’s part and parcel of what made Vegas vulnerable to the bad economy,” he said. “There was too much of everything in Vegas to support. People aren’t coming in spending money like nuts like they were five years ago. The older places just really couldn’t make it anymore. You need the latest and greatest.”
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for MGM Resorts International
Rappers Treach, left, and Vin Rock of hip-hop group Naughty by Nature perform in Las Vegas at a post-fight party for UFC 116 and birthday celebration for mixed martial artist Wanderlei Silva at Studio 54 inside the MGM Grand Hotel-Casino in July 2010.
As for the lions, well, their day has come, too. Lions are practically synonymous with the hotel — home to 5,000 rooms and one of the world’s largest casinos — but it’s time to change things up as part of a major renovation of the property, said hotel spokeswoman Yvette Monet. Iconic bronze statues of lions will remain on the property.
The free exhibit, which opened in 1999, showcases real lions roaming around — or sleeping — in a habitat. The lions don’t actually live there — they’re brought in from a ranch run by an animal trainer. The exhibit closes Feb. 4, Monet said.
“It’s part of a $160 million overall renovation,” she said. “We’re also doing a revamping of all hotel rooms. We’ll be making changes to the casino and public areas as well. We’re always looking for a fresh attraction, a fresh product for our customers, to keep the MGM Grand fresh and new.”
Monet said she had no information yet on what would replace the lion habitat.
Curtis wasn’t surprised the lions are being sent back to their ranch. “It was a cool free thing,” he said. “They could afford to do that when people were coming and throwing money around like crazy. It drew more legs into the place. But now they’ve got to be more targeted ... They made a decision to go for that nightlife crowd, not the day, fanny-pack crowd.
“The whole marketing emphasis has shifted. They want to attract the young, money-spending crowd.”
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Sin City is a major entertainment center and business travel destination, known for its carefully cultivated image, gambling and nightlife.
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