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Will Orlando soon follow Las Vegas' lead and begin offering deep discounts on vacation packages ?

Will Orlando soon follow Las Vegas' lead and begin offering deep discounts on vacation packages ?

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With all due respect to the Orlando / Kissimmee / St. Cloud vacation area, the number one attraction for tourists, domestic and international, in the USA has been and probably always will be Las Vegas. Because of the need for workers to service that industry AND the no-income-tax status of the state and its mostly great weather, Vegas has also become the fastest-growing city in the USA drawing everyone from construction and hotel workers to retirees.

Every time somebody predicts a bust for Vegas or says that it has overbuilt and will have a comeuppance, the facts prove them wrong. In an article about Venetian-owner and multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson this week, George Will noted a Life Magazine story from June of 1955 asking if Las Vegas was “overextended.” The city had fewer than 3,000 hotel rooms then, and today boasts 138,000 with 45,000 more under construction.

But …

Maybe the double-whammy of high gas prices (a VERY large percentage of Vegas visitors drive there from Los Angeles and nearby southwestern states) and a faltering economy due to the mortgage credit crunch is about to have an effect on Vegas’s fortunes. And this is important to watchers of things Mouse-ish because Vegas could be the “canary in the coal mine” for the entire tourism industry for the next few months and years.

What makes me think so? Simple. As a resident of the Los Angeles area whose front door is only about a 4-and-3/4ths hours drive across the desert from the Strip (Pax CHP!) I enjoy Las Vegas’s attractions fairly regularly, and have learned over the years that the economical way to do this is to get on the various casino hotels’ mailing lists for email “special offers” that often drastically reduce the price of rooms and throw in all sorts of goodies­and not just at the cheap or middle-of-the-road places, either.

Thanks to these e-specials, I regularly stay at the top-end resorts such as the Venetian, the Wynn, the Bellagio etc. etc. at rates that would shock anyone paying “retail” rack rate, and this is NOT some kind of high-roller gambling comp I’m getting, either. As much as I know it sounds like the old-time complaint that one buys Playboy “for the articles, honest!” I really am not much of a gambler, and enjoy Vegas primarily for the dining, the shows, and the spa’s and general relaxation that does NOT include crowding into hectic casinos or doing the forced-march madness of all those Strip-trekkers you see on busy weekends.

So what deals are they sending me lately? Let’s look at the email and see:

 Photo courtesy of the Palazzo

ITEM: The Palazzo­the Venetian’s new deluxe sister hotel/addition wants me to stay for what is a really low $179 per night with free drinks, special VIP check in, discounts on dining, free desserts and other goodies. The rack rate at this hotel is around $300 at a minimum.

ITEM: Mandalay Bay has dates in April, May, and June during which a 3-day stay will only cost 2 day’s pay -- a serious savings indeed.

ITEM: MGM Grand is having a “sale” for upcoming dates for $99 per night.

ITEM: The Mirage is offering 15% discounts on regular rooms, and 20% off on Premium rooms, 25% off on De Luxe, and a whopping 30% off on Tower and Penthouse Suites­the ones that appeal to the highest of high-end travelers who, you’d think, they would not have to discount for at all, recession or no recession.

ITEM: Most telling, the admittedly not ultra-deluxe New York/New York has a 10%-off / $10 at Starbucks / $10 free gaming play deal in April, that escalates to 15% / $10 / $10 in May, then 20% off in June with 2-for-one breakfast at Il Fornaio, $15 off a spa treatment, free welcome drinks and a pass on the roller coaster.

Now the point of this article is not to play travel agent for you or to tout any hotel, and there is a side-issue of the fact that, thanks to “gaming” revenues, Vegas hotels (unlike those in non-gaming destinations such as Florida) can afford to discount the purely lodging-and-dining deals because they expect to make up in slot machines and crap table income what they may give up on room rates and show tickets.

Photo courtesy of the New York New York Resort & Casino

But the larger point is this: The fact that these major players who are usually ahead of the travel industry curve are already pushing spring and summer discount deals in March and April for the time of year when people take more vacations and when you would think they’d be fat, sassy, and full of guests… AND That the deals get BETTER as the summer gets OLDER and any gas-price/economic-crunch problems they anticipate get more impactful on people’s discretionary travel plans … Well, that makes you wonder:

Will DISNEY and the non-Disney hotels in the Orlando area do similar discounts this season to counteract the same economic trends? I’m betting YES. And before you say that more people fly to WDW as a percentage of the whole than drive to Vegas, remember that airplanes burn gas, too. And that rising prices for airfare are inevitable as $100-plus-per-barrel-oil becomes the norm.

I mention all this because if you’re thinking of a vacation trip to WDW (or anywhere) this summer, I suggest you do some serious shopping and looking for deals, because there will be more and more of them if Vegas’s already-being-promoted plans are any indication … And they almost always are.

But as Jim would say … What do YOU think? Will this vacation season, fraught with family belt-tightening though it may be, wind up being a bargain-hunter’s bonanza for voyagers to WDW or Disneyland? And will Disney itself, not to mention its competitors and independent hotels and packagers, respond like the wily Vegas folks have already done to encourage a “yes” decision AND an earlier commitment among vacationers whose leaner pocketbooks and reduced home equity may be suggesting a “not this year” response to their advertising seductions ?

UPDATE: As I was prepping Mr. John's article for posting on JHM, I actually checked in with a few friends who work in the hospitality industry in Orlando. And -- as it turns out -- Mr. Wayne is right. Over the past four months, the average cost of a hotel room in O-town has steadily dropped from being just over $150 a night to the current price. Which is under $125 a night.

When you see a price drop like that (Which -- FYI -- bucks the historic trends. Given that the theme parks are usually quite busy this time of year, the price of hotel rooms typically goes up during the month of April) ... Clearly something's up in O-town right now. So please keep this in mind as you make your travel plans for the coming months.

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