Las Vegas’ New Wild Card
MLT Vacations' new Las Vegas travel packages gives Kamaaina a broad selection of hotels up and down the strip
Nearly 15 years ago, Edward A. Neer, chairman and chief executive officer for MLT Inc., a subsidiary of Northwest Airlines, had a great idea: Why not offer unescorted travel packages to the Las Vegas strip from Hawaii? Neer, who lived in the Islands in the ’70s, reasoned that Hawaii travelers were ready to break free of their group tours and of downtown Vegas, a traditional island gathering place. But local travelers and Sin City itself weren’t quite ready for this revolution, and his travel package idea failed.
“Back then almost all of the business out of Hawaii was with a group leader and whole families traveled together,” says Neer. “I figured that the young people would be changing the way they traveled to Las Vegas, but I guess I was a little bit ahead of my time.”
Last February, MLT Vacations began offering three- and four-day packages to Las Vegas in which visitors can choose from nearly three dozen resorts on the Las Vegas strip as well as lodging in downtown, the nearby Summerlin resort area and Laughlin, on the banks of the Colorado River. This time it looks like Neer’s idea has come right on time.
MLT Vacation packages are priced to be competitive with Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Vacations-Hawaii charters, which puts up its customers at one of three Boyd-owned downtown hotels. Prices for MLT Vacation packages range from $400-plus for the economical Westward Ho Hotel & Casino to nearly $800 for a three-night stay at the super-luxurious $1.6 billion Bellagio. The 800-employee MLT Vacations with revenues in excess of $500 million also offers 70 charters a week from various mainland cities to Mexico, the Caribbean, Asia and most recently, Europe.“The reaction has been like night and day,” says Neer. “Years ago, people were a little reluctant to try something different but now they are saying, ‘We finally have a choice.’”
The MLT charter from Honolulu to Las Vegas departs every Monday and Friday. Neer and other MLT officials originally projected that kamaaina travelers would occupy about 25 to 30 percent of the 380 airline seats a flight. (The remaining seats are taken by MLT’s Hawaii charter customers flying back home to the mainland.) But a little over a month into operations, the Honolulu-to-Las Vegas charter is now taking up approximately 45 percent of the seats According to Neer, the main factor that changed in the past 15 years was the city itself. No longer just about gambling, Las Vegas has remade itself into a destination that includes upscale dining, entertainment, shopping and attractions. These new activities are drawing a younger more adventurous crowd for which gambling may be only a secondary activity and fittingly, according to Neer, a majority of MLT’s customers are between ages 35 and 50 with an income of $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
But Joel Leong, president of Creative Holidays, a local travel agency, believes that MLT is drawing from a much bigger pool of consumers. “Price is the key ingredient in Las Vegas. Price comes before loyalty,” says Leong. “The loyal downtown traveler will stay loyal until they see that they can stay on The Strip for the same price or cheaper. I think they are capturing consumers on all levels, the frequent visitor, the occasional visitors, etc. Affordability cuts across all demographics.”
Besides competitive pricing, Leong also sights flexibility as another big draw to MLT’s packages. While the offerings are scheduled for three to four days, travelers can extend their return dates for 30 days or longer. It’s an option Leong believes many Islanders visiting family in Las Vegas will take advantage of.
“I don’t think that Hawaii ever stops traveling to Las Vegas,” says Neer. “In fact, I think travel to Vegas gets stronger during bad economic times because of its value—the rooms are inexpensive, the food is cheap and besides, who knows, you might actually hit a jackpot.”