CityCenter, Las Vegas

 

CityCenter opens in December with three hotels. Shown here are the three executives who will oversee them: Rajesh Jhingon of the Mandarin Oriental; Bill McBeath of Aria and Angela Lester of Vdara. They are photographed here at CityCenter, which will also include a 500,000-square-foot luxury retail, dining and entertainment venue called Crystals.

 

While CityCenter in Las Vegas will open in the most challenging year the city has ever seen, it promises to impact the metropolis positively, as The Mirage, MGM Grand, Bellagio, and the Wynn resorts did when they debuted. People will be talking about it. Those who have already been to Las Vegas will want to return to see it. Those who have never been may decide that this is the impetus they need to go.

Many of you who are savvy sellers of luxury travel may be game to sell CityCenter’s resorts. However, you may be thinking that you don’t really know that much about them. For that reason, Luxury Travel Advisor spoke in depth with the general managers of each of CityCenter’s hotels—Aria, Vdara and the Mandarin Oriental—to give you a glimpse of what you and your VIPs can expect in terms of product and service.

But first, the basics. CityCenter sits between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts. It will have three hotels (a fourth will open later next year) and a mega shopping area. If you’ve been to Las Vegas lately and seen cranes and other large machinery wheeling about on a crowded stretch of land, that would be CityCenter coming to life. The project, built on 67 acres, is designed as a contemporary Manhattan-ized urban development, with a high density of buildings, world-class public art, and people. Aria and Vdara have already earned LEED Gold Certification, giving them the ultimate green status for a hotel.

Another need-to-know point: The project is a joint venture between MGM Mirage and Infinity World Development Corp, a subsidiary of Dubai World. The relationship with MGM Mirage gives CityCenter hotels some notable siblings, among them Bellagio, one of the most luxurious hotels in the city.

Aria

The 4,004-room Aria opens December 16 as the core of CityCenter. It will be the only gaming hotel there. While its room-count and amenities are similar to Bellagio, Aria is being positioned slightly above its sister property.

“I think it’s hard to say that you’re going to position anything above Bellagio,” Bill McBeath, president and COO of Aria, tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “Clearly, we have tried to design and create a new brand, a new product, a new experience, that’s positioned at the top of the high-end luxury marketplace.” The differentiating factors, he says, come from the fact that Bellagio speaks to traditional romantic luxury, while Aria was designed to represent “more contemporary, intelligent luxury.”

McBeath, who has served as president and COO of Bellagio, says Aria’s development strategy has included taking into consideration the amenities that have made Bellagio successful, melding that with the development and design knowledge that’s been garnered over the years from all of the hotels in the MGM/Mirage portfolio, and then starting with a blank slate with Aria.

Indeed, Aria is different from Bellagio. The new resort has two curvilinear steel-and-glass towers with open spaces filled with natural light, including in its guest room corridors.

“We took the architecture from the exterior curvilinear design and brought it to the interior. We utilized the architecture in the interiors to create a sense of space and place. So you won’t see a lot of heavy design detail or heavy fabrics and ornate design,” says McBeath. “At Aria, you’ll see very clean lines; it’s very organic in its color palette, with a lot of surprises everywhere. It was designed, as was the overall CityCenter campus, to promote exploration and discovery. At every turn, you’ll see something new.”

So what’s his favorite part of Aria? McBeath, who has been involved with the project since 2004, says the high-end Baccarat Courtyard, with its tall ceilings, great textures and finishes, and a generous amount of natural light gets his pick. “It really is some magnificent space,” he says.

Luxury Travel Advisor has always found it intriguing during our stays at Bellagio that service is flawless. The hotel has nearly 4,000 rooms and yet room service is always on time or early, interactions with hotel employees are always top-of-the-line and natural, not stilted. The luxury travel industry is still buzzing about the hundreds of Bellagio employees who greeted attendees of Virtuoso’s Travel Mart in August with a round of applause—which went on for nearly half an hour—as a grateful acknowledgment for their business. We asked McBeath how that service is executed in such a large hotel and how he expects that to be brought to Aria.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to be the president and chief operating officer at Bellagio for three years,” he notes. “But it’s something you have to work at. When you have 9,000-10,000 employees, you try to get everybody on the same page. For that, our formula has always been to create a culture of service. That starts with getting the right people in the right jobs and training them appropriately. They have to want to provide the service. They have to understand that what we’re selling is memories and that’s how simple I make it. We’re in the memory business and our mission statement, when I was at Bellagio, was to ‘create an extraordinary guest experience at every point of contact.’”

McBeath adds that creating an environment where employees feel secure, supported and valued is also paramount. “When you do that, it’s easy for people to extend and create the kind of service levels that Bellagio has been recognized for. It makes it easier for people to create individualized memorable experiences and interact with guests genuinely and passionately.”

McBeath says he’s taken that mantra and built on it at Aria, where the mission statement “to seek every opportunity to provide an extraordinary guest experience” is supported by culture values which are defined as “integrity, respect, excellence, teamwork, passion” and core service standards that are “to engage the guest; be genuine and sincere; anticipate and exceed guest expectations; and own the experience.”

The Rooms and Suites

Count on Aria to be one of the most hi-tech hotels you’ll ever visit. Upon entering the room, guests will be welcomed with their name on the TV, but that’s just the beginning. If you’ve been there before, all the room settings will be adjusted to your desired levels, based on previous stays. Standard in all guest rooms, not just suites, will be a single remote control, using icons on the TV that allow you to dim the lights, set the room temperature, open and close window shades, and set the alarm and your wakeup call. “Everything you can do is managed electronically without ever having to get out of bed,” says McBeath. If you lose the remote control, there’s a touch panel next to the bed.

Standard rooms will also be large, at an average of 530 square feet.
Floor-to-ceiling windows will also be the norm.

At Aria, corner views from floor-to-ceiling windows will be the norm. King Room shown here.

 

Then there are the suites, designed to be different from anything that Las Vegas has seen. “We’ve obviously had wonderful success with The Villas at The Mirage [see page 10] and the Villas at Bellagio, and the Mansions at MGM Grand, but we are trying to create a new experience,” says McBeath.

As a result, Aria will have 16 Sky Villas on the top three floors of its south tower; some will be 5,000-square-foot, bi-level suites, designed to resemble a Manhattan penthouse. The south tower from the 25th floor up will be comprised only of suites in an area that’s been designated as the Aria Sky Suite Tower. Guests of this hotel within a hotel will arrive at a dedicated porte cochere that leads to a VIP check-in next to a dedicated elevator bank that will whisk them to their suite. When they decide to head downstairs, they’ll find themselves in the aforementioned Baccarat Courtyard.

Aria’s pool scene will also be unique, spread over five acres, divided into four different areas. There will be plenty of posh cabanas but the signature experience will be an area called Liquid, which will have 16 cabanas and its own bar. “People are looking for the daytime Las Vegas party experience, and you have to deliver it to them,” says McBeath.

Vdara

Vdara, with 1,495 rooms, will be much different from Aria. Opening December 1, it’s a quieter, all-suite “boutique-sized” non-smoking, non-gaming hotel.

Designed as a condo hotel, Vdara was meant to have minimal amenities: small check-in desk, small café and small fitness room. However, as it went through its development phase, the hotel’s general manager, Angela Lester, and her team realized that to compete in Las Vegas, it needed much more. It also needed some original branding so that guests would know what it stands for. “We had to decide which niche we could fill,” Lester tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

She looked around Las Vegas and saw that the city had a plethora of young, trendy, hip lifestyle hotels; she saw a need, however, for travelers in the 35 to 55 age bracket who want a contemporary, chic hotel that makes them feel worldly. “That’s where Vdara stands in terms of market niche,” says Lester, adding that, as a result, her hotel has a very contemporary, sophisticated and international flair to it. “We’ll provide guests with an intimate hotel experience that you normally find at international hotels like a Bulgari Milan. But they also have access: Aria is right next to us and we have a pedestrian walkway that connects us to Bellagio, and obviously there’s the rest of the Strip,” says Lester, who has a very strong background in hotel operations. She has served in that capacity at Golden Nugget, Bellagio and The Mirage. That background, along with strong experience in both domestic and international travel, has assisted her in designing an intimate hotel experience at a property whose entry-level suite averages 603 square feet. All room layouts have full kitchens, dining room tables and floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a sense that’s more residential.

The top suites in the hotel are 1,900-square-foot penthouses; one is a duplex. Junior suites also sound like great options; at 862 square feet, they sit on the corner of the building and have panoramic views of the city. The 11-room spa will also have two levels and will have a holistic philosophy. Chef Martin Heierling of Bellagio’s Sensi restaurant will also oversee Vdara’s food and beverage; there will also be a signature Silk Road restaurant. The Sky Pool Lounge will have 19 cabanas; six of them for spa treatments.

Vdara’s Deluxe King Rooms will have fridges, a two-burner electric cook top, a microwave and a dining table for two.

 

The pool layout has a European beach-club style, with lounges, couches and tables in intimate settings. The area will have fabulous views of CityCenter and the Strip, which will make it a great venue for evening events, says Lester.

Fine art will set the luxury tone at Vdara, with works by Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Nancy Rubins, Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella in the paintings and sculpture collection.

While Lester raves about the arrival experience at Vdara, which begins with a glimpse of a Nancy Rubins sculptural piece that’s in Harmon Circle, she says that her favorite part of the hotel is Bar Vdara, which is designed as a contemporary Parisian lounge with rich fabrics and colors. And, unusual for Las Vegas, it has an outdoor area with a water feature in a garden setting.

Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

Mandarin is making every effort for its foray into the city to be a brand-defining moment. The Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, which opens December 4 with 392 guest rooms and 227 residences, will have standard rooms that start at 600 square feet. The bi-level holistic spa will have 17 treatment rooms and will be the venue in which Mandarin debuts its new signature spa line. Rooms at the spa will have natural light shining through; because the hotel is so high up, there’s no need to be shy in front of unadorned windows.

Mandarin Oriental’s Mandarin Suite will have Art Deco decor, two bedrooms, a fitness room, living/dining area, bar and study. The master suite is shown here.

 

General Manager Rajesh Jhingon, who hails from Mandarin’s Singapore hotel, has been joined by 35 colleagues who have moved to Las Vegas from around the globe to head executive teams and departments to ensure that guests receive an excellent first impression of the brand—so they become “fans” so to speak. Nice Touch: Guests who have stayed at other Mandarin properties will find their preferences have been pre-recorded  when they arrive at the Las Vegas hotel.

Jhingon says the hotel’s arrival experience will be impressive; guests will enter at a private porte cochere and then be whisked up to the 23rd floor (there are 47 stories in all) to the lobby, which is also home to Twist, the signature restaurant and the Mandarin Bar. As for the service, Jhingon says there’s no VIP designation, since all guests will “be embraced in the same manner.”

The presidential suites, each more than 3,000 square feet in size, promise to be different. The Mandarin has an Art Deco style, the Taipan has an Asian motif and the Emperor Suite sports black-and-white interiors. The hotel’s pool deck will include private cabanas and butler service.

Jhingon’s favorite parts of the hotel include the ballroom, which is filled with natural light and provides top-of-the-line audio-visual technology but he also says “the sky lobby is pretty nice. You have the entire city at your feet, there’s a real rush and then a sense of pride as you imagine the first guests in the hotel looking at the view.”

That expected rush falls in line with Jhingon’s major goal in opening the first Mandarin Oriental hotel in Las Vegas: “My focus is on the first impression. After that, the moments of delight will happen,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.