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Why Its Okay to Love Las Vegas

Go ahead, get your sin on in Americas gaudiest, glitziest city.

I have a confession, and it’s one that often startles my travel-savvy friends: Las Vegas is one of my favorite places in the world. I adore every marabou-trimmed, neon-lit inch of a place whose patron saint should be Liberace. If you’re unconvinced of its charms—and many people might be—allow me a moment to persuade you.

Of course, my perspective might be skewed; though I’ve spent much of my adult life stateside, I’m European by birth. Just over three million visitors arrived in Las Vegas from outside North America last year, and the largest group by far was Brits, like me. More than 725,000 English folk (that’s around 12 percent of the entire total) flocked there like pale-skinned moths towards the neon lights. I suspect it’s because Vegas embodies every brash, joyous cliché about the U.S. that the rest of the world hopes might be true. Some well-traveled Americans, on the other hand, are filled with fretfulness for much the same reason.

Yet I don’t understand why. Las Vegas embodies a certain shoulders-back shamelessness and charming chutzpah that everyone should celebrate. I’m only a dabblesome gambler—a few games of two-buck Top Dollar will more than sate my luck-spinning thirst. But the city’s guilt-free version of vice allows visitors to unbuckle their belts an extra notch, both literally and metaphorically. Indeed, the only time Vegas has stumbled is when it tried to paper over the Pleasuredome in the 1990s, launching an aggressive tourism campaign aiming to turn the Strip into a family-focused destination. Touting wholesomeness and good-value hotel rooms, it caused tourism revenues to crater while families took little notice and steered clear.

That all changed in 2003, when the city instead opted to celebrate its sin-soaked self. A brilliant marketer coined another one of those ad slogans that becomes a pop culture punchline (see: "Where’s the Beef?", "Plop Plop Fizz Fizz"). "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" turned Sin City’s tacit acceptance of naughtiness into formal permission, and earned the place gobs of money, inspired an Usher song, and, of course, provided the concept behind The Hangover trilogy. And it did so by celebrating, rather than shunning, its showgirl soul. After weathering the austerity and uncertainty of the Great Recession, we’ve never needed that permission more.

The Las Vegas of today is a 1950s Rat Pack-and-poker creation, one that captures the wide-eyed optimism that buoyed up the country then—all Brylcreemed quiffs, polyester suits, and TV dinners in front of enormous screens. Gloriously consumerist, its gaudy, great fun, and a monument to the power of the greenback, be it gambling or shopping. The designer boutiques in the citys five-star malls regularly top annual profit per meter charts for their respective brands. Sin Citys celebration of excess-as-success offers a reliably campy sense of spectacle. Where else would Céline Dion duet with a hologram version of herself, as she does in her current extravaganza? Admit it, we all want to be VIPs, but its only in Vegas where that instinct can be indulged without guilt, a table overlooking the dance floor at OMNIA, my newest favorite nightspot on the Strip, is the ultimate look-at-me perch. And I love it.

Written by Mark Ellwood