Is Celine Dion saving Las Vegas?

Celine Dion’s achievement of finishing her 1000th show in Las Vegas became headline news of the city last month. This is her second run of residency shows in Sin City after her exceptionally successful “A New Day…”in 2003 that changed almost everything, not only assuring her status as a superstar and adding a few zeros to her bank balance, but also opening up a whole new path for the economy of the gambling capital of the world.

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Dion celebrates the milestone with a sold-out audience as she takes the stage of the Colosseum for the 1000th times in October. / Photo by Denise Truscello

Dion, 48, one of the best-selling female artists of all time, started her 5-year residency “A New Day…” in 2003 at the 4000-seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace, which was a multi-million theatre built dedicatedly to house Dion’s concert. The 714-show production is the most successful residency show of all time, grossing USD $385 million (USD $440.11 million in 2016 dollars) in ticket sales and attracting 2.8 million audiences according to Billboard figures.

Coincidentally after the French-Canadian chanteuse departed from her run of shows in 2007, an economic slump hit the desert city, resulting an unemployment rate of 15.7 percent, which was the worst among major cities in the country. The local housing market was crashed and casino revenue plummeted. The occupancy rates of hotels declined from 90.4% in the last year of Dion’s first run to 81.1% in 2010.

When the “My heart will go on” singer returned in 2011 for a whole new show, “Celine”, her show was estimated to have created up to 7,000 direct and indirect jobs. Center for Business and Economic Research of University of Nevada also reckons that the show would bring around USD $114 million worth of economic activities.

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Signs with the slogan “Celine’s back.” were everywhere in the city including taxis when Dion announced to return for her second residency in 2011./ Photo by Bill and Kit

“Celine has done much to boost tourism, because many people come to Las Vegas only to see the show. When they are in town, they then take the opportunity to do other activities.” Carolyn Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas said in an interview in 2013.

In order to maintain a sustainable development, the economy of Las Vegas has been experiencing continuous structural changes. Growing from a merely casino-based one, it has turned into a multi-platform entertainment hub with enormous parties heated up by DJs in top nightclubs, and the biggest trend in the past decade, residencies performed by music mega stars.

In the past, Las Vegas was deemed as a place for washed-up music artists of a certain age to perform concerts for their older fans.  Dion has changed the public and the entertainment industry’s perceptions of performing residency shows in Las Vegas and made it a safe place for more popular singers like Cher, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears to start their own residencies.  The latters who are superstars from ‘90s to ‘00s draw huge attention from younger people.

“These residency shows have carved out a niche in the local market and play their own role in the success of Las Vegas as an international destination for tourists,” Stephen Miller, Director of Center for Business and Economic Research of University of Nevada said. “They are complementary to many other activities like high end shopping, high end restaurants, and so on.”

Statistics from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says that the average age of a Vegas visitor has dropped to 47.7 years old in 2015 from 50 in 2009. It also shows a negative relationship between visitors’ ages and their reported income, meaning that they have more money to spend.

In 2015 the earnings from gambling dropped by 2.5 percent but a record-breaking 42.3 million tourists visited the city, rising by more than 1 million from 2014.

“The residency shows are part of a much larger movement to diversify the revenue stream of the casino hotels.” Miller said. “It used to be the case that gaming revenues comprised around 65 percent of total revenue whereas now gaming revenue is around 35 percent of total revenue.”

“This change in revenue involves shows, dining, shopping and others. So residency shows are part of a bigger picture,” he added.

More entertainment-focused venues are to be built in near future. The Madison Square Garden Company announced this year that they are planning to construct a new 17,500-capacity arena for music and non-sports entertainment events in Las Vegas.

Jason Gastwirth, Caesars’ senior vice president of marketing and entertainment thinks that more big-name artists of different genres and styles will come in for more music activities eventually.

“Las Vegas is now the Entertainment Capital of the World as visitors from around the globe travel to watch their favorite artists perform.” Gastwirth said. “As the market expands with a host of new venues here, it strengthens the foundation for the city to be a true world leader in this form of entertainment.”

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In the centre of the Las Vegas Strip is a huge marquee sign with an image of Dion. Below is a tribute message dedicated to Dion’s husband, Rene Angelil after his death in early 2016.

Since Dion’s debut on the Strip 13 years ago, the allure of Vegas has shifted from slot machines to all sorts of large-scale entertainment events and concerts. This has to be credited to Celine Dion for initiating the groundbreaking for a term that is now so prevailing and common in Las Vegas – residencies.

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