After a long drive up Interstate 15, you arrive on the Las Vegas Strip, ready for R&R. Whether that stands for rest and relaxation or rock 'n' roll, it's time to ditch the routine and unwind. But you've left your wallet at home.
In the near future, you won't need to worry. Paper and plastic will be passé; a smart phone will be your ticket to Sin City.
"That's your wallet. That could be your room key," says John Bollen of MGM Resorts International. As vice president of IT strategy, he's not making a wild prediction — he's stating fact.
Within a couple of years, experts say most of us will own a smartphone, and on visits to Vegas, it will tell us how long the wait is at your favorite restaurant or when tickets to a sold-out show become available.
"I think we're at the tipping point," says Neal Narayani, who oversees mobile marketing for Harrah's Entertainment. "Over the next 12 to 18 months, as the devices now in people's pockets begin to get replaced … we're going to start seeing these smartphones becoming ubiquitous over our customer base."
Narayani says Caesars Palace is the only one of the company's Strip properties, which include Flamingo, Paris and Planet Hollywood, that feature a GPS-driven app. It's available for iPhone and Droid devices.
"Your physical location will determine what information you'll see on the app," Narayani explains. "We can really zero in on the customer experience because the relevant content [is] based on where we know you are." For example, a visitor might be invited to enjoy a special drink offer at a nearby bar.
MGM Resorts offers apps for all its Strip hotels, from Mandalay Bay to Circus Circus, but at present only for Apple's smartphone.
Visitors to MGM's CityCenter, with its multimillion-dollar collection of fine art, can now take a digital tour, learning about the various works and their creators, as they stroll the complex. (For the rest of us, concierges provide paper pamphlets.)
With nearly 40 million guests each year, Las Vegas is fertile ground for information technology developers wanting to provide travelers with high-tech tools. Several guides are downloadable — some for free, some for a price — but not all are equally useful.
The aging Travelodge, with its three floors of budget rooms, coats of blue and yellow paint and dumpsters outside the lobby, makes the GPS Guided City Walks (http://www.gpsmycity.com) list of 15 must-see places along the Strip. The tour cites its "comfortable environment." Just steps away are the MGM Grand, featuring various popular attractions, and CityCenter, with its chic hotels and Rodeo Drive-like shopping. Neither property, however, rates a mention in the Guided City walking tour, which also lists long-closed museums. It costs $4.99.
A competing product, Visual Travel Tours (http://www.visualtraveltours.com), provides volumes of information about Las Vegas for $12.95. Much of it may be familiar to frequent visitors, but the guide also shares some hidden gems, such as Red Spring, an oasis about a 30-minute drive west of the Strip and a mile or so down Calico Basin Road. Here, grassy meadows and leafy trees thrive, thanks to the spring that bubbles to the surface inside a small cave. It's easily accessible — even for those with disabilities — thanks to a series of boardwalks that climb gently from the parking lot.
"The wolves come out around 5 o'clock," says a frequent visitor, a woman from New Jersey. "They start baying, telling people it's time to go home."
She — and other out-of-staters too — say they discovered Red Spring (www.birdandhike.com/Bird/Red_Rocks/Calico_Basin/_Calico_Basin.htm) using what now seems like old-fashioned technology: searching the Internet. Their Googling, however, got them to Red Spring without spending a dime.
Although the percentage of smartphone users is soaring, Narayani acknowledges that eight of every nine people still use a less-intelligent device. Aware of that, he points to Texpress as a product for the masses. Among its texting features is one that lets Caesars guests check in before arrival, thereby avoiding a queue at reception.
The benefit is much easier to understand than the technology: As the wait time decreases, the R&R time increases.
"We want to make sure that when you're enjoying your stay at Caesars Palace, all of the information we can offer you is available in your pocket. [You] just pull out your phone," Narayani says.