CityCenter's Aria ready for a Las Vegas-style boom

Trying to promote a Vegas hotel? That's heavy, man.

Or more correctly, the Heavy — a British rock band whose TV commercial featuring Aria, the 4,004-room anchor hotel at CityCenter — is coming soon to a TV screen near you.

"It's a high-energy, fun commercial that we think accurately displays the excitement of Aria," said Jim Murren, chief executive of parent company MGM Resorts International.

Here's what's behind the commercial: Fewer than half of Southern Californians — a huge Vegas market — know of Aria, market research shows. (And that's an improvement from 33% a year ago when the resort opened.)

CityCenter, a nearly $9-billion project, opened in phases, which wasn't conducive to highlighting its electric ambience. "It's hard to display that imagery when you're not open," Murren said. "You can't show a commercial of a construction site and say, 'This is exciting. Come see us.'"

CityCenter's opening also corresponded with one of the lowest points in the American economy since the Great Depression. Aria's room occupancy during the first quarter of this year averaged 63%. As a whole, CityCenter lost $8.7 million in that same quarter.

"The recovery has been slower than we expected," Murren acknowledged, but he thinks CityCenter — and Vegas as a whole — has turned the corner. The project made a profit of $52.3 million in the third quarter. Room occupancy at Aria climbed to 82%.

Amid the good news, however, is some bad news.

The Harmon hotel, named for the avenue that cuts through the project, was meant to be CityCenter's fourth luxury hotel, joining Aria, Vdara and Mandarin Oriental.

But faced with myriad construction problems and legal issues, Harmon's future is uncertain. There has been talk that it could be demolished, although Murren said that notion is "very premature."

The economy also has created some blips for Vdara. "With the economy as it was this year, we only opened with a portion of Vdara's rooms," said Jenn Michaels, an MGM vice president. "As the economy improved, we opened additional rooms."

Vdara's room occupancy remained flat at 70% during the third quarter, and the average daily room rate was $129, a steal along this stretch of the Strip. (Aria averaged $175.)

"We could have, of course, filled up Aria right from the beginning if we had discounted [rooms] to a point where we could stimulate demand that way," Murren said. "But that would have been unfair to the brand."

So prepare for a marketing-campaign blizzard. The CEO thinks people are now willing to sit up and take notice.

"They weren't listening a year ago," he said. "There was no amount of advertising or convincing you could deploy to convince the American consumer they should go out and have fun. The wounds of the recession were far too deep."

travel@latimes.com

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