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Tourism leaders paying more attention to Life is Beautiful

It’s taken seven years, but the Life is Beautiful music and art festival that begins Friday in downtown Las Vegas has finally achieved enough traction that it moves the city’s economic needle.

And this year, some Life is Beautiful connections have been immortalized on casino chips — a sure sign the festival has made it.

The three-day event that features performers Billie Eilish, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne, among others, is expected to draw 186,550 people, 42,000 of whom will come from out of town.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has calculated the event will produce an economic impact of $43.5 million for the community. More importantly, it will deliver valuable research data as the community works to discover what attracts the millennial crowd.

Building momentum

“It’s been building momentum over the past several years, and actually 2018 was the highest attendance ever, up 11 percent year over year, and out-of-town visitors in particular was 42,000 unique individuals of the 72,000 unique individuals who attended the event,” said H. Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing for the LVCVA.

“It is definitely moving in the direction of attracting folks, and that’s part of what we’re really intrigued about,” he said.

LVCVA research indicates 36 percent of all Las Vegas visitation is coming from millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996, outnumbering baby boomers. Their mean age is 31, well below the mean Las Vegas visitor age of 45.

Because the festival sells wristbands through specific addresses, the LVCVA can determine fairly accurately how many attendees are from outside the region.

This year, the authority’s board of directors saw Life is Beautiful as an opportunity to draw people to the city, and it authorized $150,000 to market the event.

Brunelle said the LVCVA has kept its eye on Life is Beautiful and that it has evolved into an event with a following. It wasn’t easy in the early days at a time when Brunelle was an executive with MGM Resorts International at The Mirage.

“When we looked at the age of the customer, there was initially some hesitation because we weren’t sure it was going to be the right customer for certain resorts,” Brunelle said.

Music festivals, including the summertime Electric Daisy Carnival, could bring big numbers, but were they the right customer to try to woo to Las Vegas?

“When you look at some of the (room) rate compression that happens around town, those folks that come in for something like an Electric Daisy Carnival really help the destination, and that’s why the destination has embraced it,” he said.

Brunelle said Life is Beautiful grew an audience over time, and now it’s an event that has its own crowd.

“The first couple of years are usually a little challenging, and if you talk to the promoters, they’ll say the same thing. They don’t do it for one year,” he said. Growth “takes two, three, four or five years to get. If you go back to Life is Beautiful in 2015, they had 124,000 wristbands scanned. This past year, in 2018, it was 180,000. So it takes time to grow and gain momentum, but you can see over time what these events are.”

Embracing the festival

Now downtown resort operators embrace Life is Beautiful.

Jonathan Jossel, CEO of the Plaza, embraced the artistic aspect of the festival.

“Life is Beautiful became known for its music and art, so we really embraced the art three years ago and curated the murals put on our building,” he said. “We get an unbelievable number of media impressions from them.”

A few months ago, Jossel decided to place the art images — “Cultivate Harmony” by Shepard Fairey, “Behind Closed Doors” by D*Face, and “Tribute to Cassius Marcellus” by Faile — on casino chips.

“I’m taking the position, and I might be wrong, that these chips will be purchased for the art, not for the value of the chip,” Jossel said. “If you’re a fan of Shepard Fairey, you can own his first-ever piece of art on a casino chip, which is a limited-edition chip. It’s worth $100 in the casino, you can always go play it, but you’re going to collect it because you’re a collector of that guy’s art. I don’t know if anybody’s ever thought of combining art and casino chips, but we did, and so far there’s a lot of interest in them.”

By coincidence, the casino chips arrived this week, and Jossel received permission from the artists to circulate them Wednesday. There are 1,000 chips of each work in denominations of $100 for Shepard, $25 for Faile and $5 for D*Face.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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