World's tallest observation wheel falls short on riders

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2015 3:11 PM
World's tallest observation wheel falls short on riders

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The world's tallest observation wheel hasn't quite reached the elevated expectations of its owner.

Caesars Entertainment officials have said the High Roller — its towering Las Vegas Strip attraction that stands 550 feet tall — was just shy of 5,000 daily riders in the past three months, up 10 percent compared to the prior quarter.

That's at least 3,000 riders shy of company expectations before the ride opened nearly a year ago though.

The ride posted the shortfall despite deep discounts for locals on the regular $29.95 to $59.95 ticket prices, Groupon deals and airline travel package discounts.

The attraction isn't hard to miss as it towers behind the Las Vegas Strip, which sees 41 million visitors a year.

So how does Caesars Entertainment get already over-stimulated visitors to Vegas to come on board?

Offering them drinks from an open bar during the 30-minute ride has helped. Riders booking the "Happy Half Hour" package have accounted for one of four riders, said Tariq Shaukat, the company's chief commercial officer.

The wheel is the first of a few observation wheels proposed for the Strip. It opened last year as part of a $550 million pedestrian promenade sandwiched between the Flamingo hotel and casino and the former Imperial Palace casino-hotel, now called the Linq.

Caesars Entertainment hasn't provided an individual cost to build and operate the wheel.

No one expected the ride to be a constant sell-out. If the High Roller packed every last one of its orb-shaped cabins for each of its 29 daily revolutions, though, it could accommodate a total of 32,480 people.

The company had its sights set on 8,000 to 11,000 visitors a day, which might earn it as much as $60 million annually, according to a financial filing from 2013.

The company arrived at those numbers in part by comparing its ride to 2010 figures for other observation attractions. The London Eye got 3.9 million visitors; the Empire State Building had 3.5 million; and 700,000 visitors went to the top of the Stratosphere in Vegas.

Shaukat said the High Roller was impacted when the company decided to overhaul the newly re-branded Linq hotel-casino next door, putting some 1,200 rooms out of service and cutting down on possible riders.

Marketing the ride has also been a challenge for the company that has traditionally focused on casinos, hotels and other types of entertainment. It assumed the High Roller would be most popular when hotels on the Strip were the fullest, but that hasn't been the case.

The main riders so far have been leisure tourists, families and locals — not casino-goers or convention attendees.

The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve — generally a slow one for Las Vegas — was a winner for the ride, he said.

"The wheel was on fire because it was exactly the right type of occupancy," Shaukat said.

Reviews on Yelp.com and elsewhere have been largely positive but there's a catch: They say it's worth doing once. More than once? Not so much, or at least not without a coupon.

Shaukat said changes are in the works to keep the experience fresh. He reminded would-be riders that a trip at night has a different view than during the light of day.