Leaving Las Vegas, Sort Of

So my previous travel post was about Rotorua, New Zealand, which everyone refers to as Rotovegas. I mentioned that no one could describe to us what they meant by associating it with Las Vegas, partially because few New Zealanders had been to Las Vegas itself. So why, then, the association? And what does that tell us about the Las Vegas brand?

First, a disclaimer: Las Vegas is probably the last place on Earth you would ever find me. It is in the middle of a desert, its main attractions are gambling, drinking, and pools at casino-hotels, and it all happens at night. I like going outdoors, I get sick from cocktails, and I go to bed at 10pm. But I understand the allure and know many people that go, so I’m going to write about it anyway.

Here’s how Rotorua does remind me of Las Vegas. If it weren’t for the geyers and hot springs, there would barely be anyone there. But they have successfully played it up, creating cheesy tours and making it easy to get to (airport and buses galore), and people come, like moths to a stinky yellow flame. The town is tourist-central. Everything is marketed as “Geothermal” this, and “Hot Springs” that, there’s an obvious exploitation of the native populations for tourism that is sad but necessary, and everyone in the town works for that main tourist industry.

Otherwise, to its credit, it is not like Las Vegas at all. It is geographically blessed, with a large lake and beautiful trees and land features. It doesn’t have the nightlife that too often winds up attracting seedier crowds. It does not have greedy casinos. It is a family-friendly town, and has family-friendly attractions and festivals, including a lakeside community screening of Monsters, Inc. for New Years’ Eve. Plus, New Zealanders are much nicer.

Las Vegas is an entirely manufactured tourist destination, perpetuated by tons and tons of marketing; cheap hotel rooms, cheap flights, cheap drinks, and lots of “What happens in Vegas” allure cover up its obvious flaws. If Rotorua wanted to really be like Vegas, it would spend even more on marketing, and would keep things open later. Heck, they could even bring in gambling. Right now, all they have is a sign that says “Welcome to fabulous Rotovegas,” an obvious enough ripoff, and the ubiquitous nickname.

It does, however, say something about the success of the Las Vegas brand that people want it to be Rotovegas. I may hate the concept of Las Vegas, but lots of people disagree. And if they saw Rotorua as a fun weekend destination where they could just have a good time, it would be a testament to the success of associating Las Vegas with fun, instead of its less savory elements.

Overall that is the takeaway: Las Vegas has succeeded in making a place in the middle of the horrible Nevada desert into an international symbol of fun. And people head to Rotorua for the same reasons. So though the two places could not really be any more different, they both aspire to be the go-to spot for weekend adventures.

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