I t's hard to believe now, but four years prior to Laura Bush's appearance on The Tonight Show, Las Vegas was suffering an image problem. What happened there, stayed there -- but for the wrong reasons. The gilded Rat Pack-era glamour that had made Vegas a glitzy destination for the Greatest Generation had faded like an old Polaroid. Even though developers, according to Vassiliadis, had been pumping vast sums of money into rehabilitating the city's tarnished appeal since the mid-1990s, few were aware of the changes.
"We had casinos investing millions into bringing world-class shows, shopping, spas, restaurants... basically anything you could want to the city," he said. "Vegas was turning into a real destination for fun." And it's true: Many of the sprawling, multi-billion dollar hotels/casinos/shopping centers/pseudo-theme parks that define the Strip today didn't even open until the late '90s. "We needed a way to tell people, to shake them and say, 'Hey, there's so much more than gambling here,'" said Vassiliadis. "Vegas just didn't have the same appeal it used to have. Casinos were opening up all over the country. Gambling just wasn't a big draw anymore."
In order to show the public what Vegas could be, R&R Partners needed to figure out what Vegas was. So, circa 2000, they launched a nationwide R&D project targeting "average" Americans. They asked focus groups to complete exercises like "pack a suitcase for a Vegas trip" and answer questions like, "What does the average Las Vegas tourist look like?"