Learning about customer experience in Las Vegas

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From left: Valentina Titiun, Beth Malin, Jenna Meyerson and Quentin Renson at the Bellagio in Las Vegas

By Valentina Titiun

Coming into Kellogg, I knew I wanted to be involved in every opportunity I could find related to the hospitality industry. Since I was young, I’ve always been passionate about hospitality, and one of the many reasons I chose Kellogg is that I could find other people with this same interest, despite it being a very niche area.

One of my favorite experiences so far has been traveling with three Kellogg friends to the cross-school Las Vegas Hospitality Trek with Wharton, Harvard, UCLA and Columbia. Over the course of the weekend we met executives from the biggest casino resorts and restaurant groups in the city, toured the premises and met people with similar interests.

This year we stayed at the Caesars Palace, and throughout the two days of the trek we met with executives from Caesars Entertainment Corporation, MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Tao Group at breakfasts, Q&A sessions and keynote speeches (we of course also found time to meet people from the other schools in between and after activities!). During these interactions we learned about the history of the hospitality industry in Vegas, the major challenges for resorts of this kind today and some great insights about how to achieve outstanding customer experiences.

Some of the insights/facts that stood out for me were:

  • The increasing use of big data to get to know clients and anticipate their needs in order to create memorable and differentiating experiences.
  • The major shift in the sources of revenue for companies on the Las Vegas Strip. Years ago, gaming made up about 70% of revenue, while now the change in customers’ interests has flipped these revenue sources so that lodging, entertainment and dining now represent 70% of revenue. These new trends have led to exciting new developments on the Vegas Strip like MGM’s first outdoor, natural area called “The Park,” as well as a 20,000 seat arena opening this year.
  • Since the 1989 opening of the Mirage, the first mega resort on the Vegas Strip, Las Vegas has changed immensely. Hotel and resort ownership has shifted from resorts owned by various different groups to a consolidated Strip with just four major players (MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands).
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James Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, talks to students about the company and the challenges within the industry.

The activity that stood out most to me was a meeting and Q&A session with Brian Gullbrants, the GM of Operations at the Wynn and Encore. Although he had to run out of our meeting because of an emergency, he managed to meet us for another hour during a Saturday afternoon to share his experiences and insights with us. Brian started his career in hospitality with the Ritz-Carlton as a bellboy and moved up to Global VP of Operations for the company. He was then contacted by Wynn Resorts and has been tremendously successful in generating exceptional experiences for guests in his new role there. He shared some of his tactics to achieve these achievements:

  • Every night, he sends an email to all staff at the Wynn. In the message he discusses the day ahead, the company philosophy, highlights an outstanding story that happened at one of the resorts or just says thanks to the employees. He says this has allowed him to focus on the people by rewarding them and ensuring everyone uses the same language.
  • After a long career in hospitality, he firmly believes that hiring the best people, training them and treating them well is the most important thing. But he thinks that there are two things that just can’t be taught: how to smile and how to care for others.
  • He always motivates his employees to listen to what guests want and make sure they’re doing something more to exceed their expectations (i.e.: if a bellboy sees someone sneezing, he will let the housekeeper know so that they can leave a box of tissues next to the guest’s bed).

It was very inspiring to hear a successful leader in the hospitality industry talk about how they achieve outstanding results by focusing on the people. Brian also gave us an inspiring piece of career advice grounded on how he himself found success: Success is today – don’t just focus on what you want to be, be happy today and work hard to do your best at where you are now: this will bring success tomorrow.

All in all, the trek was an incredible experience that I would recommend to anyone who is looking into this industry or who would like to know how exceptional customer experience is achieved. In addition, sharing this experience with other MBA students with my same interests was very enriching and something I would certainly want to do again.

Valentina Titiun is a student in Kellogg’s Two-Year MBA Program. She grew up in Chile. Prior to Kellogg she worked as a consultant, where she had the chance to work on projects for the hospitality industry. She is a director in the Hospitality Club and also one of the lead vocalists of the Captains of Industry, Kellogg’s Top 40 cover band.

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