The inaugural BITAC® Casino Resorts took place earlier this week as attendees doubled down on the opportunity to learn more about what’s driving success in the burgeoning hospitality sector.
The event—which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto—featured a number of educational sessions with leading casino resort executives, including “Guiding The Guest Experience.”
During the aforementioned session, the executives framed the evolution of casino resorts through the years. “The exciting thing for me about the industry is the evolution from what used to be just gaming; all we marketed was gaming. Now gaming has become an amenity. We’re marketing an experience—a hospitality experience—and many experiences within it and gaming just being a part of it,” said Chris Abraham, vp, marketing, Grand Sierra Resorts & Casino.
Saverio Scheri, president and CEO, WhiteSand Gaming, underscored the point. “The gaming industry has really evolved over the last decade or so and we’ve hard during that time to compete. The days where we opened the doors and people came are clearly over…Now we’re seeing a lot of money being spent in places where we hadn’t seen it being spent before. Operators are starting to spend a lot more of their budget on things like décor and training,” he said.
Scheri expanded on the point in outlining marketing strategies. “We talk about how gaming has evolved and so much of the revenue and profit is generated from non-gaming profit centers, like the hotel food & beverage, retail, nightlife. We really have to change the way we market to all the groups that visit those places, because 67 percent of your revenue is coming from non-gaming areas. We want to maximize the groups that are visiting those venues and we are learning a lot about how to engage with them,” he maintained.
Meanwhile, both executives acknowledged that the guests have evolved as well. “The expectations have increased obviously. There are many different segments of the market. You have your typical gamers where some just want to be left alone and come in and game; there’s that high maintenance gamer who wants everything that you have under your roof; and then there are the non-gamers, these casual gamers that are looking for an entertainment experience where you’re competing with the local restaurants, movies theaters and Netflix,” noted Abraham.
Much of that guest evolution is attributed to the millennials and the importance of this group was underscored. According to Scheri, “They are the second largest demographic out there, behind baby boomers, that’s a fact. I think that’s one of the demographics that’s really the most difficult to target and technology is such a big part of that…So many [resorts] are not focused on the technology for that demographic and they’re going to get behind very quickly, because as we start to really understand how we engage that demographic and really allow them to craft their experience you have to give them the tools to do that.”
Some within the industry have suggested that millennials might dramatically alter the way casinos operate and the games that are available, but Scheri noted the jury is still out on that.
“There are basically two paths: they’re saying that gaming will change forever and we will never see what we have today, or even 10 years ago, with traditional slot players and traditional table games; it’s going to be skill-based games, it’s going to be virtual reality. At the same time we’re keeping the games and going to see how it evolves. I can tell you this, the majority of folks I’ve talked to are guessing that they’re [millennials] going to fall into the category of our senior gamers now and that they’ll migrate to slots. It’s kind of a natural progression. We really just have to wait and see how that plays out, and until we really know we’re going to have a lot of different things available for these people,” he said.
Abraham added, “Our job in the hospitality industry is to create the best experience for them. There are many, many companies—your slot technology companies, your software companies—that their business is incumbent upon communicating and engaging this group and this generation. They’re going to figure it out …People want experiences, everybody, but millennials especially, want experiences. We’re going to build those experiences and I think the games will come along. It’s going to take a little longer for them to figure that out. That product will come along and it will engage this generation and generations to come,” he noted.
A vital component of the guest experience is the personnel at the properties and the panelists weighed in on the subject. “A lot of people confuse the guest experience with customer service and that’s not what a guest experience is. Customer service is basic training for the restaurant, check-in, and things like that, and it’s part of the guest experience, but it’s not the entire guest experience. It certainly starts with creating a phenomenal training program that you can see,” noted Scheri.
According to Abraham, “As the economy improves it’s quite difficult to find team members that are engaged; that will engage in our business and continue to grow within. I think things were a little easier in acquiring talent a decade ago or more. The selection process—how we’re going to compensate that team member—is going to change over time. I think we all need to get better at trying to understand how to acquire great talent and keep great talent. It’s very difficult in this industry.”
Scheri agreed while pointed out that initiatives like the H1 Visa program are in jeopardy, which could make it more difficult to find entry-level workers. “It’s always been an issue, but it’s probably more of an issue today than ever before,” he stated.