The casino resort experience was already rapidly evolving in many ways, but some of that change has been accelerated with the current pandemic forcing owners to rethink many aspects of their operation.
A trio of industry executives acknowledged just that in a panel discussion entitled “Increasing The Odds For Success: What’s Trending In Casino Hotels” during BITAC Casino Connect Virtual 2020. The panelists addressed the impact of the pandemic through the last several months, both financially speaking and in terms of design changes.
Mark Birtha, president, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain—which opened last October—remained generally optimistic about the overall segment in general pointing out that even during the Great Recession there was not “significant turnover or bankruptcies” among casino hotels.
“I don’t think we’re going to see that this time either. We continue to watch what’s going in the industry and who’s moving in what direction. The competition will vary market by market, but I don’t think we’re going to see a significant amount of bankruptcies or turnover other than some of the regulatory requirements [related to acquisitions],” he said.
Floss Barber, principal & CEO, Floss Barber, Inc., outlined about some of the shifts in design. “Hotel rooms themselves are borrowing from the health care industry in terms of antimicrobial fabrics, laminates and all the materials that one could have in a hotel room,” she said, noting the emphasis on cutting down on bacteria.
Barber added, “Designers owe it to them [property owners] to figure out how to still maintain the experience with the new materials.”
She also acknowledged that while the overall layout of the gaming floor needs to be altered as density levels are reached it is still very much a work in progress.
“You’re seeing it being spread out. If you think about the slot player it’s sort of an individual experience so they’re used to kind of being in their own zone. It’s the table games where we’ve got to rethink it and I don’t know that a rethink has played out. I think we’re just boxing in people for their own protection,” she noted.
Rick Marencic, design principal/studio director, JCJ Architecture, meanwhile, believes there needs to be changes in terms of “how we design our rooms,” particularly when it comes to accommodating millennials or younger guests.
“They really do still like to be in groups, so how can the rooms be accommodated for in-room dining experiences? How can the rooms be set up so that there’s more connecting rooms so groups can come together and be with each other in their bubble, so to speak? How can the number of suites be influenced to allow larger groups to come? he asked.
Birtha also acknowledged the increased presence of millennials as opposed to a more “risk averse” group of older travelers.
“We have seen a skew to a younger demographic. It’s not a dramatic 100 percent difference, but it is a measurable difference in terms of when we reopened versus where we were before we closed initially. It’s great in the general sense that we’re continuing to differentiate and expand the clientele base. In many cases we expect to see a number of people who may not be going out right now coming back in the near future,” he said.
Marencic noted that younger consumers are also influencing change when it comes to how operators approach food & beverage in the post pandemic world.
“It seems to me that fine dining is the most stressed, especially with independent restauranters. Essentially the Grab and Go model seems to still be serving people well. A lot of aspects of how fine dining establishments are sort of retrofitted and converted to simplified menus for airport venues can be applied to our casino experience and may be here to stay,” he said.
But perhaps the biggest change to the overall gaming experience involves technology and Birtha reinforced the importance of it.
“Technology is going to be at the forefront of every single conversation we have. Not because of the pandemic environment we’re in today, but because that’s really what the biggest differentiator is in almost every industry out there today and tomorrow,” he said.
Birtha specifically cited the rising popularity of cashless gaming. “You’re going to see that become on the forefront; touchless and interactionless technology is going to be more of a focus,” he said, later adding that Internet gaming on mobile devices is also on the rise.
Furthermore, technology has helped casino hotels take their loyalty programs to another level in recent years, according to Birtha.