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Gaming Guru

Rod Smith

Visitors: Wynn Stay Not in Plans

29 March 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn likes to wrap up private tours of his new $2.7 billion megaresort by telling guests they have to admit the public is going to love the place.

Judging from a recent survey, a lot of leisure and business travelers agree with him -- but not all them.

More than a third of the respondents to a survey of visitors by MRC Group, Nevada's largest polling firm, consider themselves likely to stay at the 2,716-room resort at the corner of Sands Avenue and the Strip on their next visit, but almost 70 percent say sorry, no way.

Of those likely to stay at Wynn Las Vegas, mostly leisure travelers, the top reasons they cite are that it will be "trendy" (57 percent) and that they "like Wynn properties" (15 percent). For those not likely to stay, 34 percent believe it will be too expensive and 27 percent already have a place they prefer.

Almost three-quarters of the respondents knew of Wynn Las Vegas before being polled and almost two-thirds expect it will be as good or better than other Strip resorts; about 40 percent, however, expect it will be just average.

Jim Medick, chief executive officer of the MRC Group, said public awareness of Wynn Las Vegas has already reached "thin atmosphere levels," more than a month before its April 28 opening.

He said such awareness is very unusual, if not a first, for a new resort, and compares with "saturation" level of awareness for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's "What happens here, stays here" advertising campaign.

"Over 70 percent not only know about it, most of them think it will be the best, or one of the best resort offerings, in Vegas," Medick said.

"And while many believe they may not be able to afford a room at the inn, they most certainly will be stopping by to mingle with those who can," he said.

Wynn and his key executives declined to comment on the record on the polling results.

Wynn Las Vegas is getting an even stronger reception among business travelers.

A poll of convention planners sponsored by Susquehanna Financial Group shows 7 percent of all respondents nationwide already have booked a meeting or convention at Wynn Las Vegas, with 40 percent saying they plan to book space there.

"The convention business is the key to filling the building with good-paying customers. The more convention reservations you have, the more you can charge free and independent travelers for the supply of rooms you have left over," Susquehanna Financial gaming analyst Eric Hausler said.

To help attract upper-crust guests to Wynn Las Vegas, Wynn is building a 200,000-square-foot complex that will include a 50,000-square-foot ballroom and a 25,000-square-foot ballroom.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas history department Chairman Hal Rothman said there is little or no precedent in Las Vegas for the early success of Wynn's marketing campaign.

"(Wynn) has a specialty property in a market of large chains. He's the little guy rowing as fast as he can, chased by steaming battleships of capital, but this time he has a rocket attached to his (relatively) small craft," he said.

The result, Rothman said, appears to be that Wynn has raised expectations and will build momentum for occupancy rates if he meets those expectations.

Billy Vassiliadis, president of R&R Advertising and the gaming industry's chief marketer, said similar strategies were tried and worked with The Mirage, MGM Grand and Bellagio. He said Wynn's success of building excitement around his new resort is not surprising in light of the pent-up demand for a significant new property.

"People are always asking 'What's next in Vegas?' Wynn's reputation and the media's focus on Steve and his project have caused this wide recognition and demand (for Wynn Las Vegas)," Vassiliadis said.

Rothman and Vassiliadis said the shrewd marketing bodes well for Las Vegas as a destination as well as for the resort.

Vassiliadis likened the new resort to a new ride at Disneyland or Disney World.

He said the new resort is likely to increase demand for higher end products, as did the Four Seasons, The Hotel, The Venetian and the additions at Caesars Palace.

However, UNLV professor Bill Thompson, who specializes in gaming studies, cautioned the problem with setting higher standards is in meeting very high expectations.

"There was some disappointment with rooms at Mirage, not by absolute standards, but by the fact that people coming had extraordinary expectations," he said. "Critics with high expectations will be looking for weaknesses, and there are sure to be some."

Thompson added that long-run expectations may not carry beyond a few years, which, in the case of The Mirage, led to a room remodeling a year after opening.

"Las Vegas is about to experience a boom for a few years and Wynn will lead the charge. Then he will have to face himself and answer the difficult questions he has always been able to answer before, 'Now what am I supposed to do next?'" he said.

The MRC Group surveyed almost 400 visitors in the Grand Canal Shoppes last month. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.