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Forget EconDiversity, Vegas Needs to Step up its Hospitality Game

Las Vegas is still the gaming-and-tourism capital of the world. That’s what we do. Hospitality and entertainment are our calling cards. And yet…

Who hasn’t heard the lament from folks who miss “the old days” when the mob ran the town? Not because the odds of hitting a jackpot were better, but because visitors were treated like guests, not tourists; that everywhere you stepped you seemingly landed on red carpet.

I found such treatment at a hotel recently. Alas, not here in Las Vegas. In Atlanta.

There were no rooms at the inn where a marketing conference I was attending was being held, so I cranked up Expedia.com and searched online for an alternate hotel within walking distance. And I came upon a renovated “boutique” hotel called the Ellis.

As any regular traveler knows, picking a non-chain hotel is like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. But after reading some reviews, I opted to take a chance. Glad I did. My room was perfectly comfortable and well-appointed, but what really made the difference was the SERVICE.

I’m not talking about a smile and a cheerful “Welcome to the Ellis; license and credit card, please” from the front desk clerk. I’m talking about downright neighborly conversation, as if we were longtime friends.

And it wasn’t just the front desk clerks. It was the valet parker, the doorman, the waitresses, the bartender, the housekeeper…even the maintenance guy who came to my room to adjust the heater!

Now, you don’t get superior, personalized service like that from top to bottom without a conscious management decision to hire, train and reward such excellence. And as a result, I won’t even look to stay anywhere else next time I’m in Atlanta, unless the Ellis is booked. Oh, and I’m going to tell everyone I meet how great the Ellis is…just like I’m doing right here.

Now how many Las Vegas businesses today can boast of such world class, bend-over-backwards, red-carpet, treat-‘em-like-royalty personal service? Not…enough. Indeed, sometimes just the opposite. Case in point:

I was doing a little Christmas shopping at the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip this holiday season with some family and friends. Around lunchtime, the eight of us decided to skip the food court and instead enjoy a nice sit-down meal at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant up on the second floor. Alas, the hostess informed me that there would be a 30 minute wait.

Sorry…too hungry; too long.

But on the way out I noticed an empty “eight-top” near the bar area. So I went back to the hostess stand and asked if we could take that table. The response: “No, we don’t have enough wait staff.”

In a service town crying the blues about the lack of business; in a town leading the nation in unemployment, this hostess was perfectly willing to let eight diners walk out of her restaurant instead of bending over backwards to find a way to take our money.

I’m not saying the experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I would never go there again; however, should a similar opportunity/choice present itself in the future, I would certainly explore alternatives/options rather than reflexively choosing Maggiano’s the way I will choose the Ellis Hotel in Atlanta.

And before you restaurateurs out there suggest I just don’t understand the personnel challenges of restaurant management, I should tell you that in a previous lifetime I managed an upper-end, resort restaurant which regularly served 1,200-1,500 meals a night. And if it was necessary for management to wait on a table in order to take care of eight customers willing to patronize our establishment, well, that’s what we did.

Maybe instead of looking at the greener grass on the other side of the “economic diversity” fence, Las Vegas should step up its hospitality game and get back to delivering the kind of world-class, personalized service this town was once known for.