Invest in Your Property’s Future

If your goal is to attract new customers to your casino resort, you must offer clean, comfortable accommodations in conjunction with an engaged and knowledgeable staff. Obvious, right? Yet as an industry in general, while we are quick to recognize the need for well-trained staff, we tend to fall down when it comes to the upkeep of our facilities.

When operators think of capital reinvestment, many erringly limit their considerations to only the items on the floor or in rooms and outlets. Attending to these assets is indeed a large and important part of the equation, but to do so at the oversight of the actual physical structure is a regrettable, potentially costly, mistake. If we as an industry want to continue attracting new customers and increasing our profits, we cannot ignore the facility itself.

For a property manager, there are any number of reasons to rationalize the delay, or even the cancellation, of facility improvement projects; almost all of them are dangerous and shortsighted. Choosing short-term “gains” over mindful expenditure for renovation or modernization is a sacrifice of long-term revenue stream.

Our facilities are very much like our homes: Value lies as much in the beauty of the structure as in its functionality. Curb appeal matters; when we forgo appropriate upkeep of the facility, it begets a negative perception of the property in our target customer base.

The ubiquitous spread of the Internet has only intensified this reaction in recent years. There once was a time when a property could hide its true condition until the consumer arrived on site. At that time, any displeasure expressed by the now-captive audience could often be placated with a little dynamic customer service. Those days are over. If your customer is reasonably attentive and minimally computer-literate, you can believe they already know the current condition of your accommodations.

Consider that in 2012, according to travel-consumer statistics compiled by Funsherpa, 87 percent of travelers used the Internet for the bulk of their trip planning, from initial searches for ideas about where to travel to virtual exploration of a vacation destination, to researching and reading online reviews of their intended accommodations.

Travel advisory sites such as Oyster.com, a hotel review site, detail the true story about a property’s condition and amenities. Many newer apps and sites such as Trippy.com even sync with users’ personal social media accounts, allowing online pals to chime in and provide recommendations for their itineraries. Friends don’t let friends stay at dive resorts.

These days most operators are conscious of the kind of curb appeal generated by their own company websites and social media outlets. Yet many casino resort properties seem to be altogether ignorant toward—or at the very least, vastly underutilizing—outside online reviews added by customers (and sought out by potential customers) on public consumer opinion websites. The savviest property managers must embrace the reality that online image matters to today’s consumer. Ignoring the opinions and recommendations of your customers, and the light that they shed on your property, is a surefire way to lose them.

To put it simply, if your property is not up to the standards of its immediate competition—if your marketing department has resorted to using the term “shabby chic” to describe your accommodations—you need to rethink your property-wide priorities, immediately. (Note to marketers: You aren’t fooling anyone.)

Even if you do not have the authority to guide the focus of capital improvement projects in your facility, we are certain that you have the ability to influence the cleanliness and general appearance of the overall property. Customers may forgive outdated decor, but they (rightfully) demand clean and serviceable accommodations in return for their entertainment dollars. You have exactly one chance to make a positive first impression on your customers. Fail, and there are simply too many other entertainment venues available to expect your facility to receive a second chance.
Over the past two months, we have had the opportunity to tour the floors, outlets and hotels of several corporate casino resorts, as well as various private and tribal facilities. What we observed was disconcerting: The majority of these facilities were outdated, shabby or just plain dirty.

So what can you do about it? We suggest taking a literal walk in your customer’s metaphorical shoes. Begin at the parking lot and, with an open mind, visit every outlet and public area in your facility. Really look at the property and accommodations through the eyes of a consumer, rather than as an employee. Some items to consider:

Parking Lot and Garage Areas
• Is the parking area well-lit and free of debris? Are garbage cans overflowing and dirty, or have they been recently attended to?
• Does the lot/garage have adequate lighting, signage and well-defined spaces? Is the ground sticky and stained? If your shoe broke, would your next stop be an urgent care center for a tetanus vaccination?
• Is the route to the facility well maintained? Are the parking elevators and/or stairs clean and serviceable?

Casino Entrance, Lobby and Porte-Cochere
• Is the casino entry convenient and inviting? Can your guests wait comfortably out of the elements for their vehicles to be retrieved from valet?
• Is the valet signage clear and easy for guests to understand?
• Survey the landscaping as you approach the front of the building: Are the grounds free of unruly weeds and unshapely shrubs? Do the flora appear to be living and regularly cared for?
• Do sprinklers spray onto the sidewalk or vehicles parked nearby?
• Do all of the doors, including the ADA access, operate properly? Well-maintained entrances and exits are very important not only for appearance but also for compliance with fire and general safety codes.
• Are the doors clean and free of fingerprints?
• Is the entryway clean? Notice the condition of the floor: Is it free of unsightly (and potentially hazardous) cracks or snags in carpeting?
• Take a deep breath through the nose: Is the smell pleasant, or does the air smack of dirty ashtray or old dumpster?

Casino Floor
• Is the slot floor clean and free of debris?
• Have the chairs been straightened and matched to a machine?
• Are the ashtrays clean and the machines wiped down?
• Look at the condition of the chairs: Do they appear clean and sturdy or stained and cigarette-burned? If you wouldn’t sit on it, your customers probably won’t either.

Restrooms
When visiting a casino (or anywhere, period), bathroom cleanliness and accessibility are essential.

• Are the sharps containers or the trashcans overflowing? If guests are unable to quickly and easily dispose of their waste in the proper manner, it is likely to end up on the floor.
• Are the vanity areas dry and clear of litter, or do the countertops have pools of standing water on them? There are few things more distressing to patrons than the glorious experience of retrieving their valuables out of a puddle of liquid they hope is water.
• How are the levels of your janitorial supplies: bathroom tissue, seat covers, paper towels, hand soap, etc.?
• Are all of the sinks, faucets and other plumbed outlets functional? Is an “out of order” sign or a piece of tape across a sink an acceptable maintenance device? If not, address this issue with the maintenance department directly.
• Lastly, make sure that the floors, toilets, walls and stall doors are free of scuffs, grime or graffiti. Actually, go ahead and walk into a stall, take a seat and look around. Is this a bathroom you would feel comfortable using?

Outlets and Amenities
Now stroll through your outlet areas: the restaurants, gift shop, spa, hotel lobby and pool areas. Look for potential risks to guests as well as team members.

• Ask your team about safety concerns. Are there unacceptable conditions or practices in place that staff have adapted to work around rather than address? The idea of a disregarded hazard is appalling, yet they can be found in virtually every facility. Be vigilant.
• Is the gift shop fully stocked with merchandise, or is it mostly bare with minimal products on display? Sure, a majority of guests may rely on the gift shop chiefly for snacks and cigarettes, but many also like to pick up merchandise for friends and family. Empty shelves discourage sales and breed dissatisfied customers.
• Check the pool area. Is the pool clean and well chlorinated? Is the pool deck free of tanning oil, dead bugs, debris and other potential hazards? Are the tiles worn or in need of replacement? A resort pool should look cool, relaxing and inviting. If that’s not the case, you have some work to do.

Should you find areas within your facility that are in need of serious attention, address them head-on. It is your charge as property manager to ensure that due attention is given to the overall cleanliness and safety of the facility. Even if you lack the present resources to implement a dramatic remediation, don’t allow yourself to rationalize away your property’s shortcomings altogether. Remember, the average customer doesn’t care why your facility is in disrepair, only that they are paying good money for a substandard experience. Address the issues you can with the resources you have available; your efforts will not go unnoticed by your patrons.

Furthermore, why not take the opportunity to spin this into a property-wide learning experience? Instead of merely addressing all the issues on your own, share your new awareness with the facility staff. Repeat this walking exercise with key supervisors and managers so that they also can see what your customers see. Don’t assume that employees understand your standards for the facility; rather, you must educate them. Lead by example. Generate awareness and train your staff accordingly. In this way, you can forge new standards throughout your facility and, in turn, subsidize your property’s future.