Monday, March 22, 2010

Mrs. Wynn Politely Disses CityCenter

This is Elaine Wynn's NCAA bracket, as I flashed to the Web audience on Saturday during our live recording of "The Strip" from a ballroom of Wynn Las Vegas during the NCAA March Madness party. It's probably not readable even if you click on it to make it larger and she didn't go past the Sweet 16, but I still thought it was awesome that she had one. I sure don't.

Mrs. Wynn, it is fair to say, is a woman of many surprises. And nothing stunned the audience on Saturday more than her choice to answer our question about what she thinks of CityCenter and Aria. Here's what she said:

"I have a mixed reaction, a mixed reaction. I respect the work that’s done, I respect their courage. I’m not sure if it’s going to be as commercially appealing as they had hoped because the people that come to Las Vegas may not, on the whole, be cutting edge modernists. And it will definitely appeal to a certain segment of our commercial population but it’s pretty sophisticated. ... The good news is that any time somebody spends that kind of money, it makes your organization sharper. It brings out the competitive instincts and you re-examine everything that you are doing to say, 'Are we doing it as smartly as we can? Have we been as forward-thinking as we should be? Do we still like our décor?' What happens is really healthy."

Translation: Elaine Wynn believes CityCenter is too smart for most Vegas-goers. Some in the chat room viewed this as a slam on Vegas-goers, but it's not like the Wynns haven't challenged travelers to aspire for more and better here. As we learned from Roger Thomas last week, there's a whole lot of very sophisticated design at Wynn and Encore. The difference is that it's there for those who want it but the place is utilitarian even for those who don't notice or care. It's about knowing the market and the mindset of the visitors. MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren, who was unaware even when Encore or Palazzo opened and admittedly does not pay attention to what his competitors do, puts himself at a disadvantage in that respect.

On a sunnier note, Vegas PR guru Dave Kirvin had tipped me off last week that Elaine Wynn is a close friend of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, aka "Coach K" of Duke. So Miles and I asked how that came about and that yielded this anecdote:

"When UNLV beat [Duke] in the worst drubbing of any national championship tournament history [in 1990,] I was in Denver and I went back to the room and I watched the press conference and [Coach K] was so gracious in the way he handled the defeat and complimentary to UNLV that I wrote him a letter and I said, 'You made winning so much sweeter by being such a gentleman. I don’t know if you ever come to Las Vegas but if you do, we’d be more than happy to have you stay with us. And besides from now on whenever UNLV is not playing, Duke will be my favorite team.' I don’t hear from Mike at all. The next year, Duke and UNLV met again in the quarterfinal game [and Duke killed UNLV.] I wrote Mike again and said, 'Well, congratulations, it was your turn.’ And I reiterated the offer. Well, sure enough we get a call saying Coach K would like to come to Las Vegas. So I put him in a villa at the Mirage. I'd never spoken to him. He checks in, calls the office and says, ‘You have no idea what a hero I am to my wife.’ We met then and we just became very fast, close friends."

Yep, that'll do it. Mrs. Wynn also blasted the talk of expanding the NCAA tournament from 65 to 96 teams, calling that idea "silly" and "mercenary" and noting that "the wonderful thing about this tournament is that it's long enough to be exciting but it's condensed enough to get passionate."

If you just want to watch just our 35-minute conversation with Elaine, click on this image and it will play for you.

There's more in there, including her defense of Harry Reid, her continued high hopes for President Barack Obama and her clear pining for Shadow Creek as she describes the down sides to living at the Wynn.


atdnext said...

Great job, Mr. Steve! Oh, and Elaine Wynn was great on the show. She proved why she's a real force to be reckoned with on The Strip. said...

Elaine wasn't dissing visitors. Look... the average Las Vegas visitor isn't an architecture fanatic. I have some obnoxiously vocal readers who flood my inbox weekly (which is a good thing... helps keep my finger on the pulse of what average visitors are doing, seeing, thinking).

To date, not one about CityCenter or Aria (sans a few positive notes about Cirque du Elvis). Not ONE. No "It is amazing" or "too far to walk" or even Crystals is too expensive. Even the people who wrote to comment about the Elvis show said nothing about CC. This despite an upscale demographic that one would think is CC's target audience.

Both Elaine and Sheldon (on Face To Face) basically said the same thing: It isn't what they would have done and basically they can't understand the reasonings why.

But... after listening to your entire Jim Murren interview, I'm still not sure of the "why" reasons behind CC. Except for gracing the "miserable" Las Vegas area with a slice of vaunted New York City.

Time will be the judge. I hope it flies. The last thing we need out of here is another story of failure.

Anonymous said...

She might be saying Aria is limiting it's marketing demographic, but you'll have to think Wynn/Encore is doing the same; however, the difference is Wynn/Encore has more potential to appeal to a larger audience, whereas Aria does not. I don't know whether this is true, but it's fun to speculate. Good customer service can make up for a lot so the City Center should not take this lying down.

Michael said...

Great stuff, and I continue to be impressed by Elaine Wynn in these glimpses. I don't know that she's wrong with CC, it draws all sorts of opinions from my reading on it and from my visiting it.

At the end of the day, they seem to have built something that meets Murren's vision an urban core, but in my opinion the issue is whether or not urban cores are 'made' or whether they are a result of being a core of an urban destination.

At no point, do I think they considered whether someone wanted to come see it as a destination, on top of that, they've ignored it as a local destination or 'city center'. So in the end if 80% of your tourists are coming from areas that aren't urban metropolis why would they go to the cold facisile rather then the real thing (New York, Chicago). Or you have the other 20% from the metropolis that have high end options that are resort focused (Wynn, Palazzo) that are getaways or destinations.

atdnext said...

Anon 3:37-

"She might be saying Aria is limiting it's marketing demographic, but you'll have to think Wynn/Encore is doing the same"

And you're correct. I'd say Wynncore is more of a "high roller paradise" while CityCenter is more "hot spot for business travelers with big expense accounts". Both have their limitations, but I also think you're right that Aria and the other CityCenter hotels are more vulnerable because they're more for conventioneers. After all, both Venelazzo and Mandalay Bay are heavily dependent on conventioneers, and both have had to deal with low occupancy rates (compared to other Strip hotels) and the necessity to lower room rates to club members. (I'm an MGM Mirage Players' Club member, and despite my sparse gambling I ALWAYS get good deals on M-Bay. I've heard the same about Venetian/Palazzo club rates.)

So when considering all of this, Elaine Wynn's comments make more business sense. Wynn and Encore are designed in a way that draws in big spending leisure travelers and high rolling gamblers. OTOH, it seems Aria was not... Especially since it seems the big MGM high rollers are still choosing Bellagio over Aria.