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When 12000 Guests Spend the Night
With 5,043 guest rooms in towers overlooking the city's famed strip, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino is not your typical hotel. Even in Las Vegas, where hotels with 3,000 or more rooms are a feature of the landscape, the size of MGM Grand hasn't been surpassed since its opening in 1993. Around the world, just a few properties are as big.
And even in an era when small "boutique" hotels are generating buzz and growing in numbers, MGM Grand and its giant cohorts are chugging along. In the second quarter, MGM Grand reported an occupancy rate of 96.8%, which it estimates works out to about 12,000 guests per night, with an average daily room rate of $125. Though Las Vegas hotels were hit hard by the economic downturn, average daily room rates in the city rose 10% and occupancy rates reached more than 85% in the first seven months of the year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
One key to megahotels' survival: Increasingly, they are working to counter the perception that they're crowded, filled with long lines and just too big to give good service.
In the vast parking lot of the nearly year-old 2,995-room Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, for example, electronic signs show drivers how many spots are available within each level and row. Lights above each space glow red if occupied, green if free. One Honolulu giant, the 3,500-room Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Resort, recently tackled front-desk lines by adding "roaming lobby concierges" to answer questions and direct some guests to alternative reception desks.
MGM Grand employs strategies at every point, from the parking lot to check-ins to housekeeping, to make its operations feel small. "People get intimidated when they walk into a big lobby and hear about all these rooms. It is a challenge for us," says Scott Sibella, president and chief operating officer of MGM Grand.
More than 70,000 people enter the doors every day, heading to the hotel, casino, conference center, stores, arena, theaters and restaurants, not to mention the lion habitat. The whole operation-there is also the 1,728-room Signature at MGM Grand condo-hotel next door-covers 124 acres. Rooms at MGM Grand range from dated tower-room standards that can cost $80 a night midweek to sleek Skylofts suites that start at $600 a night and have their own chic lobby, 24-hour butler service and airport transportation in a limo or a Rolls-Royce Ghost. Next month, the hotel is undertaking a $160 million renovation for tower rooms. "The challenge is to cater to everybody without alienating anybody," says Mr. Sibella.
"It feels really big. It is like a little city in itself," says Patricia Hamra, a manager of an insurance company from Lewisville, Texas, who was taking an elevator down from her guest room on a recent Friday night. Groups of tipsy young women-more than one celebrating a bachelorette party in faux veils-and young men thronged the halls.
Most MGM Grand departments have service goals; executives are judged, in part, on how well their employees meet the goals, says Timothy M. Kelly, vice president of hotel operations. Room service is supposed to arrive within 30 minutes of an order. Maintenance calls need to be answered in 15 minutes. A car needs to be retrieved by a valet in eight minutes. The 370 housekeepers on duty on busy days aim to clean each room in 30 minutes.
For years, hotel guests stood in two long, snaking lines to check in. Now, on busy days, there are 36 small lines, one in front of each front-desk worker. Guests "are third, not 23rd," says Shawna Cabrera, front desk manager. "There's the perception that they're going to get through quickly."
To cut lines further, MGM Grand equipped lobby greeters with iPads earlier this year, enabling them to better give directions, answer questions and do check-outs. New ID scanners download names and addresses from licenses and passports so employees don't have to type in the data-shaving seconds off a check-in. The hotel will soon test a smartphone-checkout service.
MGM Grand brings some functions in-house that smaller properties tend to outsource. It has its own floral department, for example, with 13 designers to produce the 886 arrangements used in the hotel and its restaurants. On a recent Friday afternoon, about 20 bridal bouquets lined metal shelves, each labeled with a couple's name.
Unlike most hotels, MGM Grand does all its own laundry. A separate 65,000-square-foot facility employs 165 people to wash, dry and fold linens. Each of the three dryers can handle 300 pounds. Employees feed dried towels and washcloths into folding machines that enable a single worker to fold 1,000 hand towels or 600 bath towels in one hour.
A six-month-old $1.2 million machine, nicknamed "the tunnel," is making the washing process quicker. It continuously cleans, moving laundry through the 11 compartments of a 40-foot-long tube. A hydraulic press squeezes moisture out. The end result looks like an oversized hockey puck.
The driveway leading to MGM Grand has 14 lanes. "It is almost like working on a major freeway," says Paolo Domingo, director, front services. One of the biggest headaches for valets-who parked about one million cars last year-is lost valet tickets. Once, that meant "running around" looking for cars in the 9,487-space guest parking lot, Mr. Domingo says. (On busy weekends, a minivan ferries valet workers around.) But in 2005, MGM linked a computer system to cameras that photograph all sides of each car. The system notes the space number and the time the car entered the lot. If a guest knows roughly when the car was parked, an employee can track it down.
With a nearly 18-year-old hotel, something is always breaking down. "The No. 1 call is plugged toilets," says David P. McKinnis, vice president of property operations, who oversees a staff of 186 engineers, painters and carpenters. Faulty air conditioners are second. Maintenance employees have mobile carts equipped with items including a plunger, drill, various light bulbs and an air-conditioner motor.
The hotel's lost-and-found section gets 100 to 150 new items a day, mostly sunglasses and phone chargers-which are held in boxes sorted by brand. On a recent Thursday, the collection included a Goodyear tire and two pairs of crutches.
On a busy day, room service sends out 1,000 orders. Pablo Astardjian, director of in-room dining, tries to predict staffing needs in part by seeing which groups are registered: Early risers, up for breakfast? Or partiers who will want burgers at 1 a.m.? There is one possibility that fazes him: "If all 5,000 rooms ordered, I'd run away," he says.
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