View from Vegas
When Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Planet Hollywood earlier this year, it marked a major move in the Great Game of Las Vegas Strip Monopoly. After “PH” fell into bankruptcy, Harrah’s, like any skilled player of the classic Parker Brothers game, snapped up the resort and expanded its massive block of contiguous properties at the heart of one of the world’s greatest meetings and conventions hubs—the equivalent, say, of owning all the red and yellow properties, plus the utility and railroad in between.
“We bought it extremely cheap,” says Todd Gagnon, a director of sales for Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s Entertainment, which oversees meeting sales for Planet Hollywood and seven other Las Vegas properties (Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Imperial Palace, Paris and Rio). “Planet Hollywood has brought us that young, hip, Hollywood crowd. It really competes against Hard Rock or the Palms. That’s a demographic we never had before. It’s opened up a new market and customer base for us.”
While the style of Planet Hollywood may, at first glance, blur a line for some business-oriented groups (the top-billed show currently playing is “Peepshow,” starring Hugh Hefner’s ex Holly Madison), in fact the property has much to offer them. Following its renovation and reflagging in 2007 from the Aladdin Hotel, PH has stylish modern rooms, fun VIP suites with perks like foosball and ping-pong tables, and restaurants like Koi, a trendy Japanese-inspired restaurant, and Strip House, a high-end steak house that earned an impressive two stars from The New York Times. There is also the requisite Spa by Mandara, for all your lomi-lomi massage and chakra-balancing, stone-therapy needs, and the Miracle Mile Shops with 170 stores and restaurants.
Through a recent acquisition, Planet Hollywood also now encompasses PH Towers, a 52-story, glass-tower Westgate condo-hotel in which all the rooms are suites with kitchens, and a “tropical pool,” which has a sandy beach and 32 cabanas. “That’s an upscale product,” Gagnon says. “If you wanted to do an incentive program and you wanted to tier it, you could put higher-tier people over at PH.”
As for meetings, Planet Hollywood has about 100,000 sq. ft. of space, including the 36,864-square-foot Celebrity Ballroom, as well as the massive Theater for the Performing Arts, which can hold as many as 7,000 attendees. The property also has an immediately recognizable brand name bolstered by years of high exposure through prime-time events such as the Miss America pageant and the endorsement/investment of bigwig movie stars like Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone.
“[Planet Hollywood owner] Robert Earle is really tied into the Hollywood community,” Gagnon says. “I always seem to bump into a celebrity here or there.” But if you are really set on seeing a star, the Show Bus of the Stars is an excellent option for groups of up to 70 with a “celebrity” guiding the tour.
Although Harrah’s does not seem eager to implement major changes to Planet Hollywood—the property will retain its name and theme through a licensing agreement—the company was quick to activate its trademark Total Rewards and Diamond Card programs, as well as its Meeting Diamond program, which provides planners, staff and VIPs with expedited service and access to special Diamond Lounges across properties. Meeting sales at Planet Hollywood also now fall wholly under the umbrella of Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s Entertainment, which remains unique for its centralized approach, offering planners access to all eight Harrah’s resorts with one contract, F&B minimum and point of contact. Gagnon estimates that about 20% of groups he works with take advantage of the multi-property offering. “We look at it as one big property,” he says. “No one else does it, so we’ve had to educate customers. We are trying to give them a different experience, and it is catching on. It differentiates us.”
As for the next move in the Monopoly game, it’s anyone’s guess. However, there is only one Harrah’s property not locked into its central-Strip block: Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, which is located on the other side of I-15 and is geographically less conducive to the company’s strategic “one big property” plan. The Las Vegas Sun has reported it is an “open secret” that Harrah’s is trying to sell the Rio to another player, though the property has made no such formal declaration.
Meanwhile, Gagnon remains optimistic that Harrah’s broad-based sales approach will bring business to Planet Hollywood that wasn’t there before. “Instead of having eight sales people, we now have a full organization of 60 people getting the word out,” Gagnon says. “Our multi-year clients are excited that we can offer something new, and [Planet Hollywood] has a database of business that we have never touched in the past.
“2009 was a terrible year—thank god it’s behind us,” Gagnon says. “I see the glass as half full. Business is booking much shorter-term now, and there’s still a lot of apprehension out there. People are unsure about the future, but, knock on wood, it’s getting better. There’s pent-up demand. People need to have meetings. They need to go out there to train and motivate people. With this pent-up demand, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
MGM Resorts International
Meanwhile, the Monopoly player with the most property cards in Las Vegas has changed its name: MGM-Mirage will now be known as MGM Resorts International, which the company says will boost its brand in Asia and the Middle East.
In other MGM-Mirage—er, MGM Resorts—news, the Signature at MGM Grand has launched a new program called Signature Dish, through which guests can order up baskets of ingredients, then cook along from the privacy of their kitchen-equipped rooms while watching one of three 30-minute cooking video classes led by the property’s chefs. For $55, you can order up a basket with ingredients to make baked ziti for a party of four.
And as a final sad note, Cathouse, at the Luxor, is abandoning the food part of its business and converting entirely into a 7,000-square-foot ultra-lounge, though it will keep the trademark 19th-century bordello theme and will still be available for rentals.
Chuck Kapelke has written for a number of magazines, including Rolling Stone, San Francisco and Continental, as well as Let’s Go guidebooks.