When I arrived at the MGM Grand in
Las Vegas last week, I found they had put me up in one of their new
Skylofts. These two-level suites, on the top floors of the hotel,
were built to impress the casinos high-rollers, but I suspect they
would amaze even George and Jane Jetson.
A single hand-held
device controls the lighting, curtains, DVD and CD players and the
four flat-screen TVs in the suite. Press a button and an infinity
bathtub (filled to the brim, sitting in a catchment basin) tickles
the bather with champagne bubbles. Or, if you need more stimulation
during your morning toilette, theres a five-nozzle
Theres an espresso
machine (with six types of whole beans), six tins of snacks from
Dean & Delucca, fresh berries and a half-dozen blends of tea.
Glass bottles of Norwegian water, sparkling like ice atop a fjord,
are close at hand no matter where you are in the suite.
All of these
amenities, the management of MGM Grand must know, can be
duplicated, and theres the possibility that one day I may forget in
which hotel I first saw them. But theres one more thing that they
put in the suite that Ill never forget: On the pillows of my bed
was a framed photo of my family.
OK, this was a
killer touch (momentary concerns about privacy issues aside). I may
not recall all of the 18 types of pillows I could have chosen from,
but Ill always remember what was on the pillows.
The next day I had
lunch with the MGM Grands senior vice president of sales and
marketing, David Van Kalsbeek, who talked about his propertys
approach to guest relations.
Maya Angelou said,
People will forget what you say, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel. A welcome
basket certainly brings a guest to one level of feeling. A photo of
the family brings you to another.
Perhaps the only
thing more surprising than finding my familys picture in my room
was hearing a Las Vegas sales guy quoting Maya Angelou. But Van
Kalsbeek takes the experiential impact of business interactions
seriously, and this has raised concerns about aspects of his supply
booking channel is Expedia, Van Kalsbeek said. But Im concerned
about their ability to make real connections with
Expedia may get to
know whether you prefer an aisle or window seat, but they need to
get beyond that. They need to know me. They need to present
different destinations and different styles of travel differently.
I have a differentiated product -- weve got Skylofts, the Mansion,
the West Wing. JPEGs arent enough. Anyone with enough money can
build a palace and take a picture of it. JPEGs cant impart a level
of service, and thats my sustainable competitive
The result is that
rooms are sold on price, and that doesnt work for me. As it is now,
once you decide where you are going, every Expedia customer gets
fed into the same booking process. Thats not good
I think one issue
the online agencies face that MGM Grand may not is the degree of
trust that clients are willing to extend. When I saw the photo of
my family, my first thought was, Wow! But my second thought was,
How did they get that picture? (Someone on our staff had supplied
On the other hand,
if I logged onto Expedia and my familys photo popped onto the welcome
screen, I think Id be more than a little freaked. Online privacy
has a range of issues associated with it that might stand between
the online agencies and their clients.
I have visited
offline agencies that have photos of their clients families on
display, and I asked Van Kalsbeek whether he felt that travel
agents might have client relationships more in line with what MGM
Grand is trying to do.
Yes, he said, and
we rely heavily on agents who have seen the products and can walk a
customer through the differences. I just wish there was more
volume. Everyones in danger of being marginalized by Expedia. I
said that when it comes to product differentiation, they arent
where they need to be. It would be more accurate to say that they
arent where they need to be -- yet.
Once, it could have
been argued that Expedias processes were a function of sales, and
the Skyloft experience was an extension of marketing -- apples and
oranges. But now both are part of the total guest experience. And
in this view, the online channel presents challenges for marketers
like Van Kalsbeek.
I suspect therell
soon be databases that combine preferences Ive let slip to info
collectors at various points in my life, and that this data will
find its way to online vendors of every stripe. What will happen
when every marketer tries to pluck my heartstrings?
feelings will be deadened to these attempts. Perhaps Maya Angelou
has some advice for sales and marketing executives of the future:
How do you approach George and Jane Jetson when they forget what
you say, forget what you do and dont particularly want an onslaught
of commercial interests trying to make them feel