Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

It seemed for a while that travel was being spared its #MeToo moment. The foundation of most tourism businesses is hospitality, and for the most part, those who have risen to the top tend to be very good at making others comfortable, not uncomfortable.

But in an industry this large and powerful, it was inevitable that something would surface, and in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct, casino resort titan Steve Wynn resigned as chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts. His accusers say his conduct went far beyond making them feel discomfort. The Wall Street Journal reported there were dozens of complainants, and that he had paid a $7.5 million settlement to one of them.

Wynn denies harassment and assault allegations.

Regardless of one's politics, choices in entertainment, preferred channels of media, taste in art or consumer habits, we have all felt crestfallen when reading a #MeToo story that dethroned someone who had inspired, entertained, informed or impressed us.

I've never met Wynn, but his accomplishments in Las Vegas, Macau, Atlantic City and Mississippi are remarkable.

I stayed at the Mirage shortly after it opened. It was such a refreshing change from every other casino hotel in Las Vegas. It challenged others to up their game, and they responded. As a measure of his impact and how it triggered a rethink, the Mirage today, while a perfectly fine resort, no longer stands out from the crowd as it once did.

When the Bellagio opened, it made a similar impact (and its reputation has had more staying power). To a lesser extent, Wynn and Encore created buzz, but by then the bar had risen high. No one can deny his influence on the Las Vegas aesthetic, its entertainment and dining offerings or its now-abundant supply of luxury inventory.

The physical presence of Wynn's legacy presents challenges to familiar #MeToo outcomes. Typically, the accused makes a hasty exit, confirms or denies charges, and to the extent his employer or investors can do so, he is wiped from public view. Show hosts are fired, scenes are reshot (or completed movies scrapped), politicians resign.

But will the eponymous name of Wynn's company be changed? Will it be stripped from hotel facades, merch and matchbooks?

Recently, some Trump properties have suffered from association with the company founder's current role as head of state, and a few property owners are buying their way out of the brand. It's not because they can't sell rooms to individual leisure and corporate guests, but rather because their group and wedding business is suffering. Apparently, brides and grooms want aunts and uncles to focus on the happy couple, not get into debates about staying in a controversial president's hotel.

For the travel industry, Wynn's departure amplifies the discussion of how to separate a man's accomplishments from his alleged misdeeds. Time will clarify how Wynn (the man) will be viewed, and it's likely that his reputation will bifurcate.

There's precedence to assess the impact of the passage of time. Pablo Picasso was a well-documented cad, but no museums are removing his art from their walls. Living artist Chuck Close, on the other hand, has seen exhibits canceled after accusations surfaced.

Wynn stock and Close's art may see a dip in valuation, but I suspect Close's art will recover in the long run -- his accomplishments, like Wynn's, impacted the direction his chosen field took, and that is often the lasting measure of artistic accomplishment.

The value of Wynn stock, however, is closely tied to its quarterly performance and projections, which are inseparable from management's vision and operational philosophy, which are wholly dependent upon the CEO and chairman. When the leader is removed, uncertainty prevails, investors get jittery, prices drop.

Ironically, potential guests, diners, drinkers and audience members for Wynn properties now have, thanks in large measure to Steve Wynn, an abundant selection of beautiful rooms, great meals, hot nightclubs and terrific shows -- in competitors' properties. Who among meetings planners or a group of business travelers planning a night out is going to suggest a Wynn venue, at least in the short term?

And -- no small thing -- the uncertainty will have an impact on employee morale, which can impact guest interaction. Competitors may see the current situation as open season for poaching talent.

Is all this pain and punishment, which now involves many more people than the accusers and Steve Wynn, a reflection of justice?

Although public accusations have the potential to undermine due process, they also reflect an accepted part of a Western society that holds free speech dear and assumes punishment is a likely deterrent to bad behavior.

For victims of sexual assault and harassment, the consequences are often long term. That investors and employees are collateral damage is very unfortunate, but their misfortune serves a societal purpose, which is to magnify the responsibility of enablers and witnesses to take control of someone who can't control himself.

The danger of ignoring a leader's misdeeds is higher than ever before. And Las Vegas, of all places, should understand the risks when stakes are raised.


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