LAT: Fantasy meets economic reality

Richard Abowitz has an entry in his LA Times blog, Movable Buffet, that really caught my fancy, "Vegas:Fantasy meets economic reality"

His point: anyone who looks beyond the neon sees the Vegas economy shorting out. The casinos are asking, "how are we to survive the downturn" which cascades to employees which cascades to the city's economy.

He writes, "Vegas only knows how to grow and we are still growing, but no one knows if all those rooms will attract people as has always been true in years past."

Hey Vegas, I live in Silicon Valley - believe me - we understand your pain. The first dot com bust had us scratching our a**es in bewilderment. But herein is the difference. We didn't whine and cry. We kicked in and said, "where's the opportunity in this lousy atmosphere?"

The casino industry is not a failing industry (think newspapers). The casino industry will come back.

But much as I love Vegas (and every reader knows I adore it) the place has turned into a stuffy company town that only knows how to solve problems through spending cuts. Players programs are getting stingy, housekeeping is getting shoddy, food is more mediocre, drink service is slower, slots are tighter. Yep - room rates are low, and casino personnel are friendlier, but if the various Vegas discussion threads are correct, employees have less authority, casino hosts less pull, and management hides from customers who want to give feedback.

What Vegas needs is a few wild-eyed visionaries who are asking, "What can we do so that when this recession ends, we are stronger and have more loyal customers than we had at the beginning? Where should we be investing in players now so that when the downturn ends, we're making dozens of dollars for every one we invested?"

I've never seen such a lack of innovative marketing as I've seen in Vegas during this downturn.

If I could make any position for myself right now, it would be a "players' ambassador." I'd bring new openness to communications, start blogs, survey constantly, have e-mail contests, tell folks what we realistically can do, explore ways to reward long-time players even if they cut back this year, meet the "new generation" of players, and establish relationships with every Vegas blogger. I'd Twitter from the bars, have an iPhone app, do something with Facebook. Come on Vegas - even your over-50 set is online!

We all know Vegas will come back. The question is which casinos will credit 2008/09 as being the beginning of a brilliant future, and which will say it was the end of a good ride.

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