This is the conclusion of a two-part interview with Riviera boss Andy Choy in which he answers questions submitted by S&G readers.
Can the Riv survive if nothing is done with the Sahara, Fontainebleau or Echelon sites for another five years? How long can a seasoned but old competitor survive in No Man’s Land? The north end of the Strip just looks awful despite the best efforts of the Riviera.
I agree with Howard’s sentiments. It would be a lot easier for us if there were economic activity on the north end of the Strip. I’m going to say something a little bit controversial here but we’re trying our best to make something happen and it’s disheartening to see all this public funding going … $45 million for the Mob Museum, $150 million for the Smith Center [above]. These are all great projects but they’re all using our tax dollars to benefit someone else. We get no benefit from those tax revenues.
How about a little money in the convention center, which I think everyone would agree needs a facelift and an update? Things like that would really help the north end of the Strip. I’m sure my compatriots over at the LVH would welcome that. I’m sure Sam Nazarian over at the Sahara would welcome investment into the Las Vegas Convention Center, as would Circus Circus. Who knows? That may even spur the Fontainebleau and Echelon and Plaza sites to go up. Something like the Smith Center is great for civic pride. As someone struggling at the end of the north end of the Strip, I’d sure like some public funds to help our efforts as well.
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. All I’m saying is: Yes, it would help to have more economic activities going on in the surrounding neighborhood. That being said, our hotel with 2,075 rooms, we’re running a pretty decent occupancy as it is, and we do have an economically viable business, which is why it’s important for us to look at the capital we’re spending and not waste a penny of it. We have to get the value from every single investment dollar that we get here, to make sure that it works and everything’s accretive.
Is it true that the elevator in the Riviera’s oldest tower is the oldest still-in-use elevator on the entire Strip? I got a good room there last month but had to move far from that elevator because it sounded like thunder claps on each trip up and down.
[laughs] I don’t know if that is true but the physical plant is something we will be upgrading over the next few months. We have had issues with the older parts of the property and it’s one of these struggles of having an older property with a lot of maintenance issues but we will be addressing those.
What is the Riviera doing to improve customer service? The thing I remember about my one brief visit there was how unfriendly some of the employees were.
It’s hard. It hasn’t been easy on our customers, being up here the last few years. It’s been a struggle. One thing that my management team is trying to do is, first off, trying to acknowledge that fact and that our employees are a forgotten party in the economic downturn. Our employee base has struggled through these times as much as anyone else has and our management team wants to acknowledge that and say, ‘Guys, we appreciate all the efforts of sticking with the property and everything, and it’s time to remember why we all got in this business in the first place. This is the hospitality business. We’ve got to remember that our customers save up a week or a month, and some, all year to have a few hours here. So we have an obligation to provide them with the level of service that we expect when we go on vacation with our hard-earned dollars. We need to provide them with memories that are going to last.’
I still remember my trips to Vegas, when I was a kid. Growing up in a working-class family in L.A., we’d drive up to Vegas and have a great time. So the first thing that we’re doing as management is acknowledging how tough it’s been on the employees and fostering an environment that can bring out the best in them, focusing on the employee-morale issues: ‘Guys, we’re in the service. It’s OK to have fun at work. It’s OK to enjoy what you’re doing. It’s OK to smile once in a while.’
By no means do I think this is a majority. It’s the case where a couple of bad apples ruins the whole bushel. But I’ve got to acknowledge that, of course, we do have a couple of bad apples that we’re trying to counsel and improve their customer service. It starts with that their emotions are valid and they have a right to feel the way they do. But then saying, ‘Let’s get beyond that. let’s get to a place where you’re happy, productive and can provide good customer service.
Anytime someone works a craps table …
… into a Dancing with the Stars routine, it’s worth a plug. And if it gets singer Katherine Jenkins a few more votes, I’m good with that.