As Las Vegas has gone from budget to Bellagio, resorts battle for upscale tourists - and high ratings.

By Assocaited Press
Published December 12, 2007


In the rarified world of luxury hotels, it's not only the thread count of the sheets or the sheen of the marble but the sincerity of the staff that separates the best from the rest.

Casino developer Steve Wynn recalls getting the bad news that his Bellagio resort would be getting four stars instead of five from Mobil inspectors more than a year after it opened in 1998.

"It was an unfortunate exchange at the front desk with the anonymous shopper," said Wynn of the property now owned by MGM Mirage Inc. "And room service trays, after people had eaten breakfast, were left outside the door in the hallway."

While minor annoyances might have been acceptable in the land of bargain buffets and sequined showgirls, such service no longer passes muster in upscale Sin City.

Higher rankings mean higher room rates for operators. In the case of the Venetian, owner Las Vegas Sands Corp. was able to raise the average daily room rate in the first three quarters of 2007 by $22 from a year earlier - to $259 - after spending $100-million on renovations to achieve five-diamond status from AAA.

For the 4,000-room hotel, which opened in 1999, that means millions of dollars to the bottom line, said senior vice president Paul Pusateri.

The property doubled the number of pillows per bed to four, increased thread count to 260 on sheets in standard rooms and installed flat panel TVs and auto drapes. It began running secret shoppers through every two weeks, testing employees on hundreds of AAA and Mobil criteria, such as making eye contact and responding to requests quickly.

When Wynn won his coveted Mobil five stars last year, he spent millions advertising it.

"Since I made a fuss about our five stars, that will inspire other people in town to be jealous and to upgrade," Wynn said. "The more that Las Vegas is perceived to be a really high-class destination, the bigger the market gets."

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