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July 28, 2014

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GAMING:

Wynn reaches for next level

Encore seeks to outdo Strip rivals in luxury, service

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Steve Marcus

The 2,034-room resort, Encore, seeks to replicate the service in high-end boutique hotels, and has its eye on the coveted Mobil five-star rating. Room rates at the hotel will start at $180 a night, compared with $150 at the adjacent Wynn Las Vegas. But they’re likely to increase as soon as the economy begins to pick up. Comparable hotels in other cities can command room rates of $1,000 a night.

A look inside Encore

A look inside Steve Wynn's new $2.3 billion Encore hotel and casino. Images were provided by Encore Las Vegas, which isn't allowing video to be shot inside the resort.

Encore Las Vegas

The Encore is shown to the left of the Wynn Las Vegas on the Strip. Launch slideshow »

Wynn: Encore Room Rates

Steve Wynn explains why he lowered room rates for both his Wynn and Encore properties during an interview with Robin Leach.

Beyond the Sun

Lest anyone think Encore is simply another high-end hotel, or little more than a hotel addition to the attached Wynn Las Vegas resort, consider that Wynn Resorts executives consulted with experts from the Mobil Travel Guide to help them design a property that has a shot at becoming the country’s largest hotel to receive Mobil’s five-star rating.

Mobil’s five-star rating is one of the hotel industry’s most coveted honors. It’s more difficult to achieve than the five-diamond rating from AAA, which several Las Vegas resorts have earned.

The finest hotels in the Las Vegas Valley, including the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Bellagio, Venetian and Wynn Las Vegas, are four-star hotels. Wynn Las Vegas received a five-star rating for the resort’s hotel-within-a-hotel, the 600-room Tower Suites.

Steve Wynn is known for creating the most luxurious casinos in each market he has entered. And yet, Encore, which opened Monday, is his most dramatic statement to date as well as his biggest challenge.

The 2,034-room Encore, which is 4.6 million square feet, aims to recreate the white glove service found in boutique hotels with a few hundred rooms, such as the Beverly Hills Hotel and New York’s Mandarin Oriental.

This, in volume-driven Las Vegas, where megaresorts adjust room prices to keep their properties at least 90 percent occupied and complaints about poor service are as much a part of the experience as throwing a few bucks in a slot machine.

Mobil inspectors noted that Wynn’s Tower Suites, the first and only casino hotel rooms in the world to receive the five-star rating, have the feel of “private residences.”

According to Mobil, five-star hotels are “exceptionally distinctive luxury environments offering expanded amenities and consistently superlative service, with attention to detail and the anticipation of every need.”

Building to meet that standard isn’t as challenging as developing the service to complement it, said Rob Oseland, Encore’s chief operating officer.

Most new employees undergo two to four weeks of orientation as well as 30 to 60 days of supervision. Encore opened the property to Wynn Resorts employees days before the property opened to the public Monday evening, offering up rooms, restaurants and even gambling for a trial run.

Having more people on staff isn’t the secret to good service, Oseland said, though service can suffer when hotels trim employees, as some have in recent months to cut costs.

The key is consistency, which is difficult in a large hotel but possible if supervisors make it a priority, said Jeffrey M. Gloeb, vice president of hotel sales.

“It’s about being able to surprise our guests,” added Oseland, who began working for Wynn in 1989 as a dealer at the Golden Nugget.

While executives nervously await the ratings of Mobil and AAA this year, they exude confidence that the average Las Vegas visitor will be bowled over by Encore’s plush magnificence.

Wynn Las Vegas has theatrically draped fabrics and soft lighting, walls of textured silk and art. Encore has more of everything as well as a lobby atrium bordering the casino, letting in more natural light than either the Wynn or Bellagio — two previous resorts where Wynn attempted to bring the outdoors in. Under the skylight and behind discreetly parted curtains is Encore’s high-limit area, offering generous glimpses of the action — as well as fine art and elaborate silk screens — a few steps from trees, flower beds and passers-by.

Each venue is designed as a showpiece, from the 11 boutiques that line the small retail esplanade to the six restaurants. (There’s no buffet, but there are seven bars, as well as an upscale nightclub and one of the largest spas in town.)

One restaurant, Switch, is a sophisticated nod to the volcanoes and pirate shows of Wynn’s past. Diners can watch as the walls of the restaurant retract into the ceiling and a new wall decor descends. The spectacle, which includes three wall settings and two ceiling changes, repeats every 20 to 30 minutes.

Though not as showy, other restaurants have dramatic focal points, from the Fernando Botero artwork at Botero Steak to a crystal dragon and giant golden pears at Wazuzu, an Asian restaurant. A lobby bar features a gilded sculpture of the Greek goddess Daphne, with outstretched arms like tree branches.

In a more overt attempt to lure Las Vegas’ most coveted customers from competitors, Encore gave away $2 million in gambling money to as many as 1,500 high rollers and other invited VIPs shortly before 8 p.m., when the property opened to the public. Each guest received from $1,000 to $50,000 to place one bet, and guests got to keep any winnings.

Oseland said Encore will shake up the pecking order in Las Vegas by setting a new bar for room rates, forcing competitors to sell their rooms for less.

Encore was built to top anything that comes after it, including CityCenter, Fontainebleau and Cosmopolitan — properties that are expected to offer either fewer luxuries or service befitting a larger hotel, Oseland said.

The property is expected to grow the market, as the Wynn and Bellagio did before them, as well as steal market share from competitors, he said.

With five-star hotels commanding rates of more than $1,000 per night in other cities, Encore will offer travelers a similar experience for much less, Oseland said.

To fill the property during this recession, Encore will be renting rooms for about $180 a night in January, though rates will rise as the economy rebounds, he said. (By comparison, Wynn Las Vegas rates start at $150.) Getting customers to pay at least $10 to $50 more than at other upscale hotels in Las Vegas, he said, won’t be a problem.

“There are going to be hotels that are going to suffer,” he said. “But we’re not really worried about the competition.”

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