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August 20, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: GAMING:

Harrah’s sees $$ in resort-fee anger

Image

Justin M. Bowen

A view of the Las Vegas Strip in October from the Strip’s south end.

Resorts nationwide have jumped on the resort fee bandwagon as a relatively painless way to boost revenue in the name of convenience. In fact, Harrah’s Entertainment — which has denounced the mandatory charges — estimates Las Vegas visitors spent more than $12 million in June alone for bundled amenities such as local calls and gym access.

The company capitalized on its “no resort fee” policy last month by launching a Facebook page that invites consumers to “join the fight against Las Vegas resort fees” and a hotel booking website for the company’s Las Vegas properties called vegasnoresortfees.com, which the company hopes will pop up when consumers surf the Net for hotels that don’t charge the fees.

“I don’t think people will get used to paying these fees,” said Michael Weaver, Harrah’s vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas region. Just as consumers will choose airlines that don’t charge baggage fees, Weaver said some hotel customers are avoiding hotels that charge resort fees.

Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott agrees, saying travelers upset that fees aren’t adequately disclosed are boycotting hotels that charge them. “People are outraged,” said Elliott, who runs the Travel Troubleshooter blog. They have every right to be, he said, as such fees should be included in the advertised room rate rather than tacked on to the final bill “so that you believe their rooms are cheaper than they actually are. Quite simply, it’s lying.” Hotels with resort fees argue that bundled fees are cheaper and more convenient for customers than charging them piecemeal for the same amenities.

At least 10,000 people have signed up through the Harrah’s “no resort fee” Facebook page and booking engine for a chance to win $21,900 — the equivalent of a $20 resort fee each day for three years.

Hotels don’t charge the fee to provide extra value to consumers because the services they bundle aren’t things most visitors use, Weaver said. Instead, the fees allow hotels to advertise lower room rates and are anathema to a company that generates most of its profit from repeat customers.

“We follow what our competitors are doing ... and we have witnessed some unpleasant conversations in (their) lobbies,” he said.

Harrah’s may be on the side of the consumer when it comes to resort fees, yet the company charges a $10 fee for reserving a Las Vegas hotel room by phone, Elliott said. Harrah’s says the fees help pay for customer service staff and are disclosed, giving customers the option of booking online and avoiding the charge.

•••

Buying a Las Vegas souvenir at the airport used to involve a pair of fuzzy dice, shot glass, casino T-shirt or simple variation thereof.

These days, one of the more popular, yet curious places for last-minute gifts at McCarran’s C gates is the Hard Rock's Rehab-branded kiosk, which sells merchandise bearing the logo of the resort’s racy, long-running pool party.

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The kiosk, the latest expansion of the Rehab brand beyond the Rehab-focused reality show on truTV, sells clothing basics along with curios like a $285 dive watch, of which 200 have sold so far this year.

It’s a temporary, though calculated experiment for the Hard Rock, which counts Rehab as one of the its best-selling brands.

The party and reality show have generated national publicity for the property and for Las Vegas. With the spread of Rehab-style pool parties across Las Vegas, the town has become associated with an over-the-top poolside lifestyle involving waxed hardbodies, dance music and copious amounts of booze.

For people who witness the party live or simply watch it from their living room couches, Rehab souvenirs represent a piece of this fantasy world, said Krista Tye, Hard Rock senior executive director of retail operations. Some are thankful for the opportunity to buy last-minute gifts, she added.

“They’re buying a little piece of Vegas so they can go home and tell their Vegas stories.”

The cabana-shaped kiosk, which opened July 7 and closes Oct. 15 to coincide with pool season, is a tame version of the real thing, with thumping house music and scenes from the Rehab reality show playing on flat-screen TVs.

Airport officials welcomed the store despite the raucous antics of its scantily clad customers, Tye said.

All kiosk employees completed the airport’s screening and extensive background check process. Airport officials also reviewed the television clips for inappropriate content.

Jiggling cleavage and bikini-covered bottoms, the epitome of the moneymaking miracle known as the Las Vegas pool scene, were deemed entirely appropriate.

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