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July 22, 2014

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Q+A: Mandalay Bay president, Delano GM talk all-suite, South Beach chic hotel

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Delano Las Vegas

Renderings of Delano Las Vegas, which is taking over the site of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

Delano Las Vegas Renderings

Renderings of Delano Las Vegas, which is taking over the site of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay. Launch slideshow »

Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling on Wednesday morning offered a sneak peek and unveiled renderings of Delano Las Vegas, the all-suite, South Beach chic hotel that is taking the place of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

Delano General Manager Matthew Chilton joined Chuck at the presentation, and here are my exclusive one-on-one interviews with Chuck and Matt — Chuck is up first:

It’s all about the white of the Delano in Miami Beach, but you have decided here on a desert color scheme. This had to have been the subject of much discussion among architects, designers and executives from the two hotel groups.

It was. I think the most important thing we wanted to make sure was that we took the chic elegance of Delano South Beach with what is exciting about Las Vegas. We wanted to make sure that every time Delano expands around the globe that they had their own statement. That there’s a thread that goes through the Delano brand, and it all starts with some of the white features. You certainly see that in today’s renderings of the gallery and the white sheers that go up around the columns.

We’ve tried to make sure there’s a blend of what we’re all inspired by in Miami and bring it to Las Vegas, but still make it our own. Our designers have worked very hard on ensuring a lot of fun. We have ended up with an amazing product that’s going to be unique in the Las Vegas marketplace.

Why the overall decision to change The Hotel into the Delano when The Hotel was seeing consistently impressive profitable numbers?

It’s been an amazing run. Marketing is my background, so one of the unique things is we wanted to do it as part of the overall transformation happening at Mandalay Bay. This is now the next level of what that is. It’s not just a renovation but a total transformation of a tower at Mandalay Bay with its own identity and secret hideaway.

More and more international people are coming to Las Vegas, and that is our biggest growth opportunity. Delano has a tremendous brand. Now I’ll have a South Beach for the international Latin market and European market. We wanted an immediate identity that we could use. The Delano gives us that, plus a chance to continue to tell an incredible story. Now we’ll have even more reasons to come back to Las Vegas, and that’s the real reason for making a change and having a new building — to add to the excitement of our story.

In my interview with (MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO) Jim Murren two days ago, he talked about the sliding age demographic going down from the mid-50s to the mid-40s. Is this also part of the corporate capturing of the hipper, younger audience?

I think it will have some of that. I think we’ll be able to talk to a wider demographic. We have the nightlife explosion here at Mandalay Bay with Light and Thursday night’s 1923 opening with Holly Madison, but we also needed to make sure that we also had the blend of the people who love the hotel today and the newcomers who know of the Delano experience.

We have a really strong convention business, so putting it altogether warranted the right blend. The Delano will certainly help us with a broader demographic than we had yesteryear.

What does the hip, smart, sophisticated younger customer want — music, attractions or service?

I think more of it is about personalized service. You don’t have to be hip to do that, but we want to make each and every opportunity more guiding, a far more personalized service. Having this platform and this new experience will allow us to do that. It’s really what we want to do.

We want to make sure that each guest who’s coming to the Delano has a personalized experience that’s unique to them. The new cafes, lounges and bars along with the Alain Ducasse makeover of Mix allow us to have that, and we’re really, really excited about it all.

When I think of the Delano, the action all circulates and gathers around that pool in the center of the hotel. Where do you see that atmosphere and mood happening here?

Agreed. One of the key features of the Delano in Miami is the great pool. At Mandalay, we’re known for the beaches. Our newest campaign is “choose your beach,” whether you want to go to Daylight Beach or Moorea Beach or the beach with the waves, so we’re going to create the Delano Beach Club with its own cool and relaxing vibe. Once the hotel opens this fall, we will have it ready for the 2015 season.

The other thing that’s so great about the Delano experience is everything that’s around South Beach is close and accessible. We’re saying the same. There’s no place like Delano Las Vegas. We have more accessibility, the best nightlife, the best entertainment, the best culinary experience just steps outside your door. That combination is what’s going to make Delano Las Vegas so powerful. You have the secret hideaway, but then you are steps away from the best entertainment and chefs. It truly is an experience that you can’t have anywhere else in the world. That’s what defines Delano Las Vegas around the world.

You hotel guys are always changing Las Vegas. You never stop. Why do you keep changing everything here even when it’s working so well?

The best thing I’ve learned about living in Las Vegas the past 15 years is that we do the most amazing job of listening to our customers. When we listen to our customers, we became a solution provider — like the 350,000 square feet we’ll add to our convention facilities. We’re listening to people who want to come and enjoy entertainment and nightlife. We’ve long gone past “it’s only about gaming.” We now know it’s about the culinary experience, the entertainment experience. We do a great job listening to our customers.

Then we put our money where our mouth is, and the Delano is just another great example of this. Guests want comfort, they want to escape, they want a chic style of a boutique environment, they also want access. They want front-row access, and that’s what Delano will do a much better job at. I’ve worked a lot of industries in a lot of other cities, but in Las Vegas we're not confused on what business we are in. We create memorable experiences, the best that anybody can, in the world of tourism.

Thirty-seven floors get changed out a floor or two at a time weekly. So you think that you’ll be open with this completely new look by September?

We will. We can only do that in Las Vegas. By Sept. 17, we’ll be more centered around an official date. We’re targeting to make sure that we’re fully operational. There’ll be a couple of things behind-the-scenes that you’re not going to see as a future guest, but for the most part we’re going to be done by the first part of September.

We do things very fast and very efficient here in Las Vegas, and it’s an amazing phenomenon that I still can’t get my head around. We do it right, and we do it well.

Preview of the Delano

A first look at the guest suites at Delano Las Vegas, Wednesday April 30, 2014. Delano Las Vegas, a South Beach style hotel experience, will have its grand opening in September of 2014. Launch slideshow »

So technically shutting two floors, completely change them over, it’s as if there's never a closing and there’s never an opening.

That's correct. The idea is that we will actually be able to have what we call Delano preview rooms as early as May. The good news is that we’re at high demand for our city and at Mandalay Bay right now, so we need that room inventory back.

For the most part, our opening will be September with everything complete and the full experience, except for the new rooftop restaurant replacing Mix. We really will be able to have a full experience — not just the guestroom, not just the entrance, but the complete experience from the time you arrive.

Here is my Q+A with GM Matthew Chilton:

Is the Delano defined as “lots of white”? Where did the decision come from to make the Las Vegas hotel the desert theme of the Mojave?

It’s definitely more than just lots of white. It was definitely a collaboration with the designers and our team. We knew we weren’t in a space that had the true beach of the Atlantic as the backdrop. We also knew that we’re their sister, the biggest sister to them, in the company as it relates to Morgans Hotel Group. We knew that we had to infuse something that would give us a statement for the brand in Las Vegas.

To give us something that separates it, but also we’re still tying in some of those classic iconic Delano looks: the oversized mirrors, the handsome gallery. When you go to South Beach, that gallery is a statement, and while we don’t have some of those signature pieces of Phillipe Starck, we’re bringing in our own types of things to tell our story.

The speed of this transformation is incredible, and it’s not just lipstick. How do you pull off two floors a week from Monday of this week till the opening in September? How do you physically do that, to give it a completely new identity?

We are a little bit beyond two floors a week. I’m in the construction zone almost daily. We start off slow, and then we get efficiencies with our contractor, with our relationship with all our subcontractors. We have to push them because we need to get the rooms back online as fast as possible — we’re that busy with occupancy.

Right now we think we’ll be able to confidently get up to three floors per week, certainly 2 1/2. The good thing is we’re not demolishing the rooms or the bathrooms. They’re gorgeous already, but down here in the lobby and the public spaces, it’s a totally different statement.

Down here in the lobby is where it really becomes the Delano?

That’s right. That’s where Delano South Beach gets its mojo, that’s where it gets its ingredients. Every surface for the most part will get touched in some way or some fashion. Every piece of granite that you’ve walked on today is going to be gone, and it’s going to be replaced as you saw from the renderings. We’ll lose a lounge for a month or so, but we are going to hold our cards back.

We know we’re going to lose the cafe at some point, but we’ll set up either a satellite station to meet that need so that we’re not being disruptive too much. We’re trying to make it so that the amenities that you need while you’re here are still available.

Did it take more time to work out the efficiency plan than it will to execute it?

I think getting into the finalized licensing deal took longer, but there will be some construction still going on into early 2015 as Mix becomes Rivea. In total, it will still be the better part of a year, but from the lobby experience and the room experience, we’ll be done by the end of September. We’ll just have a couple of larger suites we’ll be putting finishing touches on as we go into the first part of October. It’s a short turnaround, but that’s how we do things in Las Vegas.

Was there market research to gauge reaction to the Mojave Desert theme?

We did a lot of focus group research; we definitely showed the visuals of what you have today to focus groups in L.A. and Chicago multiple times. The feedback that we got was amazing. “That’s a place I want to stay at,” “that’s the type of feeling that I’m looking for” and again the beauty of Delano Las Vegas. To a certain extent, we have that here now as The Hotel, but as we transform, we’re going to enhance it.

It will become far more of a separate getaway, more intimate, more luxurious. We will program the lobby to invite guests in and keep them in. If they want to go out and experience classic Las Vegas energy, it’s 100 feet down the hallway.

We know The Hotel was doing great business, so why the feeling a change was needed or warranted?

We knew that the rooms needed a renovation, so we were already planning that. It was coming into its ninth year when we started talking about renovation. Secondly, it was a business opportunity. Delano was in a growth mode for Morgans Hotel Group. They were seeking out people to expand, and they had signed deals with Moscow and Colombia, so it’s a growth brand.

We knew that we could be a part of that story as they grew internationally. The traveler from the East Coast goes to South Beach for their getaways, so we needed a tie-in there because we’re heavily indexed toward Southern California. It gets us into that East Coast market as well as South America. A lot of people from Brazil are starting to come up. It’s an expanding and growing trend that we’re looking at from a company standpoint globally.

The Delano makes a statement as well as being the brand. The Hotel has always been an obscure brand, falling under the wings of Mandalay Bay. Now we’ll have a proper statement to complement everything that has been going on around the Mandalay Bay campus from all the restaurants to the entertainment to the conventions. The Delano is a brand new identity, which we’re going to take floor-to-ceiling as it becomes a new hotel.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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