Five years ago, John Farahi posed a question to the management team at Atlantis Casino Resort Spa:
Would the benefits of a Four Diamond Rating from the American Automobile Association justify the costs of earning the designation?
Their decision to pursue the higher rating paid off with an announcement last week that Atlantis is one of 4.8 percent of the 31,000 AAA-rated properties nationwide to win Four Diamond designation.
But the decision to pursue the higher rating wasn't a slam-dunk, recalls Farahi, the chief executive officer of Atlantis and the co-chairman and CEO of its publicly held parent Monarch Casino & Resort.
"To jump from Three Diamonds to Four Diamonds is huge," Farahi said last week.
And it's expensive.
AAA distributes a 44-page book to hotel operators that details in excruciating detail the differences between a each level in its rating system, which ranges from One Diamond economy properties to Five Diamond ultra-luxury hotels.
Take the matter of a desk in the room, for instance.
In a Three Diamond hotel room, AAA says, the desk has enough space for a laptop computer and three 8-by-10 inch reference items. One electric outlet is available at the desk.
But in a Four Diamond room, the desk also has enough space for a printer and multiple electric outlets are available.
In a Three-Diamond room, facial tissues are dispensed from a feature in the vanity. (No chrome is allowed on the face of the dispenser; that's for Two-Diamond rooms.) In a Four-Diamond hotel, facial tissues are in a freestanding decorative container.
And the ratings extend into the tiniest details of service.
To win Four-Diamond status, AAA says a staff member who delivers room service must provide a suggestion where the tray can be placed, must offer to pour the beverage, and must provide instructions for how the guest can have the tray removed.
When the management team at Atlantis decided to seek Four Diamonds from AAA, managers sat down with the detailed instructions and created a plan to work their way through the list, one by one.
"The top management got behind it," Farahi said. "We had a goal, and we said we were going to get it done."
The detailed plan had another goal: The Atlantis executive says concrete, step-by-step goals help bring the vision of top executives into a reality that each staff member can understand.
Major renovation of rooms in the past five years was completed with an eye toward the AAA designation. Refurbishment of common areas was designed with AAA as well as guests in mind.
And in the final analysis, the search for Four Diamonds required demolition two years ago of the 40-year-old motor lodge property at Atlantis.
Those buildings on the north side of the property simply couldn't be improved sufficiently to meet the AAA standards, Farahi said last, and their demolition also created room for parking today as well as future expansion of Atlantis.
The Atlantis management team, however, thinks the investment to upgrade the property to Four Diamond status will pay off.
"You have to be honest with yourself, to ask what your position in the market is," Farahi says.
The self-analysis by Atlantis management focused on the hotel's location, particularly after completion of the skybridge across Peckham Lane that connects Atlantis to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
Access to a AAA-rated Four Diamond hotel is likely to make it easier for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority to book conventions at the center, Farahi says, and that will help keep Atlantis rooms full.
The Atlantis management team also expects that the Four-Diamond rating will help the hotel build market share among leisure travelers.
The higher rating opens the Atlantis to discriminating travelers who wouldn't think of booking a Two- or Three-Diamond room.
And that's important, Farahi says, as the stalled tourism business in Reno means that hotels increasingly will be battling for shares of a market that is growing only slowly.