Conference looks at technology and tourism

RENO - Forecasts for a cooling Nevada economy in the coming year will require new strategies for Nevada's tourism industry, experts at the Governor's Conference said Tuesday.

"There is a real sense of conservatism that is starting to permeate business," said Polly LeBarre, senior editor of Fast Company Magazine. "Being average is a great way of going out of business."

A crowd of approximately 500 business people, most of whom work in tourism throughout the state, attended Tuesday's session. The topic of this year's Governor's Conference on Travel and Tourism is "Managing Change in the New E-Commerce."

Speakers assembled at the Silver Legacy and Eldorado casinos in Reno to discuss strategies for increasing business in the technology age.

LeBarre and other speakers emphasized that Nevada's tourism industry needs to make customer service a higher priority. She pointed out the success of this strategy for Dell computer, a company that dominates the PC market by using contractors taking orders to shipping customized computers.

"Dell employees do not participate," she said. "They orchestrate the customer experience."

She said Dell's success is the sum of its answering service, its Web site, three-day shipping and technical support. "Customers don't care about your stuff, they care about their stuff," she said.

Gary Loveman, an executive at Harrah's Entertainment, talked about how customer service improved his company's bottom line.

In the Las Vegas environment where competitors have bigger attractions and more slot machines, Harrah's customers come back for the casino's player's clubs and personalized services.

"The travel and tourism industry is second to none at making people wait," he said. "Gaming is a social experience. People want you to empathize with them."

Training for improved customer service at his company includes a seminar on how to engage gamblers in conversation. Employee incentives are also tied to the company's performance.

"When you hand out a check in Laughlin for $300 dollars to a housekeeper, that gets their attention," he said.

Harrah's has handed out more than $9 million since its employee incentive program was conceived, Loveman said.

All of the services, the player's clubs and access to travel accommodations were recently incorporated into the company's Web site.

Conference speakers also addressed growing concerns about Indian and computer gaming.

The growth of gaming in these sectors has some companies chasing to jump on the band wagon and others pushing for stronger limitations on licensing and regulation, speakers said.

Frank Fahrenkopf, CEO of the American Gaming Association, said in the case of Internet gaming, there are approximately 700 sites that offer casino attractions. The problem for traditional casinos is the benefit of operating without the same taxation and licensing imposed by United States authorities.

"The technology has not yet come to guarantee regulatory control," he said, though MGM has entered the fray with an experimental site that features simulated gaming.

He also spoke to the successful effort by Nevada's representatives in Washington, D.C., to stall action on a bill that would have prohibited betting on college sports in Nevada's sports books. "Legal betting is less than 1 percent of the problem of college sports betting," he said.

The conference continues today with the secrets of reaching younger generations and improving company Web sites.


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