Charter flights key for Harrah's

It got only passing attention when it was announced a couple of weeks ago, but the expanded deal between Harrah's and Allegiant Air is an important element in strengthening Harrah's northern Nevada operations.

For nearly two years, Allegiant has been bringing charter flights filled with some of Harrah's best customers from 100 locations around the United States to Harrah's casinos at Reno and South Lake Tahoe and the Harvey's Casino the company owns at South Lake Tahoe.

The new deal between the company doubles the amount of air charter service into Reno rising to four days a week from two days a week.

Michael Silberling, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah's Reno, said the service already was one of the big factors in boosting first-quarter revenues at the downtown property by 10.5 percent, allowing the property to reach levels that were the highest in almost 20 years.

Refusing to take part in the general hand-wringing that surrounds Reno's gaming industry, Silberling and his team have moved aggressively to bring customers to their property rather than wait for customers to arrive on their own.

Along with the air charters, the company buys blocks of seats on scheduled airlines and brings customers to Reno.

It's run buses from northern California, filling them with top customers.

It's worked a little with Amtrak to bring customers wary of driving over the Sierra during winter.

But none of these seats are filled with consumers who clutch little more than a roll of nickels.

Instead, Silberling said, the company focuses on what it calls "customers of worth." And that's where Harrah's heavy investment in data-base technology is paying off.

Using Total Rewards, a customer loyalty program, Harrah's has built a customer data base called WINet.

That project connects mainframes and numerous properties to a central

data base.

It was so complicated that a computer industry group last year gave Harrah's information executives an award previously reserved for the likes of Bill Gates and Michael Dell.

Complicated as its underpinnings may be, WINet allows Harrah's to deliver individually tailored benefits to customers including the particularly valuable customers who receive invitations to fly on the Allegiant Air service to Reno.

At the same time, Harrah's Reno is investing more heavily in its entertainment offerings, seeking to upgrade everywhere from its lounges to its headline acts.

"You need to give people a reason to come," Silberling said, adding that entertainment offerings provide a bit of what he calls "social currency" to customers.

He explains:When visitors are asked what they did in Reno, they talk about the shows they saw, the quality of their rooms, the places they ate.

And even though gaming may have been a cornerstone of their visit, they often mention it only as a side note.

That doesn't mean, however, that Harrah's can stint on the gaming floor.

Silberling noted, for example, Harrah's Reno, for instance, is the only place in town that will take a $10,000 bet on a table game.

"If you're a player of worth, this is where you're going to want to come," he said.

Harrah's Reno tops the market in gaming revenue, and its market share has been growing in recent years.

Important as the gaming action may be, Harrah's increasingly is concerned about deeply discounted hotel rates in the market.

Cheap rooms damage consumers' perceptions of Reno they wonder what value they'll find in a place that prices itself so low and it slashes the funds from bed taxes available to promote the area, Silberling said.

"The answer is not rate.

The answer is not free rooms to wholesalers," he said.

"There needs to be some common sense in town."


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