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Golden Phoenix reaches profitable operation

John Seelmeyer

The Golden Phoenix Hotel Casino will end this month in the black, 13 months after the hotel reopened and six months after its casino doors opened once again.

While the hotel’s owner, Vista Hospitality of Binghamton, N.Y., specializes in the turnaround of troubled properties, the speed at which the Golden Phoenix reached profitability surprised even Vista executives.

The company’s approach to management of the Golden Phoenix is different than most hotel-casino companies in the Reno market, said Michael Glover, director of sales at the hotel.

Rather than viewing hotel rooms as a loss leader to get consumers into the property and onto the gaming floors where the money is made Vista Hospitality requires that the hotel operation at the Golden Phoenix stand on its own.

It’s almost as if Vista views the casino operations as just another kind of retail operation a potential lucrative retail operation, to be sure leasing space on the first floor of one of its hotel properties.

That philosophy has challenged Glover and other executives of the Golden Phoenix as they try to carve a niche for themselves in the market.

With overall occupancies at the hotel running in the 60 percent range heavy on weekends, light during the mid-week the temptation is strong to get into the heavy discounting that is common across the market.

So far, the Golden Phoenix has resisted the temptation.

“We’re very concerned about rate integrity,” Glover said last week.

Still, he acknowledged, “We’ve got to remain competitive.

We’re trying to take the middle ground.”

That demands that the hotel’s team carefully maximize the yield, making sure they milk every available dollar out its 604 rooms and 66 suites.

While he won’t disclose the system used by the Golden Phoenix to increase the yield, Glover said it’s been working.

The other side of Vista’s management of the former Flamingo Hilton property is close control of cost.

The company, Glover said, keeps its management staff lean most in its executive suite wear at least two hats while putting resources into customer service.

“The owners are really, really focused on customer service,” he said.

One of the on-line ranking services that collects comments from visitors shows the Golden Phoenix gets mixed scores on customer service fans love the place, detractors complain about slow service at the front desk.

The property employs the equivalent of 350 fulltime workers.

Glover said the Golden Phoenix is just hitting full stride after less than ideal timing of its opening.

The hotel, which was built in 1978, reopened under its new banner in April 2002 traditionally one of the slowest months in the hotel business as it falls between ski season and the summer.

The casino remained closed, meanwhile, until regulators gave approval in late November.

That put the grand opening squarely in the slack holiday period.

While much of the initial sales push for the Golden Phoenix was directed into the Bay Area, Glover said the property is widening its reach across the West Coast.

Cities within a 90-minute flight of Reno are viewed as likely targets for the company’s marketing.

Since its casino reopened six months ago, the Golden Phoenix hasn’t aggressively pursued local gaming business.

Instead, its focus in the Reno-area market has been banquets and business meetings particularly because its showroom is one of the few in the market that’s available for business functions.

The Golden Phoenix is the only property owned by Vista Hospitality in the western United States.

Its other hotels are in Florida, New York and eastern Canada.

The company bills itself as a specialist in turning around troubled hotel properties.