Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

December 17, 2010

You Always Remember Your First Time

Posted by Hunter

That could almost be a headline on the cover of Cosmo, the magazine. As you might have guessed though, this is about The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which opened this week on the Las Vegas Strip.

My two night stay was pretty bumpy and based on the experiences of others, it sounds like I was not alone.

What sort of problems?

Well, I plan to write another post with more detail on this topic but to give you a flavor: our room wasn't ready until three hours after we were told to arrive for check-in, neither of the TVs in our room worked properly (one of them could not be shut off without being unplugged and on the other you couldn't change channels), neither bathroom had a bathmat so water made the marble floor very slippery, we did not receive the turn-down service either night we were there, and the TV couldn't be used for many of the built in services such as checkout and reviewing of messages.

That's a partial list of the problems I recorded with the room. It doesn't include any of the good stuff either - that will be in a dedicated post about the room and the stay that discusses some of the great things about the design and a few things that really bugged me from a functional standpoint.

The question I want to ask is this: what should a guest expect of a brand new hotel and how should a brand new hotel market itself before it is running like a finely tuned machine? Are opening night guests asking for abuse? Should new hotels make disclaimers or offer discounts?

To set the stage for this discussion, I'd like to include a few important bits of information about this week:

* The per night rate for the Cosmopolitan this week was significantly higher than comparable rooms at other Strip resorts (traditionally this is a very slow time of the year).
* The front desk staff told us that all the rooms had been extensively checked for problems prior to any guests checking in. It's hard to imagine how this could be correct given some of the basic issues like TVs not working.
* Cosmo CEO John Unwin was quoted in several interviews saying the staff was ready and excited to open the doors and to welcome guests. If anything, I'd say expectations were raised in the pre-opening press, not lowered.
* There was no disclaimer or notice to incoming guests that kinks were still being worked out and that they may need to be patient, etc...

Based on the comments on Chuck's post and some of the stuff I read on Twitter, I get the impression that some folks believe that this is just what happens with new hotels and the first guests should just deal with it. Maybe most people feel that way - I'd like to find out.

I think it's an interesting question but for me it boils down to getting what you pay for - they promised a lot and didn't deliver on that promise, at least in terms of hotel operations. Based on that, I think that the complaints are justified, even if we're not talking about curing cancer here.

None of the problems I encountered are even close to terminal. If they pivot and fix these issues, then this will be a distant memory in no time. Early signs indicate that they're serious about raising their game. We'll see.

Let me know what you think in the comments.


Read archived comments (20 so far)
December 17, 2010 10:39 PM Posted by mike_ch

Brace yourselves, here comes a car analogy:

Any fan of the common man's luxury brands knows that GM adds all kinds of wacky features to Cadillacs that don't show up in the Japanese marques for 5-10 years, if ever. Lexus did not immediately add GPS navigation, satellite radio, or roadside assistance when those technologies appeared. Parking Assist only appeared five years ago, and that much-hyped nightvision HUD thing never took off.

Hotels are trying too hard to be Cadillacs when they really should be the Japanese brands. Most of the Ritz-Carlton hotels put an exclamation point on service, but don't really feature body heat sensor HVAC units or server-based TV control of the thermostat, or Room Service By iPad or whatever.

Part of this, I think, is the upwards-spiraling budgets and the amount of noise WLV got about VOIP phones, HTML-based TV EPGs, server-controlled room locks, etc. And WLV had a lot of problems, but the staff was much more capable and maybe even given more clearance by management in the opening days to do what ever it took to make hotel guests happy. Either way, it's started a technology arms race that only confuses computerphobes and can barely be reigned in by the staff put at the wheel of it.

I think some of this may simply be that good service training is very expensive. If it wasn't, every hotel floor of standard rooms would be serviced by a team of 5-10 butlers who divvy up the rooms and take care of everyone's every need. But technology is comparatively cheap, never shows up late to work or tries to organize, and the only real manual labour is the person who fixes it all.

You can save a lot of "people power" costs simply by computerizing as much as you can, but Wynncore makes the investment in the warm bodies they actually do hire. CityCenter and Cosmo seem fit to just let the robotics take control and hope for the best.

I think at this point, I'd be more impressed by a hotel that does a lot of things in low-tech, old-fashioned ways, that requires a lot of live people having to do work instead of relying on a computer to do it. Forget about touchscreen HDTV menus outside restaurants that often break down (as Cafe Vettro's has on the past two times I've seen it), I'd be more impressed by seeing a paper menu that is swapped from lunch to dinner, by hand, every day at 4PM sharp.

The airline industry has reduced as many redundancies with tech where possible, and that was the tipping point where many found flying to be more of a hassle than a pleasure. These days the ticket booth are staffed usually by one person while the vast majority of guests self-serve themselves, and Vegas hotels are quickly approaching a future where the registration desk is replaced with a kiosk that I can slip a $20 into in order to choose which room I want.

I do not want that future.

December 17, 2010 10:49 PM Posted by Mike E

Yes, we are guinea pigs. Yes, I paid a premium for it just because I knew I'd see the resort before the doors opened to anybody else. I expected an empty mini bar, a broken doorbell, slow elevators, and inconsistent amenities.

But the only thing I really expect is that my room be ready when they state they'll be ready no matter what the occasion. As a room's first non-employee occupant, to be told that it's not available is nothing short of ridiculous.

What hurt were colleagues who checked in after me and got their rooms (with better views) before me even though I made reservations the day they were available.

What hurt was being made to feel special with a private Brandon Flowers concert, restaurant tastings, and drinks only to come down showered and dressed for the event to find that the entire Las Vegas valley and their mothers had been invited to the private gig we had essentially paid a premium for. Drink trays and finger foods at the various restaurants ran dry, crowds backed us into the elevator banks.

I still had fun because I was with you and our other colleagues in my favorite city. In fact, the Cosmo left quite the lasting impression on me and I'll be sure to give them (several) more stays. But as far as an opening went, I would have gladly extended my reservations at Encore and scored my way in as it seemed everybody else in the city had done.

December 18, 2010 8:45 AM Posted by kagehitokiri

vegas is vegas, and these places have thousands of rooms, so that is definitely a factor.

but yeah, i agree with mike_ch, that some people throw money/tips around for poor quality / no standards (not talking about vegas hotels here) is a real societal problem. were not talking value here - like markups on alcohol or other things. were talking things not working, no service, things promised not being delivered, etc.

four seasons and amanresorts are the most consistent brands, and even THEY have mixed properties. four seasons requires a minimum of 4 interviews, regardless of position, and demands customer service focus.

in vegas, both four seasons and mandarin are better regarded than wynncore tower for service but theyre STILL mixed.

December 18, 2010 8:54 AM Posted by Dave

Mike Ch:
Check out this casino employment report:
You're dead on in describing how tech > people in today's casinos. Check out the rooms department detail. I'm working on the Strip report right now. I'm not saying whether this is good or bad, but that's the way it is.

Mike E: They should have had a separate event for hotel guests, then one for all the local "VIPs" who weren't paying guests. It would have been nice if, with your room rez, they gave you a slot for a sit-down meal at a restaurant, too so you actually had somewhere to go instead of milling around with the rest of us. Particularly if there were only 300-500 arrivals, this should have been workable. And if some of the restaurants weren't fully functional, they just could have gone prix fixe or buffet style for the night to take the load off the kitchen and speed it up.

I had a lot of fun at the opening, mostly because of the company I was with and the fun of seeing people in the building at last. I will say that the one place I visited as a paying customer, the pizzeria, was a lot of fun, and pretty good, too.

Plus, I knew I had a place to lay my head at the end of the day. Parking, which was the only thing that could have gone wrong, was a breeze for me. Even getting out wasn't that bad--actually better than it is at most casinos at peak times.

I'm thinking maybe there are a lot more moving parts to these openings than the general public realizes, because stuff that seems like no-brainers (all rooms ready, wifi in all public areas) didn't materialize, and there are some pretty smart and dedicated people working at the hotel. So it might be harder than it looks. Which doesn't excuse any of the service lapses at all, but might explain them.

December 18, 2010 8:56 AM Posted by kagehitokiri

combined with the "crowds" of "invitees" id probably dispute the credit card charges. makes me wonder about the "125" $5,600 NYE packages...

MikeE how long did you wait after 2?

- checkin delayed 1 hour from 1 > 2
then >
- hunter had to wait 2 hours for room
- chuck had to wait 4 hours for room

again, if they really only had 300 rooms open...

and whats with the "sold out" nonsense on the reservations page now?

December 18, 2010 10:46 AM Posted by detroit1051

How many rooms were actually sold for opening night? I've heard somewhere around 300. Regardless of the number, those rooms were furnished and ready for guests before December 15, and I'm sure there were practice drills when staff went through training to make sure the reservation system, key code system, availability of rooms by type, etc were all functioning. That's what makes this so surprising to me. Obviously, management and staff didn't want to make guests wait without real knowledge of when the rooms would be ready, so was it a major systems failure, and staff didn't know what rooms had been assigned? They wouldn't want to guess and place a confirmed Terrace Suite guest in a regular room. Regardless of the cause, lack of communication was an even larger failure because uncertainty just makes the frustration worse.

As I tweeted the other day, Cosmopolitan's own pre-opening actions may have led to expectations that this hotel would be totally different and better than any other in Strip history. Unwin's and other staff's tweets and interviews up to December 15 certainly made one think this would be the greatest opening ever.

December 15th may have been called a soft opening, but everything from the guest list to entertainment promised something more.

In answer to Hunter's question, I think Cosmo should have had a pre-soft opening period in which press and blogosphere reps could have been invited at no charge or reduced rates, with no guarantees that all amenities would be available and all systems (like electronic check-out) would be working flawlessly. It was a mistake to make first night guests the hotel's guinea pigs. Cosmo itself is responsible for setting expectations too high.

The first night at any hotel or restaurant is going to include unexpected problems. Management's job is to not only fix the problems as soon as possible, but to explain to guests what is happening, why, and when resolution will be likely.

I've heard that staff (co-stars) apologized profusely for problems. I think it was @ericcwhittaker who tweeted that after a while, apologies wear thin, and results are expected.

I didn't attend the opening, so my opinions are off the top of my head, but Hotel Operations appear to be the major failure. Was top hotel management up to the task of opening the property? I'm sure Unwin and others will evaluate that aspect.

Regarding the 300 rooms, Housekeeping hiring has certainly extended beyond the number required to handle that many rooms. Why were't double the number typically needed brought in to make up the rooms and provide turndown service? And, how were they managed by their supervisors?

Unwin was proud of saying in interviews that staff didn't have rule books. More was said about this in Dave Schwartz's piece in Vegas Seven:
“We’ll offer our co-stars techniques, but we won’t give them a rule book,...”

Maybe a rule book is sometimes needed. Atitude and enthusiasm can't solve all problems.

Enough of my rambling, but I do have one more question. In Dave Schwartz's comment on this post, he referred to his study of rooms to employees. How is Cosmopolitan's staffing requirement affected by all the terraces? With the strong winds and dust/sand blowing around the valley, will Cosmopolitan be at a financial disadvantage because of needing more Housekeeping employees than other properties?

December 18, 2010 10:49 AM Posted by Spyder

After opening 2 of my own small Pubs and another for another company before hand I can say without reservation that opening never goes right. When we opened our last bar we just unlocked the doors then had a huge blowout a month later when we kinda knew what we were doing. I get that Vegas resorts, or any big tourist resort for that matter, can't really do that. It's like what MikeE said "Yes, I paid a premium for it just because I knew I'd see the resort before the doors opened to anybody else". People always want to be the first, and before the general public (me for instance) is cool as hell.

Could Cosmo have done better, you bet, from everything I've read they did tons right and tons wrong. Could that have be helped by a softer opening, I doubt it. When you are the center of the Vegas media storm like Cosmo (and Aria, and Wynn etc) was, no matter what you do people will find something to say in a negative light. And believe me when I tell you, that sucks. It sucks big sweaty balls. Nothing irks me more than the line "hey, your new bar is awesome, but...(fill in the blank with some mindless shit that really means nothing)". What's that old saying? Everyone's a critic!
And the people that were invited to the opening ARE critics and it is their job to critique so I don't have to, please tell me what to enjoy, I listen to everything you say :)

I wasn't at the opening, but followed twitter and all the usual blogs and can't wait till March when I get to see the place for myself. By then I will expect the world from them, the kinks should be worked out. But if they only had 300-500 rooms open, why the hell weren't those rooms perfect? It sounds like there was tons of staff. The slow checkin thing doesn't make sense either, unless there was a computer issue, or more than likely it was a staffing issue. Maybe someone will know for sure, but working in the service industry for as long as I have, I bet the house keeping union is pissed off about something so they didn't do the job 100% to prove a point. Maybe the front desk staff just weren't trained properly, and for that there is NO excuse.

On an opening night, full of Vegas VIP's, media, and the like the Resort owes you the world, they owe perfection (especially when they promise it). The first guests are going to blog, tweet, facebook,etc etc and then the world is going to read it. It sounds to me like Cosmo dropped the ball, right off their terraces. All the problems are fixable, Aria is proof of that, so I'm sure that pants will be picked up, noses wiped, people fired and kinks worked out. It's the way of the world. As for first impressions, the Vegas going public is pretty easy to get along with, screw up once, okay that can slide. Do it again, maybe now we have a problem. Oh wait, someone else screwed up bigger, yer all good now.

December 18, 2010 11:43 AM Posted by gregoryzephyr

Perhaps the Titanic set the standard for maiden voyages in that as long as the first guests make it home alive, that's success. Seriously, though, you do have to wonder how so many things aren't quite right even though supposedly everything is tested and checked beforehand.

December 18, 2010 12:14 PM Posted by kagehitokiri

unfortunately i only vaguely recall hunter posting that he was told 300.

if someone else, my bad.

if i literally pulled the 300 number out of nowhere, double my bad.

December 18, 2010 1:19 PM Posted by Hunter

Chuck was told 300 and I was told 500 rooms for the first night. As far as I know, neither figure has been officially confirmed but I don't know why the housekeeping manager and the front desk manager would have mis-represented.

December 18, 2010 2:56 PM Posted by parchedearth

Excellent question Hunter and I'm not sure there is a definitive answer. IMO, any premium pricing would tend to negate any patience and expectation of problems. Cosmo reservations now shows most nights being sold out through the end of the year, so I wonder if there was a realization they just weren't ready to handle any number of hotel guests.

It certainly sounds like most of the problems were computer systems related and mostly on the hotel side. It would be interesting to know whether those systems were ever working properly in the preceding weeks, or if there was a sudden failure they simply couldn't recover from.

All of the opening issues aside, I think even Chuck might agree that Cosmo is definitely an interesting property that has the potential to be a sleeper hit delivering what Aria had only promised.

As with Palazzo, Encore, and Aria; I scheduled my first stay at Cosmo for a month after opening to avoid these opening issues. I had relatively smooth experiences at those properties and will expect the same in mid-Jan at Cosmo. FYI, the rates on the wraparound terrace suite I booked have more than doubled since I made the reservation in October.

December 18, 2010 3:22 PM Posted by tc from Boston

This is Take three, each time I stop myself from writing a long rambling dissertation of what I really think.

While I value the work of Hunter, VT and the strip podcast.

I think I found some analogies that work. Are reviews of Preview shows of Broadway plays the final review you read? Are test drives of brand new cars (now models not released yet) ever the final review? Are beta tested pieces of software the final pieces you see and get to experience and then publish your thoughts on? No, No, No. While your initial thoughts are welcome, all over the piece should be huge disclaimers of "this is literally the first time anyone has touched this shit"

It is truly unfortunate that people paid a premium and expected the world out of something that no one outside of the company had experienced or even seen. But you were just that, a Preview Audience, Test Drivers, and Beta Testers, all rolled into one. There comes a time in any business ready or not, they have to open and start making money. Cosmo did just that, they are open and working out the kinks for 12/31/10 when the real show starts.

Form and write your opinion on your experience, share it, because I want to know how comfy or uncomfy the bed is, how good or bad the food is. But do you really think that when I check in in April my TVs won't work? or my bath mat won't be there? We all laugh at the blue tape, but I truly didn't start laughing until months later when it was still there.

December 18, 2010 4:47 PM Posted by Hunter

Hi TC,

You're right about all of your analogies (and Steve used the Broadway one on the VGang show) but the key difference in all of those instances is that it's very clearly stated that it's a preview, a test or a beta and those experiencing it often don't pay full price if anything at all - they trade feedback for a free experience.

If Cosmo stated anywhere that this was a preview, then please share the link because I must have missed it. Without that, I'm not sure your analogy stands up.

The other issue I have is that service started with a whimper and didn't improve. A delayed check-in by itself would be one thing but I know at least two people for whom housekeeping never even came in two or three nights. WTF?

BTW, the food was great and the bed was comfy.


December 18, 2010 5:25 PM Posted by aaron_b


I believe you have every right to expect to get the product you paid for opening day or not. Did Cosmo offer to take anything off your bill for all of the problems you encountered?

December 18, 2010 5:55 PM Posted by Hunter

As of now, the bill was not adjusted. It's important to note though that I didn't ask them to change it and I definitely didn't ask for any special treatment.

The front desk manager did tell me that when I come back I should call her first to make sure that everything works properly.

December 18, 2010 6:48 PM Posted by aaron_b

One time Bellagio checked me into a suite which was not ready. I complained about the room they cleaned it and they gave me a 200 dollar credit without my asking for any compensation. I guess Cosmo has a way to go on customer service which is too bad as it is a beautiful property.

December 18, 2010 8:41 PM Posted by Paolo

I don't have a lot to add to the discussion; I mostly agree with everything that's been said. I do think that one should get what they pay for. If a property is going to charge full-to-premium prices at launch, they should make damn sure they are as close as possible to a perfect experience. If you still need to test and work out the kinks, I think discount prices and disclaimers are in order. The unfortunate thing is, most of the buzz being generated is by people who weren't paying guests of the hotel. If you want to be cynical, you could speculate that this was a calculated bet by the management, and it may be a bet that payed off, however much we squawk here in the blogosphere.

December 19, 2010 8:00 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Let me throw in a sports car analogy: the first year of a new body style is aways the weakest, for a couple reasons. 1, the styling of the basic body is enough to drive interest for the first few years until familiarity requires the automaker to enhance the design with flashier wheels, paint schemes, or bumper and trim changes. Mechanical upgrades are part of this plan, as well. 2. Unintended design flaws show themselves after time, and corrective measures have to be taken.
In spite of this, the first edition of the body style almost always gets the most attention of any year model in the production cycle. People regularly have paid a premium to be able to buy the first edition, just so they can be the first person on their block to own a Corvette C6 or Mercedes SL. An experienced enthusiast knows that this isn't going to be the best version, but that isn't why they are buying it. They just want to be first. And, after many years, the first edition still holds interest simply by virtue of being the trailblazer.
The casino enthusiast is driven by the same motivations to pay a premium for the privilege to be the first to visit, or stay at, a new casino. In my opinion, the first visitors have to expect operational failures, and accept them, as well as a higher price for the room, as a part of the overall experience. Besides, it makes for a better story. Smooth operation gets forgotten, glitches live in legend forever!

December 19, 2010 4:14 PM Posted by Dave

The problem with the "beta test" analogy is that it's a slippery slope. When does the hotel go out of beta? 30 days out? 60? Six months? A year?

According to Bobby Baldwin, it takes 120 days for 80% of the opening bugs to be worked out. The last 20%, which are the hardest to solve, take a year.

( cite:

By that rationale, Aria's just out of beta testing.

December 20, 2010 8:39 PM Posted by jinx

I think the Broadway and car analogies are off a bit. As pointed out for shows, they are labeled as a preview and you are typically paying less, for cars, first generation is what it is, and you don't benefit from any redesigns.

In my opinion I think a better analogy would be software, many major releases can be plagued with bugs and issues on release, to the point where they just aren't ready, but are released anyway, and then subsequently patched. Prices tend to be highest at release too, and drop as time goes on. I think this fits better, problems from opening are probably going to be resolved and the product will stand on it's own variables once it's done.

To my expectation on what to expect from an opening, I think by this point anyone not expecting issues on opening is fooling themselves, every recent property that's opened has had some type of issue, now the severity of those varied, but history shows it's just the way it is for these openings. I don't think there is any reason to expect a 'smooth' stay on an opening week, much less opening night.

The premium is for the chance to say, you saw it first, or were there, or for a host of other reasons that people decide to pay that premium. At least in my opinion.