Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

February 7, 2012

Stars, Diamonds, and Service

Posted by daveschwartz

I've been spending a little time at the M Resort, partially for a column you'll be able to read in Vegas Seven this Thursday, and it's gotten me thinking about star/diamond rankings. What use are they, and what exactly do they do for you, the paying public?

Usually when the list of rankings comes out and we find out who's gotten their stars or their diamonds, most people on the Internet are dismissive. After all, just about everyone in Las Vegas has some kind of star ranking, and many of the hotels here aren't exactly known for their sterling service or accommodations.

For many line employees, the star rankings are just something that their supervisors beat them up about. When everyone's got diamonds or stars, there doesn't seem to be much point of going through the motions.

Others have made the point that the hotels know exactly what they're being tested on, so they can "teach to the test," instructing their employees exactly what they need to do to maintain their star ranking.

I don't think this is such a bad thing. After all, it's not like this is middle school and teachers are neglecting students' broader educations so they can inflate their test scores. These are hospitality-based businesses, and they're being judged on how hospitable they are.

More than a year ago I wrote a piece for Vegas Seven about the Bellagio's latest AAA Five Diamond Award (it's hard to believe that the article came out before the Cosmopolitan was open--that feels like a long, long time ago). At the time I heard most of the criticisms I outlined in the paragraphs above, and I probably didn't do a good job of conveying just how happy the Bellagio folks seemed to get the diamonds. They brought out everyone from property president Randy Morton on down for me to talk to, and those of us who deal with casino media know just how rare that is. Even though the hotel's got a reputation that stands on its own, they thought it was a big deal.

More recently, I spent some time in a training room at the M Resort observing a class where current employees in other departments learned how to deal. There was a lot of dealing technique and game protection covered, but I was impressed by the equal importance given to "four star service" and "four star attitude." M subscribes (not sure if that is the right word" to Forbes' ranking service, and shooting for those stars permeates, it seems to me, much of the property's culture. Walking around the back of the house, I saw information about the four stars just about everywhere. It's clearly something that's a big deal to everyone.

As it was explained to me, Forbes shops the property eight times a year and shares its ratings in each of the areas it measures with the property. In any given department, they might evaluate only one employee, so the chain, as they say, is only as strong as its weakest link. Almost everyone in a department could give impeccable service, but if the shoppers get the one guy who's having a bad day, the property gets dinged.

This is the fairest way of evaluating service that I can think of. I've always said that casinos are only as good as their worst employees. All of you who know the business as consumers know this is true. It only takes one bad interaction to ruin the illusion that you're in fantasy land where your every wish is someone else's command.

The way M handles it (and probably other properties whose training I haven't gotten as close a look at), the Forbes Four Stars are a constant, concrete goal that defines expectations and mandates high minimum levels.

As a guest, that's a great thing. I think it focuses managers on what really matters--guest satisfaction--and gives employees something more concrete than the usual core standards, which tend to get nebulous and really just say one thing: "Treat the guest nicely."

Services like the Forbes stars provide an external benchmark for customer service, which is important. Managers can both under-report customer service failures by explaining them away or over-report them by listening too much to disgruntled customers and ignoring those who have positive things to say. Outside evaluations should be a way of standardizing quality control and making it less dependent on how those inside the company interpret customer feedback.

How seriously you, as a guest, should take the star rankings is another question, and probably the subject of another post. If you've got thoughts, share them in the comments. Does a 4 or 5 star/diamond ranking make you more likely to stay at a property, particularly if it's one you haven't been to before?


Read archived comments (7 so far)
February 7, 2012 1:33 PM Posted by parchedearth

When I am booking a hotel (in Vegas or anywhere else), I sort my search results by stars and then scroll down the results until I get to my price point. This ensures I get the best quality hotel in my price range. Hence, I find the ratings to be somewhat useful especially in destinations I don't know as well.

I also adjust my expectations of a property based on both price and ranking. Almost nothing will upset or disappoint me at a 2 star property, but I expect great service at a five star.

The ratings can also work to an employee's benefit as a goal to aspire towards working in better properties and for your resume as an indication of work pedigree.

Due to the massive scale of Vegas properties, I don't think the stars mean the same as in most cities. IMO, there are numerous four star Vegas properties (e.g. Monte Carlo) that would be low three star properties elsewhere.

February 7, 2012 6:01 PM Posted by Chris77

In my opinion Forbes Travel Guide ratings has been steadily losing their relevancy over the the past few years. They were spun-off from ExxonMobil, bought by a .com, and then licensed the name "Forbes" to maintain the illusion of credibility.

They have stopped selling guidebooks to the traveling public and are now solely in the business of selling their "consulting" services to the same hotels they then rate, and then selling socially-disguised advertising pieces for those same hotels on their own website. Chairman Jeff Arnold is a .com entrepreneur, not a travel industry veteran (Look at and then look at his other company's website Notice any similarities?)

Forbes Travel Guide's customers are now hotels, not travelers, and the service they sell to hotels is the opportunity to be marketed and promoted as a Forbes 4- or 5-Star rated property. I suspect that many Forbes Travel Guide employees have no hospitality industry experience whatsoever. They are a small company, with fewer employees or revenue than many of the resorts that they provide "consulting" for.

Considering that those properties are now their only source of income, it's hard to imagine them arguing too hard with a heavyweight company like Wynn Resorts or MGM Resorts about a borderline star rating here and there.

The rating standards they use may be sound and the ratings can be valuable to the public, but there is definitely a potential conflict of interest in their current business model.

February 7, 2012 7:02 PM Posted by Hunter

Funny you mention the above - listen to the latest VGang for a discussion on this and my explanation of a Mobil internal report on Bellagio I got in 2007.

February 8, 2012 5:35 AM Posted by Paolo

I use a similar strategy to that of parchedearth's when booking. Star ratings are just one input I factor into a buying decision. My main concern with them is that there are so many different ones, and they mean different things to different people. It would be nice to see a few standards adopted and used across different properties, travel and review sites.

February 8, 2012 8:49 AM Posted by jinx

I don't pay much attention to the star rankings. I do however pay a lot of attention to reviews of hotels and try to sift through the internet muck to get a clear picture of a place.

I'm typically value shopping on an initial trip anywhere, so I don't want bottom of the barrel, but I'm not shooting for the moon either.

I will say I do think there is a correlation with stars and service. I'm comfortable with average service at places that I expect it. I'm not at places that claim to be more. When I see MGM talk about how Aria or even MGM to a certain degree is comparable in service to Bellagio, I tend to not believe anything else they want to say. It's just not true and after staying at Bellagio it's something that you just know. The employees there approach service differently then they do at MGM and Aria, basic interaction will show you this. There is a pride there, that few places have and I think it shows through the employees. Maybe it manifests in the stars or diamond award, but having seen a similar level of service (from some/not all) at Caesars, I tend to believe it's something that the worker takes as their own based on where they work, and when you've created that culture, then refining it is easy.

It's one of the reasons, I think Wynn's properties typically live up to their service pursuits. They've created the culture and just have to deliver on that culture. It's also one of the reasons that LVS falls so far behind and that a place like Caesars is losing it. (Potentially Wynn/Encore too if they become too consumed with the CET model)

February 9, 2012 7:55 PM Posted by Diana

When booking hotels in areas I'm pretty familiar with, stars and diamonds don't mean much of anything to me but I do consider them when looking for hotels in areas I'm less knowledgeable about. These rating systems aren't perfect, but they do offer a baseline of information (to qualify for each level, no matter what the system, you generally have to meet certain amenity criteria) and it can be helpful to see where multiple properties are placed when all are judged by the same set of standards. Whether something is a 3, 4 or 5 star generally isn't a determining factor for me, but I find these ratings useful as I'm narrowing down my options of where to stay when I lack other information to help guide my search.

February 13, 2012 2:19 PM Posted by Yoah Herrera

I have tried going by Lonely Planet, Fodors, Expedia and Tripadvisor and other ratings sites (ratings are usually by a lot people who are inexperienced or non-business travellers, or some who may have no idea what great service and great hotels are, or are extremely biased) -and have had some very bad experiences and paid a lot of money for nothing... on the other hand ... I have never had a bad expericence at a Forbes 4 or 5 star Rated Hotel - my parents used to always buy the Mobil Travel Guides, or get them at the library for free... I trust their system...they are unbiased and highly skilled in what they do....they are looking out for you...