Skift Take

Las Vegas is tried and true. Or is it? Just like with everything else, the pandemic will upend what one of the U.S.'s leading destinations has to offer — and digitization and hybrid models will be at the core of the reinvention.

There’s an adage emerging in the business world in 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t create new trends — but rather accelerated ones that were already in place.

That’s certainly true at MGM Resorts International, Atif Rafiq, its president of commercial & growth, said at Skift Global Forum on Wednesday. He said the shift to a digital-first company has been a huge focus of his — naturally, he’s an alum of Silicon Valley and Amazon, as well as McDonald’s and Volvo — and the changes brought by the pandemic are here to stay.

“Moving from an integrated casino resort to a company that’s really digital first and the experiences are easy to use and business model is compelling for the customer — we’re laser focused on that,” Rafiq told Skift’s CEO Rafat Ali. “In terms of Covid, that’s only accelerated that. Especially on the digitization element. So in some cases we’ve accelerated road maps by six to nine months. Contactless check-in was ready to go when we reopened in June, [and it’s had] a 30 percent adoption from day one.”

With his role focused on evolving the guest experience, Rafiq also spoke about a reimagining of what Las Vegas has to offer, from sports and wellness to mixing business and leisure travel. One of the inroads to that, he said, is developing the sports betting and gaming business.

Atif Rafiq

“If you think about MGM resorts it’s a very natural fit for us,” Rafiq said. “If you have an app that you’re using and you want to accumulate points that you’re using, no better place to do that than something that’s linked with MGM Resorts … Vegas is increasingly becoming a sports town [with the arrival of the Raiders] so it’s very complementary where you could use your loyalty points to come to Vegas for a trip when there happens to be a sports event here.”

All of this only strengthens the idea that customer can be digital first, and then physical, he said.

“From a business perspective, we have a bricks and mortar business, we might see you once or twice a year in Vegas, but with an app and sports betting and gaming, maybe we could see you every week, or more frequently than that,” Rafiq said. “So it’s about daily digital engagement and how our business has a continuous touchpoint with our customers.”

That hybrid quality also applies to the future of business travel in Vegas — despite there being very little of it right now. Currently mass gatherings in Vegas are limited to 50 people and under, but Rafiq said when things get going again, he sees hybrid events being expected by meeting planners and attendees.

“What we hear from customers is that there is no substitute for that face to face interaction, but with that being said we’re anticipating change and we’re going to develop the most relevant current offerings for [meeting planners] and I think there will be hybrid elements.”

Rafiq has already tried to reimagine the business trip during the pandemic, with the roll out of the Viva Las Office initiative. It is a business-meet-leisure offering for workers who want to get away from home for a few days, but need strong wifi and amenities that allows them to work.

“We already do a lot of meetings, if you think about a meeting, you’re part of a group for three for days, well why don’t you stay for a day or two and shift to a different mode where you combine leisure and work, so this could fit into that,” Rafiq said. “I think we’ll be looking for those interesting combinations which would appeal to the business traveler.”

While Las Vegas has a clear appeal both domestically and internationally, Rafiq’s overall message is that the pandemic has brought about some new and fresh ways to engage with the destination, all stitched together and made cohesive by a digital experience.

“This is early days, but over the long term this could turn into some new types of visitation patterns.”

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Tags: mgm resorts international, sgf, sgf2020, skift global forum

Photo credit: MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Håkan Dahlström /

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