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May 27, 2019

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MGM responding to online reviewers’ criticism of Aria

Taking comments seriously, MGM making an effort to improve service

aria

Steve Marcus

A bellman stands in front of Aria. Long waits to check in are among the complaints voiced by online reviewers about the hotel.

Aria opens its doors to the public

CityCenter's Aria has opened its doors to the public. Fireworks exploded over the centerpiece of the $8.5 billion CityCenter project, and people eagerly awaited to be the first inside Aria, which is a partnership between MGM Mirage and Dubai World.

Aria Preview

Employees ready the bar at the Skybox Bar at Aria, the centerpiece of the $8.5 billion CityCenter project, Monday, December 14, 2009. Launch slideshow »
Jim Murren

Jim Murren

Reviews On TripAdvisor

Of 540 reviews on tripadvisor.com of Aria, 103 rated the hotel “average.” Three hundred twenty-five rated it “excellent” or “above average,” and 112 ranked it as “poor” or “terrible.” A sampling from the “average” reviews:

“Beautiful Hotel, Terrible Service”

I had read the reviews about the terrible check-in process, but figured that since we wouldn’t be checking in until around midnight, this wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong — even in the middle of the night, the line was a mess, and the staff seemed overwhelmed ... In all, we got a very good deal with our AmEx card (around $80 a night) so I’m satisfied with our stay there, headaches and all. But, I would caution anyone considering paying full-price for the 5-star experience to stay somewhere else. — maureenandmark, June 11

“Okay, I guess”

This place definitely still has a few kinks. Give it a few more months, and I am confident they will have figured it out and it will rock. Until then, well ... um ... maybe just go take in one of their fabulous restaurants. — AnotherHoustonian, May 28

“Not the best — not the worst”

The rooms were nice. Generally functional and felt large. The automation was nice, but several of the lights didn’t work and one of the light fixtures in the bathroom was falling out of the ceiling. After a week, I still hadn’t mastered the remote control and I’m a techie! My roommate decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to try ... Overall, a mixed bag. — Mr_Pher, June 8

“Not a true 5 star hotel, but great value hotel”

Pros: Great value: Got 2 rooms for the Memorial Day weekend (Sat and Sun) at only $115 each night per room (via hotwire) and stunning layout and architecture. Cons: Service, service, service ... Took 30 min just to get to the check-in counter. — orion1111, June 1

“I hope the management is reading these reviews ... nice place, needs work!!”

Incredible modern architecture, amazing rooms — including technology i’ve never seen before. from the touch screen control panel next to the bed, you can control almost everything in the room and your experience. The bed is very comfortable, and rooms are spacious. (But), when we got to our room the linens had a very obvious dirt stain, so I called housekeeping. 5 hours later, after walking around all afternoon and needing a nap, the dirty duvet was still there. — PennAndUCLAGrad, May 3

Shortly after CityCenter’s Aria opened in late December, a rash of bad reviews of the five-star resort went worldwide on Tripadvisor.com.

That travel information website has rapidly become required reading for hotel managers across the country. It ranks hotels according to customer ratings that accompany anonymous reviews and gave Aria a 62 percent satisfaction rating, behind many low-frills properties around town, including The Orleans, the Eastside Cannery and the proudly down-market Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall.

“A train wreck,” one review began. “A disaster of a place,” another said.

Glitches aren’t unusual in the first weeks after a major hotel opens, and customer service gripes are common to the Strip and its massive, corporate-owned hotels. Some managers complain guests have higher expectations for what their smaller bankrolls will buy.

But the Aria postings revealed recurring complaints out of whack with its image as the next evolution in luxury resorts.

Although many Aria customers posted glowing comments about its features, including its dramatic architecture and décor, the website’s volume of strongly worded complaints caught the attention of hotel executives in Las Vegas — including Jim Murren, CEO of CityCenter’s managing partner, MGM Resorts International.

This week, Murren acknowledged that he has been paying attention to online reviews and says his company is working to address the problems they have highlighted.

It’s the latest and possibly best example of the power that this type of Internet site puts in the hands of tourists. It is, after all, a way to send instantaneous feedback and opinions around the globe.

In CityCenter’s case, Tripadvisor users complained about slow check-ins, with some claiming delays of an hour or more to get into their rooms. Guests said room keys and room phones wouldn’t work. Aria’s hotel room technology — remote-control of lighting, curtains, temperature and other features — was confusing and prone to glitches, reviewers complained. The casino? “Too dark.” The food? “Overpriced.” The staff? “Clueless.” Housekeeping? “Abysmal.”

“I think it was a training issue and an educational issue,” Murren said in an interview after MGM’s annual shareholder meeting Tuesday. “We are understanding the building more and understanding where we need to train more and add new staff. They weren’t in the building long before it opened.”

David Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, said complaints on Tripadvisor and Yelp, another website driven by user reviews, were becoming problematic for MGM.

“You’re always going to have some people who are unhappy with anything.” And yet, other hotels in Aria’s league weren’t getting the same volume of complaints, he said.

“It’s good they’re acknowledging it,” Schwartz said. “The question is how do you translate that into doing something about it.”

Murren said the company has retrained employees, especially front-desk clerks, to respond to customer service problems and questions involving the room technology, the largest installation of its kind in the hotel industry.

Calls for service are routed to a dedicated call center where they are handled quickly, he said. As a result, the property’s customer service scores — those on public forums such as Tripadvisor and the company’s internal rankings, based on feedback from surveys and secret shoppers — have gone up in recent weeks, Murren said.

Recent Tripadvisor reviews have been vastly positive with a few misses such as “Beautiful hotel, terrible service” and “Not worth it.”

Besides owning up to service problems, MGM executives say they are busy tweaking other aspects of Aria and CityCenter’s high-end mall, Crystals, in response to customer feedback.

“We’ve had every type of comment (on CityCenter), from overwhelmingly positive to negative — that it was too architectural, too urban, not themed enough or vibrant enough from an entertainment perspective,” Murren said. “We take them all seriously.”

Aria is adding lighting in the casino, a process that will continue over the next few months, Murren said. The austere-looking high-limit slot area is getting a face-lift, with cozier décor and seating. The property will revamp its buffet to appeal to value customers instead of the gourmet crowd.

The company will add seating in the mall as well as banners and other artwork to liven up its bare, white walls. Some customers didn’t like the minimalist look and expected public benches.

Management is contemplating adding parking spaces in Aria’s garage after hearing complaints from customers who were frustrated by not being able to park in the garage’s large, striped areas between parking spaces, which were intended to make it easier for people exiting and entering cars.

Signage at CityCenter also has been problematic, Murren said. The property will add larger signs to ease people through the 67-acre complex.

Shrubbery will be added, which will help soften the hard architectural lines.

Building on CityCenter’s urban design, executives are working on implementing a farmers market that will enable employees and customers to buy fresh food. The lack of a grocery at CityCenter has drawn complaints from condominium buyers who said the complex has fallen short of the promised urban, live-work environment.

CityCenter has improved wireless service to eliminate “dead zones,” Murren said.

It intends to offer daily tours of its $40 million art collection, a unique element that has not been used to its advantage, he said. It’s a challenge, though, as the effort to find knowledgeable staff will take time and money, he added. In the meantime, the resort’s iPhone app will include information on the artists and their works.

Schwartz said it’s too early to tell whether the design will develop a big following.

“In ’95 you might have thought that building a Paris-themed hotel wouldn’t work” given that themed properties were relatively new to Las Vegas at the time.

“The place has to find its footing and its audience, which is really a challenge, especially right now,” Schwartz said.

To that end, the company will soon air a second television ad for Aria that will showcase more specific features than a pre-opening spot that featured a piano solo and streetscape views and close-ups of wide-eyed visitors. The tagline in the previous ad, “Words will fail you,” underscores the difficulty of explaining a high-concept property in a town that’s having difficulty making money even by appealing to visitors’ baser instincts.

“It’s very hard to get people to stay at a new spot when they can stay at an established resort and pay less than they ever have. And know what they’re getting,” Murren said.

Which is all the more reason why executives are closely watching what customers are saying online.

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