The New Normal
Andre Carrier is the COO of Eureka Casinos, Nevada’s first 100% employee owned casino.
He is also a Prize Steering Committee Member for the Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a partnership between The UNLV Lee Business School and the Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation aiming to speed entrepreneurs in the development of innovations necessary to rapidly address the urgent problems facing the hospitality, entertainment and travel industries resulting from COVID-19.
I had the opportunity to interview Andre recently. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: How has the Coronavirus impacted the hospitality and tourism industries in terms of jobs?
Andre Carrier: Nothing has impacted jobs in the hospitality and tourism industries, with such totality, like this virus has. When you think about the service industry, that’s where the masses of jobs are in the economy. The hospitality and tourism industries have 330 million jobs worldwide. When you translate that into GDP impact, you’re talking about an $8.9 trillion impact annually. If you look at the travel industry alone, earnings are $275 billion. That’s $275 billion not being made, and money not being put back into the economy.
On a smaller scale, we can look at Las Vegas as a metaphor for an economy and a city that is driven by tourism. In Las Vegas, 300,000 people lost their jobs in just 10 days. But it’s not just a Las Vegas problem.
Since reopening we have been seeing remarkable recoveries in cities like Myrtle Beach, SC and San Antonio, TX but cities such as Las Vegas, NV and Atlantic City, NJ are showing job recovery at less than 50% and 20%, respectively.
Griffin: Are you seeing businesses starting to re-open in Las Vegas?
Carrier: Yes, we actually reopened on June 4. Casinos in Nevada are back in business. However, we are certainly experiencing the absence of the convention and meeting sector and of course the loss in visits associated with live entertainment and sports.
Griffin: What precautions are you taking now that you’re back open?
Carrier: We’re taking many precautions. Casinos are known as a place for mass gatherings. But translate that differently and that means that they also tend to be massive environments in size. My casino floor is almost 80,000 sq. ft. We have the ability to spread out to reduce population density. What you see on casino floors now is that we have fewer games, we have fewer seats at table games, and we’ve taken advantage of our big environments so that we can spread everyone out to a safe distance.
We’ve become masters of Lexan and Plexiglass, which are now in every service area.
We’ve changed protocols. For example, how you eat in a restaurant will likely be forever changed. We’ve put in protocols so that the person who brings you food will never take anything off your table. They’re only in change of clean food, and only do kitchen to table. Then there’s another part of the staff that only does table to dishwasher. Then the cashier will only do table to cashier. More and more you’ll see restaurants giving you the option of bringing you a check or settling it yourself by an app on your phone to avoid the exchange of receipts and cash.
We’ve activated and trained a whole new legion of people to do real time cleaning in the minute. So now if you are playing a game on the casino floor there is a green card that says, “this game has just been sanitized for you.” When you get up and leave you turn it over red and a cleaning team comes through to sanitize the game for the next player using FDA approved chemicals.
We’re coming to work every day and wearing face masks, having our temperatures taken, being tested for COVID-19 and answering a list of questions. We can kill the virus within our walls and we’re doing this to keep our guests and employees safe and to play a part in continuing to reduce the curve of the virus’ growth. In doing so, we can also be sure that our businesses can stay open and we can stay at work.
Griffin: What’s the feeling now that your back open? Are people excited to be back at work?
Carrier: Most of our employees have worked together for many years, so they’ve genuinely missed one another. Those are meaningful relationships in their lives, so I think everyone is excited to be back together and spending time on the floor with our guests.
People want to return to the things they love in life. For many of our customers, these are the things they love to do, it’s part of the rhythm of their life that they enjoy. So, they’re happy to be back too.
Griffin: What are you seeing, as businesses are starting to reopen? Are there optimistic signs that things will be back to some sense of “normal” anytime soon?
Carrier: We’ve just opened, but there are hopeful signs. Initial occupancy looks strong but for the most part our visitors are driving at this point, we get a lot of people who come out from California for example. Lift is still going to lag in Las Vegas for a while, because we need entertainment and we need conventions to drive occupancy and those haven’t returned quite yet. That’s why we’ve joined forces with UNLV’s Lee Business School and put together the Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Because while we’re open again, we know we still need to innovate ways to get back to business as usual. Economies see challenges all the time, this situation is unique but the idea of society facing a sizable challenge is not unique. Right now we need to solve this particular set of challenges, and that’s why the prize competition was created.
While there is clearly encouraging news that suggests broad reaching vaccination is on the horizon, I think people are tempering their optimism with a pragmatic and objective understanding of what is normal for now.
Griffin: Do you think it’s going to take a vaccine to get the convention business back to where it used to be?
Carrier: The data health organizations are receiving from contact tracing will likely drive convention and conventioneer decisions and outcomes in Q1 and Q2 of 2021. By this, I mean, we will soon have a far clearer picture about where and how people are contracting the virus. Currently, far more people are getting the virus at home than anywhere else – meaning they get it because they live with someone who contracted it. There is also beginning to be science that suggests that it is sustained contact in smaller spaces that places people in greater risk than in large spaces like convention halls. Whatever the truth about this becomes, we will have far more data shortly as contact tracing systems are finally improving rapidly.
The face of conventions may change where there will likely be two paths for participation: a virtual and in-person. Efforts will be made to keep the in-person events smaller and great precautions being taken to avoid sustained interaction. There are some fantastic technologies that are being developed to both safely facilitate in-person events and make virtual events far more enjoyable and impactful.