Excalibur Layoffs Could Reveal Deeper Truth About Changes in Tourism

Recent news that the Excalibur has trimmed its bell desk and valet workforce is food for thought. On first read, it’s another sign that the economic recovery hasn’t taken root on the Strip, and that it’s not time to unfasten our seatbelts just yet. But looking more deeply yields, perhaps, an insight about the changing face of Las Vegas.

First of all, this isn’t necessarily a sign of decreasing demand or even tourist spend—although there are enough of those in casino restaurants that have cut their hours and days of operation. While it’s tempted to view this in its broadest context—a hotel is cutting its workforce—and suggest that this is the canary in the coalmine pointing toward a difficult fall and winter, let’s examine the news more closely. Deep in the article came a fact that I found illuminating: only 4 percent of Excalibur guests use the bell desk to have their luggage delivered to their room.

First of all, that’s still a fair amount of trips with the luggage cart. Assuming an occupancy rate of 90 percent, my math suggests that about 144 guests a day don’t haul their bags up the
elevator and down the hall themselves. But it seems that the Excalibur’s managers think that the benefit those 144 guests get from the service isn’t outweighed by its expense. As a result, unless you’re a VIP, part of a group, or disabled, you’ll be lugging your stuff to the front desk and to your room yourself.

Here’s the point where most Vegas cognoscenti will smirk (or even sneer) and say that this is the Excalibur, what did you expect? After all, it’s never been one of the higher-end resorts on the Strip, and it’s not a shock that the guests there aren’t lining up to tip bellmen for carrying their bags to the room.

I’d counter that the Excalibur is hardly still in the opening shakedown phase, where managers discover how the operational realities differ from conditions on the ground and adjust accordingly. The casino has been open for more than 22 years, and even at the start, there was an expectation that a significant number of guests would be using the bell desk to deliver their bags.

I wish I had the numbers on how many guests did this through the years. I don’t, so I’m going to theorize that since the recession we’ve seen fewer guests, particularly at lower-end properties, asking the bell desk to carry their bags. Part of it’s likely money. The service is free, but a tip is expected, and when most visitors find their discretionary dollars already stretched to the limit, tipping $5 for something you can do yourself seems a bit decadent.

But I think it’s deeper than that. I think that visitors are changing their mindsets and their habits. Once, a trip to Vegas meant splurging on everything: gambling longer, eating more, and,
well, you can use your imagination. Now, with resort fees and other add-ons popping up everywhere, visitors are more wary. They’re coming to accept being charged more, maybe, but it might be making them a bit less free with their money.

Right now, this is just a theory, and it would be nice to get the data to prove or disprove it. Looking at how rates of tipping have fared since the resort fee  onset might yield some clues. This might seem like a minor thing to study, but from these small patterns, the bigger picture emerges.