Monday, November 30, 2009

Can Total Rewards save Atlantic City?

Atlantic City, the famed gambling Mecca about an hour down the coast from me, is on a nasty losing streak. A recent story in the NY Times quoted a top gambling executive as saying “the city is in a death spiral.” Few disagreed.

It seems that after a rough couple of years, 2009 is looking even worse. Every Atlantic City casino but one is seeing a double-digit drop in revenue. The lone exception being the glitzy, feels-like-you’re-in-Vegas Borgata, which is down about 5 percent this year.

The reasons for the decline are many: the rotten economy, competition from newly opened gambling operations in nearby states, and the fact that Atlantic City, like the dwindling number of day-tripping seniors who bus into the city each day, is feeling old and tired.

The most-talked about solution: a cash infusion of a few billion dollars to build new hotels, new attractions, new anything that can start pulling in people again. Which, with the current economic environment, is as likely as me filling a double inside straight flush at the poker table. Or not very likely.

Harrah’s Entertainment ups the ante.

In years past, I’ve frequented the Borgata where I’m a member of the My Borgata Rewards program. But on my last two trips into Atlantic City, I ventured to the swanky but hip Caesars, where I joined Total Rewards–the casino loyalty program from Harrah’s Entertainment, the company behind the Harrahs, Caesars, Bally’s and Showboat casinos.

It appears that Total Rewards has upped the ante over the My Borgata program, by rolling out the red carpet for program members. My evidence here is strictly anecdotal, but I (and a good friend) recently received a bump up not one, but two tier levels to Diamond status. I also received a pair of free weekday hotel stays. (Surprising because, trust me, a high roller I am not.)

It’s obviously a play by Harrah’s Entertainment to get past customers back to Atlantic City and it’s either a smart move or a desperate move, depending on your perspective. I say smart—because rather than gamble on an expensive, and to my thinking, ultimately wasteful mass media campaign, Harrah’s is appealing directly to its customer base for more business.

Granted, they’re digging deep into the base by giving a two-time visitor like me special favors, but my guess is they’re mining the data for a few things: the recency of my visits, my perceived spend level, and my zip code, which tells them I live nearby and should be at a certain income level.

So can Total Rewards really save Atlantic City? It’s a lot to ask of a loyalty program, but it strikes me that Harrah Entertainment is playing the hand it was dealt—and reaching out to its customer base may be its last, best hope. I, for one, hope it works. In fact, I’m about to book a free night for my wife and I right now.

Now, a few words about the Total Rewards communications.

The first good thing I can say about Total Rewards is that they actually have a communications program in place. As a member of the My Borgata program, who opted in for e-mail, I cannot recall receiving the first piece of communications from them, digital or otherwise. (It’s good to be King!)

While the Total Rewards postcard and e-mail creative is perfunctory, they do some small but important things right. They recognize me by name and tier level, and occasionally by the casino I visit, Caesars. They’ve also made attempts to cross-sell me into other areas of the property, including their dining and entertainment venues.

But the Total Rewards communications could go even further. A few thoughts, for the people behind the program:

1. Pump up the engagement: I checked and Total Rewards has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter. Why not add these links to every e-mail? And while you’re at it, add an “invite a friend to join” link to each e-mail, as well.
2. Talk to my preferences: I know your part of the Harrah’s empire, but frankly I only joined the program because I like and visit Caesars. So more info on Caesars and less on Vegas and the other brands please.
3. Leverage the community: I know starting your own online community may be a hassle you don’t want to contemplate, but why not use some of the glowing testimonials found on social travel sites like Kayak and Virtual Tourist. This both encourages loyal customers to return and invites them to join the conversation.

This article originally appeared on Loyalty Truth on November 23, 2009 and was written by Tom Rapsas, a Creative Director/Writer/Strategist. He can be reached at and via Twitter @tomrapsas.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like I might have to stay there! I'm checking out some Atlantic City hotels for an upcoming trip already, so I might just go here!