By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky

The city of Las Vegas always presents an interesting picture for the state of global hospitality. Often standing in contrast to the rest of the world, this nexus of conventions and sometimes excessive leisure trips is also a center of hotel innovation. Now with the sharp demand for contactless experiences so as to prevent the spread of viruses through The Strip’s innumerous corridors and grandiose lobby floors which can see tens of thousands of visitors a day, we look once more to this city for how it is adapting to the times.

We’ve known Shannon McCallum for well over a decade. And like the two of us, she’s a Canadian too! Formally a senior executive with MGM Resorts – where she played a leading role in guiding Mandalay Bay and ARIA, amongst others – she has recently joined Volan Technology, a real-time tracking software company, as its VP of Hospitality. Shannon offers some encouraging words for the post-pandemic future for hotels.

To start, tell us what attracts hoteliers to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is home to the largest resorts in the world. In fact, hotels like MGM Grand are more than 5,000 rooms! This means that there is truly no better place to gain vital hospitality experience and it attracts the best and the brightest from all around the globe. Not only can hospitality professionals develop skills they couldn’t get anywhere else, but it gives them an opportunity to lead and develop large highly skilled teams and build a strong network of connections that will help propel their careers forward for years to come. This talent and the work they do in our large-scale hotels is how we can create those best in class experiences for which Las Vegas is known.

While it’s common in the hotel industry to move from property to another, you switched from managing one hotel to assisting many at once. Was this a challenge?

It hasn’t been a challenge, but it has provided me with opportunities to expand my skill set. For example, I was fortunate that in my ten years with MGM Resorts I was involved with hotel technology, especially at ARIA and Vdara. When I joined in 2010, they were both brand new properties and the technology installed was not just best in class but the newest on the market. Both resorts always stayed on the cutting edge of technology, which meant I had to be sure to stay up to date on the industry trends. To that end, I became, and am still a member of, the Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals Association, and I sit on the Education Session Development Committee for HITEC. That gave me connections in the hospitality vendor space which have proven to be extremely helpful.

Given its dependence on hospitality, the coronavirus has probably impacted Las Vegas more than any city in the United State. Can you give us an update?

Of course, COVID-19 has impacted Nevada’s hospitality industry and properties immensely. Before the virus hit, the city was seeing 42 million visitors coming to town for meetings, conventions, business trips and leisure travel, so losing that volume after the shut down in March had an enormous impact on the resorts and the employees. As of now, volume without that MICE business is only back to about 50%. But if Las Vegas has shown anything over the years, it’s that it is an extremely resilient city. The world knows how much we have to offer, so I’m confident it will only be a matter of time before we move back to pre-Covid volumes. We’re all remaining optimistic and very much looking forward to that.

As we move towards a ‘Covid is normal’ scenario, what changes do you foresee in hoteliers’ approaches to hospitality?

We all saw that 9/11 put into place many new technologies designed to increase the safety of guests both moving through airports and staying in hotels. Likewise, as we adapt to Covid, we have seen an effect where hoteliers have been advancing innovation in their properties in order to provide a safer environment. Volan Technology, for example, enables hospitality operators to make dramatic improvements in virus prevention, not to mention saves millions of dollars in manual tracing. As hotels and meeting spaces adopt services like these, it will not only increase safety but also rebuild trust with guests and encourage travel once again.

Have developers continued their commitment to add new product? Are there parallels we can draw to the 2008 downturn with City Center opening in that difficult time?

Hotels that have put off implementing innovation have had their hands forced and are now playing catch up. There’s now a big drive to give guests options, from touchless arrival experiences to concierge services and tech in the guestrooms. I personally wasn’t in Vegas in 2008 but I definitely see similarities in the downturn of the economy where businesses are having to contract and find efficiencies to maintain operations in line with the money coming in. And we did recover from that time. Business levels not only came back but surpassed then set new records. I know Vegas, and the hospitality industry in general will do it again.

Anything you want to add?

Safety and security are going to be vital on the path forward. We’ve learned so much in the last six month and we’ve become better at weaving in tech to support operations. We can only get stronger from here, with a safer stay and work environment which will both be very attractive as we all start to travel again.

This article may not be reproduced without the expressed permission of the author.
Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.