President and COO
Aria at CityCenter
CityCenter is an $8 billion hub for the famous Las Vegas strip. Boasting unique architecture from some of the world’s foremost designers, it is a city within a city that is known for its nonstop fun. With three iconic hotel projects, including an entry by famed Asian group Mandarin Oriental, the complex offers over 5,000 rooms. As its anchor, ARIA well fits the Webster’s definition of “an accompanied elaborate melody sung… by a single voice.”
Following some “oh my” moments in the heat of the real estate meltdown, the entire complex opened on time last December, surprising many and beating the odds, considering the numerous grand projects that ground to a halt around the globe. With six months under his belt since the opening and the selection of one of his Sky Villas to Elite Traveler’s 2010 101 Top Suites list in the upcoming July/August issue, ARIA President and COO Bill McBeath took time to answer some questions from Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan. In upcoming Leaders in Luxury interviews, Gollan interviews the chiefs of sister properties Vdara and Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas to provide you with a 360-degree view of this mega-project.
ET: Can you give us a brief overview of CityCenter as a whole and ARIA in particular?
Bill McBeath: CityCenter is an extraordinary urban resort destination brought to life by eight of the world’s finest architects and more than 45 of the world’s best interior designers. Initially conceived to bring a true center to The Strip, CityCenter is more than a collection of resorts and residences; it’s a community where people can gather, relax and explore. Throughout CityCenter, guests will find great pedestrian corridors, dynamic public spaces and a diversity of experiences that are most often associated with the kind of energy you find only in the world’s most exciting places. At the heart of CityCenter is ARIA, which is a luxury resort unlike anything previously seen in Las Vegas. Even in a city known for hyperbole, I’m confident in saying that ARIA features an unprecedented combination of striking architecture, sustainable design, high-end service and spectacular amenities. One of the things we are most proud of is that ARIA has the most technologically advanced guest rooms in the country. Upon a guest’s first entrance to their guest room, he or she will be “greeted:” Curtains will open, lights turn on and the TV displays a menu of preferences. Guests can choose to wake up through controlled temperature, preferred music or TV channels and the opening of curtains. Or at night, the “good night” button turns everything off—from TV and music to lights—as the privacy notification turns on. ARIA, and all of CityCenter, was designed in such a way to encourage our guests to wander and explore. Around almost every corner you’ll find a new “something” to enjoy. It may be a quick bite to eat in a wonderful setting, or a cocktail at one of the many bars, or it may be a piece of art from our public Fine Art Collection by some of the world’s most prominent contemporary artists.
ET: Can you give us a quick overview of the shopping and restaurants, as well as any other amenities you think would interest our readers?
Bill McBeath: ARIA is the centerpiece of the overall CityCenter development. This truly is a city-within-a-city, providing access to a variety of retail, entertainment, dining and nightlife options. Within ARIA itself, guests have access to 16 restaurants and nine bars and lounges. But if none of those are the right fit on any given day, our guests have access to a variety of other options in our sister facilities at Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas and Crystals retail and entertainment district. Within this entire development we have world-class chefs that include Julian Serrano, Shawn McClain, Michael Mina, Pierre Gagnaire, Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, Jean-Georges Vongerichten… and that is just to name a few. On the retail front, we offer a selection of the world’s preeminent brands in one of the most spectacular shopping environments you’ll find anywhere. Prada, Gucci, Tom Ford, Hermès, Tiffany & Co. and Miu Miu are among the wonderful stores you’ll find at Crystals. You said I need to be quick, but I’d be remiss not to also mention that ARIA features a really vibrant pool scene and a spectacular new production by Cirque du Soleil celebrating the legacy of the king of rock n’ roll, Elvis Presley.
ET: Tell us a little bit about the SkySuites and SkyVillas.
Bill McBeath: The SkySuites and SkyVillas are among my favorite places we designed at ARIA. We’ve really created the feel of a hotel-within-a-hotel with our SkySuites. Guests will arrive to a private entrance accessed by our in-house, one-of-a-kind CNG limousine fleet, they will be escorted to an exclusive check-in lounge and a private elevator will take them to their floor, where they’ll enjoy gorgeous accommodations with stunning views. There are one- and two-bedroom options of the ARIA suites and of our very special penthouse accommodations. The SkyVillas, which were designed by Peter Marino, range from 2,000 square feet up to 7,000 square feet and are really so much more than a hotel accommodation. The SkySuites allow people to experience the exclusivity and privacy of a small boutique hotel, yet have the availability to all that ARIA has to offer just steps away.
ET: The villas are spectacular, but is it possible to still provide high-touch luxury service within such a huge hotel structure?
Bill McBeath: The suites and the villas are truly beautiful. But we learned a long time ago that if you can’t provide a truly superior level of service, the rest doesn’t matter. ARIA’s focus on customer service and training for our employees is unrivaled. Having a large hotel allows us to individualize each experience even further since we have such a vast array of options at our disposal. Nothing is impossible—if the guest can think it, we can deliver upon it.
ET: With our readership of business owners and C-level executives, can you give us an overview of your Convention Center and meeting space?
Bill McBeath: ARIA provides a premium meeting experience with 300,000 square feet of technologically advanced meeting and convention space. It is set apart from other convention spaces by a spectacular glass curtain wall that spans the entire north façade of the three-level meeting facility. This allows guests the ability to enjoy the brilliance of natural light that streams in from ARIA’s lush poolscape throughout the day. We know that business owners and corporate executives are increasingly focused on sustainability and doing business with people and in places that are conscious of the environment in their practices. We are most proud that ARIA has received GOLD LEED certification from the US Green Building Council as a testament to our commitment to sustainable building and operations.
ET: You opened at a difficult time. How have the first six months been, both from an operations perspective as well as business?
Bill McBeath: ARIA’s first six months have certainly been more difficult than we would have liked. The entire world is experiencing tough times and Las Vegas is no different. Visitation to the city has been down, as have occupancy levels and rates. Each month we are seeing improvements in those numbers at ARIA and all the trends are pointing in the right direction for the future. We are focused on building brand awareness for ARIA around the world. We know that as guests experience the hotel, they fall in love with it and go home to tell their friends about what they’ve experienced.
ET: Will there be any additions or changes visitors can look for over the next six to 12 months?
Bill McBeath: We will be adding a number of wonderful new high-end boutiques and restaurants at Crystals, our beautiful retail district. And we continue to finesse our operations with a strategic focus on enhancing the guest experience.
ET: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Bill McBeath: Had we been able to see the future of the market, we may not have built the residential offerings to the extent that we did. With the exception of that, though, we believe that ARIA and all of CityCenter are the future of Las Vegas. We didn’t envision and build this wonderful development for the short term. It is built to be significant now, 10 years from now and 20 years beyond that. We are very proud of what we have delivered here.
ET: With so many challenges leading up to the opening, were you ever concerned it might not get there?
Bill McBeath: We would have to be frank and say that there were moments in 2009 when we weren’t certain what the future of CityCenter was. But we had an extraordinary financial team working night and day to bring this project to fruition. And once we had all of the financial issues addressed, there was never any question that the highly experienced operational team we had on board would deliver a world-class, unprecedented experience. What we have accomplished here would have been special no matter what 2009 looked like, but I think that based on what we all went through together last year, we stand even more proud of this very special place and look forward to welcoming new guests here every day.
ET: Anything else you would like to mention to our readers?
Bill McBeath: There has been quite a bit of advertising and media out there about CityCenter in the last six months. One of the things we say in our advertising is that this is a destination that is better experienced than explained. I really believe that’s true. No matter what we tell people about ARIA and all of CityCenter, it is when we see that look of awe and wonder in their eyes when they’ve arrived here and begun exploring on their own that we know that it truly is a place best experienced and explored.