By LISA MONTI
Keeping things running at Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, with its 1,740 hotel rooms, 24-hour casino, 10 restaurants, award-winning golf course and other swanky amenities, is a massive operation.
To ensure that the slots are spinning, the dealers stay busy and the hotel rooms are full, the MGM Resorts property has created its own air charter service to bring in gamblers and golfers from 90 cities across the country.
In Beau Rivage’s typical top-notch fashion, the charter service is expansive and successful for the casino resort as well as the Mississippi Coast’s tourism industry.
With two daily 737 charter flights delivering hundreds of visitors, the program has “significant impact” at the airport, said executive director Clay Williams. The service, contracted through Minneapolis-based Sun Country airline, represents 23 percent of Gulfport-Biloxi’s operations.
“What’s really interesting is that it has grown exponentially — from the Southeast to the Northeast and Midwest to Texas. It’s a tremendous program,” Williams said. “People that fly in spend at least three nights, and they have additional discretionary income. It’s good for the Mississippi Coast as a whole.”
The airport benefits in several ways. “It’s a job creator,” Williams said. “We have individuals working for the airline, the airline is buying fuel, passengers are dining at the airport and utilizing the retail concessions we have here.”
Beau Rivage had a marketing relationship with AirTran when it opened in 1999. The casino subsidized the low-cost airline which initially flew in passengers from six Southeastern markets. But keeping hotel rooms filled has required more service to more cities.
Beau Rivage’s full-blown air charter program evolved out of necessity over the past decade, said spokesperson Mary Cracchiolo Spain. “After Katrina, the tourism industry was devastated. Afterwards, we were in a rebuilding mode but eventually it got more robust. Now it’s such a part of what we do.”
Charter passengers total 80,000 a year and now make up one-third of Beau Ri-vage’s visitors, alongside locals and visitors who come from the region and be-yond.
Beau Rivage’s charter program flew 647 flights last year. The volume of flights, destinations and passengers requires constant planning. Cracchiolo described the expansive air charter scheduling as a jigsaw puzzle “to map out who’s flying in and when.”
Troy Douglas, executive director of Beau Rivage’s national marketing, got the charter program going. He and Sean Farrell, director of charter services, and two other Beau employees create the dynamic flight schedule every quarter. ”We operate east of the Rockies, as far north as Minneapolis, as far southwest as McAllen, Texas, up the Northeast to Boston and southeast to Fort Lauderdale,” Douglas said.
Attention to customer service is paid at every point of travel. Once passengers check in at the airport, they don’t see their luggage until it’s delivered to the Beau. Motor coaches wrapped in Beau Rivage ads pick guests up on their arrival and take them to the casino hotel on the Biloxi waterfront. “It’s a stress-free way to travel,” said Douglas.
While cash seats are available for purchase, he said the team relies heavily on the MGM Resorts customer database to identify potential guests for direct mail pitches. MGM Resorts has casino resorts in Las Vegas and throughout the country as well as in China. “It’s all based on customers being part of the loyalty program,” he said.
The cost of the charter packages booked through MGM Resorts is “competitive,” the Beau Rivage said, and the most loyal customers have their trips comped or discounted. The spillover spending at nearby businesses is hard to track but Farrell says it’s significant. “We encourage our guests to use the loyalty program on the property but we know a large impact goes to local restaurants” and other businesses on the Coast, Farrell said.
Airport director Williams said of the air charter, “It’s a robust program that provides great exposure for our market, bringing in travelers from throughout the United States that might not otherwise be flying to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
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