Designing woman creates web site appeal

Nov 16, 2004 6:43 AM


As web sites evolve and become more sophisticated, the hotel/casino industry in Las Vegas is "starting to get it" in terms of understanding the importance of the sites to their bottom lines, according to Sally Gaughan, director of Internet marketing for Coast Casinos.

Moreover, as web sites play a bigger role in the hotel’s overall marketing strategy, the resorts are "starting to have expectations" for their sites and not just accepting whatever might be presented as representing the hotel on computer screens.

Gaughan, who is in the process of hiring a new web designer for Coast Casinos, says that web sites have grown from being little more than "pretty pictures" in the earliest days to being interactive. "Now, we collect data, store (it) and talk to our customers through online capabilities," Gaughan said.

She adds that the two predominant uses of the web site are for room reservations and showroom ticketing.

Gaughan says there is a difference between locals and tourists, as to what they are looking for on the web site. Locals look for the latest specials and giveaways, such as slot club promotions. Tourists are looking at the image and the impression a resort is conveying and sometimes they don’t like what they see, Gaughan said.

"You can get a poor first impression," she said. "You might not like what you see" on the web site, and that could translate directly into a lower room occupancy rate, which is perhaps the broadest factor affecting a resort’s bottom line.

In her position, the buck stops at Gaughan’s desk in terms of the appeal — or lack of appeal — of the Coast Casinos’12 active web sites, but she says the entire management team takes collective responsibility for the occupancy rate.

Moreover, there are times such as the two weeks before Christmas when room occupancy rate is going to drop and the management team reaches a point at which it feels comfortable in believing that it has done everything it can in its marketing strategy — and web site presentation — to fill the rooms.

Everybody accepts the lower occupancy rates as part of the cyclical nature of the destination resort business and as a result, Gaughan, the 34- year-old daughter-in-law of casino mogul Michael Gaughan, says she doesn’t feel any extra pressure in her position.

Still, even Gaughan admits that in addition to the growing number of people who make their room reservations online, there remains another substantial group who will call after being influenced by the resort’s web site and make their reservations via phone.

Hence, it is her department that bears a growing responsibility for keeping the crowds coming through the doors.

"It’s not okay to stand still; you have to add bells and whistles in both content and design" and "we are continually updating" the different web sites, she says.

She adds that one of the more frustrating aspects of her job is that she can’t always tell with certainty how a customer made his choice of resorts. Simply, she can’t be certain why a web site clicks.

The position she is trying to fill is described in a newspaper ad as being responsible for "the design, construction, maintenance and development of the company’s World Wide Web sites."

She says she has about 15 applicants she terms as "serious" and expects another five or so before the hire is made in a couple of weeks.

Gaughan has noticed that over the years there has been a difference in applicants in that in the early days of web sites there were people applying who had a background in art while today she sees more people who have college degrees.

She said she values design skills more than technical expertise. "The look is what they’re after. The content is the same," she says. The emphasis is on finding an applicant who can "present our corporation (with) imagination."

Whoever is chosen is certain to be talented, but as the economy of Las Vegas turns more and more on web site presentations, the successful applicant had also better have an appetite for competition.