In the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak, Zero Spiel investigates the growing trend of charter aviation services set up by operators. Joe Lupo, President of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, discusses the casino’s overall function in a company’s offering, how it may improve the land-based business, and the impact of aircraft on the environment.

The gambling industry’s backbone and key pillar, brick-and-mortar locations, have recently encountered various challenges. Not only did they close their own venues, but they also closed their borders, restricting access to some of the most prestigious and opulent resorts in the gambling industry. Since then, land-based casinos and resorts have rebounded dramatically — but how can they maintain this momentum? Some casino operators believe they have a solution, one that they hope will attract new customers to the blackjack and roulette tables that have long supported the gaming business.

Chartered air travel, such as flying to a resort, does not appear to be particularly unusual. According to a recent survey conducted by The Points Guy, we fly frequently, with 50% of Americans having one or more vacations every year. Following nearly two years of lockdown, it appears that gambling operators are aware of this desire to travel. In light of this, a number of the industry’s most well-known operators have recently agreed to deals that will see their customers flown to casinos in high-end and rather exclusive charter services. This is a trend that is gaining popularity across the US land-based business, from Hard Rock to MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment.

The adoption of these services raises a number of questions: is it an attempt to bring convenience to land-based casinos in reaction to the growing popularity of mobile gaming, or is it an attempt to advertise the casino experience as an exclusive high-class holiday for travel-hungry Americans? What is the impact of flying big groups of people over long distances on a frequent basis? Can operators commit to sustainability while harming the environment on purpose? We chatted with Joe Lupo, President of Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Atlantic City, about the operator’s Hard Rock Air service, as well as the other options open to Americans, to get some answers.

What role does Hard Rock Air play in the Hard Rock brand?

Customers who are at least a four-hour drive away can use Hard Rock Air to facilitate and establish an accessible mode of transportation. From departure to arrival, the programme transforms their journey into a simple 45-minute luxury excursion to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, providing an exceptional travel experience.

Over the last 18 months, travel has been halted for an extended length of time. How do you think services like Hard Rock Air can help Hard Rock resorts attract more visitors post-pandemic?

While Hard Rock Atlantic City has experienced significant market growth since opening three years ago, it’s critical that we reach out to a diverse variety of customers in a market that has seen declines in the last year and a half. Hard Rock Air has increased the number of visitors to our resort and will continue to do so. The convenience of using fixed-base operator private jet terminals, along with a shorter flight time, allows us to reach out to a broader spectrum of consumers, which is crucial to market success.

Some could argue that the land-based segment is being forced to adapt as mobile gaming continues to expand in popularity across the United States. Is a personalised travel service with a sense of exclusivity the best approach to keep the land-based sector alive and well?

Respectfully, I must disagree. Online gaming allows us to communicate with a larger number of customers, allowing us to provide them with a premium and unique experience that includes live entertainment, fine dining, spa visits, and beach time, all of which are experiences that online gaming will never be able to provide or replicate.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the environmental consequences of flying people around the country every year?

Hard Rock Air has a small number of passengers, about 30 each plane. This provides for a really personalised and intimate encounter, which our customers love.

With that stated, I’m proud of all of Hard Rock International’s and its properties’ hard work and initiatives to rescue the world, which has been a key philosophy long before environmental issues were generally accepted. Hard Rock International’s continued support of environmental organisations such as the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, National Arbor Day Foundation, Farm Aid, Concert for the Oceans Foundation, Surfrider Foundation USA, and SurfAid International demonstrates the company’s dedication to a cleaner, more environmentally friendly world.

Hard Rock is far from the only company to launch a chartered airline service in recent months, but Lupo’s remarks reflect the general tone of the industry. Caesars Entertainment signed a five-year arrangement with Sun Country Airlines in November to transport guests to several Caesars-operated sites across the country, with both sides emphasising the importance of convenience and reliability. MGM Resorts International also announced in June that charter flights to the Borgata Atlantic City Casino would begin in June, allowing residents of up to 75 cities to fly into the renowned New Jersey casino on a 173-seat 737-800 plane.The operators’ most prized customers, Seven Star Caesars users and MGM M Life members, fly for free in both circumstances, underscoring the idea that these services help to create a sense of exclusivity.

In fact, exclusivity is a word that appears on every charter announcement. Operators clearly want a visit to a land-based property to be viewed as an event, rather than just registering into a mobile app. The firm calls Hard Rock Air a “unforgettable travel experience from departure to arrival.” However, as Lupo points out, the service should not attempt to replace the convenience of mobile, perhaps because it will never be able to. It should, however, operate in concert with an operator’s other services to provide the company’s most valuable clients a sense of exclusivity and elegance.

However, this exclusivity comes at a price, with the global aviation industry responsible for roughly 12% of all human-produced emissions and having a significant impact on climate change. Of course, these operators do not bear sole responsibility: the emissions generated by these charter services will be small. However, if companies like Hard Rock want their efforts to make their business more sustainable to be noticed, there may be a better approach to achieve this sensation of luxury.

Finally, charter services will not save the land-based casino sector since it does not require saving at this time. Over the previous two years, the industry has overcome impossibly difficult difficulties and has rebounded spectacularly, with many operators around the country reporting record revenues. These services, on the other hand, may be able to provide something fresh. Charter airlines may seek to build on the identity that the land-based business wishes to convey to its clients, as Lupo emphasised and as is present in every piece of marketing engaged from operators: an exclusive, opulent, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The product also clearly taps into a need that has formed among the American public as a result of the shutdown.

People want to get away after months inside, and when it’s safe to do so, these companies are plainly willing to fly you from practically anyplace to visit the country’s top casinos. Furthermore, these services provide an interesting counterpoint to the convenience and simplicity that mobile gaming has brought to gambling, conjuring up images of a conventional casino, complete with well-dressed clients and high rollers. Operators must find answers to certain questions, particularly those relating to the aviation industry’s long-term viability.

When compared to the plethora of sustainability initiatives undertaken by operators, the decision to invest in a business that is clearly unsustainable should be questioned. Overall, the rise of the charter service is an unusual phenomenon that is part convenience and part luxury, and it will be interesting to see where it leads the land-based casino industry in the coming years.

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