A Wynn-Win

How a dreamy excursion at sea rewarded employees of Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas’ top employees

Dream team: Wynn Las Vegas’
top employees were rewarded
with the “trip of a lifetime”
in the Caribbean last February.

Gaming giant Wynn Las Vegas’ first employee travel reward program took place in April -- a luxurious SeaDream Yacht Club Caribbean cruise that touched upon St. Thomas, Nevis, St. Barts and Jost Van Dyke -- as orchestrated by Dawn Hume, the company’s director of special events. Participating were 12 employees who had been named “stars of the month” during the previous year and were automatic nominees for employee of the year. Winners came from all divisions of the company and ranged from a butler from villa services to an engineer who handles the property’s costly artwork to a performer from the resort’s signature show, Le Reve.

When these 12 “star” employees were called to a meeting late last January, they assumed it was to learn the details of the gala the company typically threw to honor the best of the best. Steve Wynn, chairman of the board and CEO of Wynn Resorts (which owns Wynn Las Vegas), had a long tradition of staging lavish, Academy Awards-style fetes annually at all of his properties (among his former Vegas holdings were The Mirage and Bellagio) to recognize top employees. It was a beloved tradition, but it had become just that: something everyone expected -- and something other casino resorts in Vegas also did to reward their standout staff. But a sea change was in store for the 2006 winners, and it came about in a rather fortuitous manner.

Elaine Wynn, Steve’s wife and a director on Wynn Resorts’ board, and Andrew Pascal, president and COO of Wynn Las Vegas, attended a private party aboard a SeaDream Yacht Club vessel, an uber-luxurious, 110-
passenger cruise ship, last December. The week before, the Wynns had chartered the ship with the intention of using it as a holiday gift for their casino’s high rollers. But after experiencing the cruise line’s impeccable service and sumptuous trappings firsthand, the executives felt it was the perfect reward for their own VIPs, the resort’s 12 top performers.

From the ship, the executives called director of special events Dawn Hume, who was knee-deep in preparations for the employee awards gala, set to take place in February of this year, and the about-face for the program began. Instead of the bash, winners would take a SeaDream cruise in April.

SeaDream 1Breaking the news that the gala evening was going to be replaced by a luxury cruise turned out to be an event in itself. The participants, who were expecting a meeting about the gala, instead viewed a Love Boat-style video featuring Wynn executives as Captain Stubing and company, the 12 employee-of-the-month winners as the guest stars and, in the role of the Pacific Princess, was the SeaDream 1 (above, right).

“When they realized they were going on this trip, it was an Oprah moment,” says Hume. “Everyone was laughing, screaming, jumping.”

The video was followed by a burst of confetti, and the curtains opened to reveal a steel drum band and stations set up to provide all kinds of services and goods for the winners. Among them were passport expediters, a luggage station, a toiletry station, travel coordinators to make arrangements to fly a relative in to take care of children, pet-sitting services, a personal training service for winners who wanted to get in shape for the trip, and even personal shoppers to help them coordinate (and purchase) a cruise wardrobe.

For the actual sailing, the group was flown, via private jet, to St. Thomas. Each winner brought one guest; other participants were supervisors who nominated the winners and key executives. During the cruise, all shore excursions were hosted by a Wynn honcho. Each night had a different party or theme. And as nightly pillow gifts, winners were given Visa gift cards to use in port the following day. Winners also received credits for the ship’s onboard spa.

“They were treated like royalty by the ship’s staff -- they have the same dedication to service that the winners do,” says Hume.

When the rest of the company (the resort employs 7,000) heard about the trip of a lifetime their co-workers won, motivation was stoked. Says Hume, “All of a sudden, everyone is stepping up to the plate; more supervisors are motivated to nominate people for the program.” As for this year’s winners, “They know something is in the works,” says Hume. At press time, the 2008 reward had not been announced.

“It’s hard to quantify the results,” says Hume, “but not one person who went on that trip has left the company. They tell us they’re employees for life.”