Doubling Down

As the tourism industry recovers in Las Vegas, Michael Dominguez helps MGM Resorts triumph by expanding internationally and capturing corporate clients

MGM Grand in Las Vegas completed the $160 million room and suite aspect of its “Grand Renovation” in 2012. The multifaceted makeover campaign also includes Hakkasan restaurant and five-story nightclub (opened in 2013), casino upgrades, and Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club.

The key to winning in Vegas isn’t all about luck. Michael Dominguez has found that relationships often unlock the door to success.

As MGM’s senior vice president of sales, Dominguez is at the helm during a critical period. The convention and meetings industry is steadily improving, and he’s seeing levels of demand on par with prerecession numbers. MGM Resorts has 10,000 rooms in its inventory that it didn’t have prior to 2007, and room demand is up across Las Vegas. The true indicator of economic health, however, is the group and convention business—and corporate business is decidedly back. In April 2014, MGM announced a significant expansion of Mandalay Bay Expo Center. The $66 million addition of 350,000 square feet will take the convention space, which is currently the seventh-largest in the country, to fifth-largest.

Michael Dominguez, senior vice president of sales for MGM Resorts International
Michael Dominguez,
senior vice president of sales for MGM Resorts

Although MGM Resorts is the world’s second-largest gaming company, it’s a relatively young brand. The company was formed in 2005 when Mandalay Resort Group and MGM-Mirage merged. Part of Dominguez’s job is to ensure that MGM Resorts’ strengths are understood in meetings and general markets. “We have to do that the right way, with one culture, and consistent quality. If we can do that, we’ll harness a lot of potential,” he says. The industry lost the middle tier of management and meeting planners during the recession, and MGM Resorts is ramping up training and education for its sales team as it develops the young talent and leadership that will push sales forward.

In the era of technology, many competitors are turning away from face-to-face interactions, but MGM Resorts is pushing for human interaction. In fact, Dominguez has grown his global sales team to have a much bigger footprint, driven by his belief that relationships matter. He’s investing time, money, and other resources to get his reps in front of clients more often. Additionally, his entire staff is participating in a mandatory etiquette course. Dominguez preaches the importance of handwritten notes. “If you actually get a real note in the mail, it’s the first thing you open because nobody sends them anymore,” he says. “I’m a big believer in the personal touch.”

Dominguez doesn’t talk about luck at all—he believes instead in relationships and reputation. You would never guess that Dominguez started his career bussing tables for Hyatt Hotels 28 years ago. Having mentors in the industry helped Dominquez get to where he is today. “You are going to cross paths with people who will take an interest in you if you let your guard down enough to let them help you,” he says.

As the industry continues to rebound, Dominguez says his number one job is to support his sales people. “My team has to articulate and educate meeting professionals on how quickly our world is changing,” he says. If tourism is back to 2007 occupancy levels, then corporate clients shouldn’t balk at 2007 prices. “It’s not cheap to fly, and we’re asking for a bigger spend. There is enough competition for space that I can be specific and choosy,” says Dominguez. As the company moves forward, he’s making sure MGM Resorts takes the right business in peak seasons to ensure the company is as profitable as possible.

Overall, the hospitality industry is recovering from more than just the recession. Dominguez calls 2000-2010 the “lost decade.” He serves on several industry boards and task forces through which he advocates for the industry. “We are the only country in the world that had a decline in foreign tourism during the lost decade,” he explains, adding that the foreign tourist stays longer and spends more. His groups are working to promote the United States as a tourism destination and are lobbying Washington to extend the life of a recent marketing campaign known as BrandUSA.

In the larger picture, though, MGM Resorts is developing properties around the world, and Dominguez expects to be very busy for the foreseeable future. He’s trying to help MGM become the very best, not just in the gaming industry or in Vegas, but in the country and the world. He’s come a long way from clearing tables and serving drinks, but those days continue to inform his approach. “I take routes through each hotel that allow me to interact with the dishwashers and front desk clerks. These people are critical,” he says. “Their interactions will dictate if I have to work hard to get a customer back, or if they will be begging to come back.” Dominguez remembers his early days in the industry and knows just how important each person in MGM Resorts is. To those key players, he has one message: “Thank you.”