What it Takes to Run the World's Largest Hotel


The Venetian and The Palazzo casino resort complex in Las Vegas is bigger than many towns. With more than 7,000 rooms, each of which is a suite, the two hotels regularly host close to 12,000 guests and that doesn't include visitors coming to gamble, shop, eat and simply see the spectacle. The Venetian alone gets 50,000 visitors a day. That's a lot of foot traffic.

"The scale of the resort quite honestly is a small city," says chief engineer of facilities James Gonsalves, who describes the "underground metropolis" where staff works. "It's basically a little city that supports this entity that guests see from outside; it's actually quite amazing."

Gonsalves says there's a team for every maintenance need the hotel might have. "There isn't anything we can't repair or handle in house," he says, naming teams of plumbers, upholsterers, painters and carpenters, locksmiths, welders, pool and fountain maintenance, electricians, general maintenance, and even a sign-making shop. "It's really an entity that is self-sustaining, even to the point where, if we lost power, we have generators that could provide power and keep it operating for almost two days before having to refuel."

With summer temperatures nearing 120 degrees in Las Vegas, one of Gonsalves's biggest responsibilities is managing the mammoth air-conditioning system and the 7different water features on property, including 11 pools, 17 spas and more than 40 fountains, some of which are heated by solar panels.

For general manager Travis Lunn, housekeeping is the "lion's share of my responsibility." Lunn manages 2,500 employees, 1,500 of whom make up the housekeeping team alone.

The largest department at the hotel changes and launders thousands of sheets a day. Transporting all that laundry is time consuming, so the Palazzo installed a laundry chute 50-stories high, which enables housekeepers to send laundry down from the top floor to the bottom, with bundles reaching high speeds down the chute.

Unlike the situation in smaller hotels and inns, Lunn says that for him, "to try to personally touch or check on every single of the 7,000 suites obviously is very challenging." So he relies on his staff. "One of the key things in running a resort of this size is communication," he says, "really making sure one department is speaking to the next."

The rooms themselves are also on a grand scale. At 650 square feet, the smallest rooms in the hotels are suites larger than many apartments. The largest suites, at 10,000 square feet, would qualify as mansion-size in most suburbs. The generous square footage of the Venetian's standard suites warranted an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for "Largest Standard Hotel Room in the World."

"That's a very sizable room," says Van Heffner, president and CEO of the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association. "It really is the top of the top. Most standard rooms are 150 square feet."

The Venetian and Palazzo complex, which is the largest LEED-certified complex in the world, has a high-tech system that keeps rooms in energy-conservation mode until someone has checked in. A computerized signal is then sent from the front desk, enabling the guest to control the thermostat.

But the resort is so much more than just the rooms. As the world's largest resort complex, and the only Five-Diamond resort of its size, the Venetian and Palazzo complex also has nearly 150 shops (with almost one million square feet of retail space) and 35 restaurants -- also more than most towns offer. To give a sense of scale: the Venetian's indoor space alone equals the size of 138 football fields. The hotel's interior walls are covered with 45,000 gallons of paint. If one person started painting today, it would take him or her 12 years to finish the job -- and that's just for one of the two hotels.

"The concrete on site [at the Venetian] can line a sidewalk from here to Memphis," says Lunn, trying to put the buildings' scale into context.

While the Venetian isn't quite the scope of the city it gets its inspiration from, the resort does come close in a few areas. The Campanile tower at the resort rises 315 feet high, just eight feet shorter than the original in Venice. The marble-mosaic floor in the lobby is modeled after that in the Church of Santa Maria del Rosario in Venice. And just like the Italian city, the Venetian has a Grand Canal peppered with gondolas running through the complex. The Italian-inspired boats have proven to be a big draw on the Vegas strip: Every year almost 500,000 visitors ride those canals, though about 80 percent of them stay at other properties.

The resort's indoor Grand Canal holds more than 273,000 gallons of water. Using a standard garden hose for 24 hours a day, it would take 65 days to fill it. The deeper outdoor canal holds more than twice as much water.

"We dye the water every couple of weeks to maintain the color," says Chris Freeland, Operations Manager for the gondolas. "It's an ongoing process to keep it up to standards; to make it appear more blue; otherwise it would be clear."

Freeland says the 70 gondoliers on staff are actors hired by a talent agency, with the requirement that they must be able to sing (two songs are required for each ride), steer the boats, and rescue a guest, if need be -- a legitimate concern considering the thousands that ride the gondolas daily.

In addition to a lifeguard on duty at the outdoor, 13-foot lagoon, gondoliers, 10 of whom are on the water at all times, must be a certain distance from each other. Then, if they were to be needed for a rescue, they could reach the guest in time.

"Gondoliers, when they're trained, must be able to jump into the water in full gondolier costume and get back on the boat in a specific amount of time," says Freeland.

The half-mile indoor canal loop at the Venetian takes passengers under four bridges "just like in Venice," says Freeland. And just like in Venice the gondoliers must stoop to fit under the low bridges or risk being knocked from their boats. Another commonality to the real thing: proposals are plentiful on the romantic ride. But the Venetian/Palazzo complex takes it one step further and offers weddings onboard a special white gondola; typically two of these take place every day. Couples can tie the knot aboard a gondola, with their officiant riding along performing the ceremony.

According to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesperson Jeremy Handel, even when counted separately the Venetian and Palazzo resorts are among the largest in the world. "Most cities would be challenged by a 4,000-room hotel, but in Las Vegas we have several complexes that are in that range," says Handel. "The Venetian/Palazzo fits right in with where Las Vegas has gone in the last 10 years," he says, citing the new City Center Complex, which opened late last year and houses four hotels (a Mandarin Oriental, Aria, Vdara and The Harmon, which opens later this year) and the Wynn/Encore complex, whose two hotels each have more than 2,000 rooms. "We're sitting on a total of approximately 150,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas."

Handel says that some of the big draws that pull visitors into certain resorts and casinos are entertainment and shopping. He cites Madame Tussauds wax museum at the Venetian, the gondoliers ("unique to the Venetian in Vegas") and restaurants by top chefs like Emeril Lagasse as some of the complex's top attractions.

The Grand Canal Shoppes is another top attraction. "The shops are lined along the canal where the gondolas ride, so aesthetically it's a unique experience," he says. Also, "They have the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, which is a pretty big name in the spa industry, is the largest spa in Las Vegas." "It's about location, location, location," says Van Heffner. "This is the heart of the strip. It's right across from Wynn/Encore, the Fashion Show Mall, Treasure Island, the Mirage and Caesar's Palace. It's definitely one of the top draws [of the strip]."
Read Full Story