Ian Wilson, senior vice president of nongaming operations, Marina Bay Sands, speaking at the 2019 ULI Asia Pacific Leadership Convivium.

How do you keep a giant casino resort running smoothly, coping with demanding customers and a shortage of staff to service their needs? For Marina Bay Sands, the iconic Singapore casino resort, the answer is data.

Ian Wilson, senior vice president of nongaming operations, Marina Bay Sands, addressed the ULI Asia Pacific Leadership Convivium, held in Singapore in November, to explain how property owner Las Vegas Sands uses data in its operations.

The property is massive. In addition to the casino, it has 2,561 hotel rooms, a 1.3 million-square-foot (121,000 sq m) conference center, and 800,000 square feet (74,000 sq m) of shops. It welcomes 40 million visitors a year, has revenues of US$1.7 billion, and runs at 97 percent occupancy.

“It is a beautiful, beautiful iconic building,” Wilson said. “But it is really not a very efficient building. To add to that, we have a severe labor shortage in Singapore for many of the frontline jobs, and that’s only going to become more acute as we go forward.”

Marina Bay Sands needs to use data in order to make the smartest decisions about allocating staff efficiently and making them more productive, while maintaining the high standards demanded by guests. “Where does productivity correlate most highly with revenue and with your customer service?”

Wilson identified four streams of data used by Sands: building data, employee data, customer data, and operating data. Sands measures individual performance for each staff member, including customer satisfaction.

“Bedrock data measurement is the foundation, and then a focus on data analytics, innovative technology, team member engagement with the goal of having great guest satisfaction, profitability, and productivity,” he said.

Wilson’s take on data and data analytics is not always what might be expected for someone in his position. “In the world of data and analytics, I think culture is widely overlooked and I think it is underestimated,” he said. “However, I think it is absolutely core to creating an enterprise that can adjust to the operating environment. I would say success is 80 percent culture based on my experience, and 20 percent everything else.”

He also argued that “hospitality is going to operate more and more like a software business,” with companies using “A/B testing” to improve operations. And Marina Bay Sands will experiment with innovations by trying something new in 70 percent of rooms, while leaving 30 percent unchanged as a control group.

The company is focused on building a “try and learn” culture, said Wilson. “And we also try and learn everything we can from other industries and competitors. So we’ll shamelessly steal anything!”

Marina Bay Sands uses data analytics to forecast which rooms to clean first, in order to match available rooms with guests as they arrive as efficiently as possible. Based on data analysis of check-in times, the amount of luggage to be delivered, and customer tolerance for waiting, the hotel’s management can forecast how many people will be needed at the front desk.

There has been considerable interest in how robotics and automation might be used to help hotels operate more efficiently. However, Wilson dismissed much of the visible use of robots. “Lots of people have robotics for show and they’re not really generating a return on investment.”

For Sands, the advantage of robotics is that it can “automate low-value tasks for your employees,” Wilson said. “We try and figure out how we can keep them working 24/7 wherever possible.”

Thus far, the approach seems to be working; guest service and productivity have been growing at 3 percent each year and the property has won a number of plaudits and awards. However, the Sands approach has not been universally adopted. “In the hospitality space, I’m looked at as a bit of a heretic by many people. There’s a lot of sacred cows in hospitality,” said Wilson.

He suggested that the ability of hotel and real estate owners more widely to collect data from their assets was a “great opportunity,” but warned: “If you don’t get going on it, you will be in trouble, because somebody else is going to and they can out-compete you.”