BILOXI — There is, quite simply, nothing else like Beau Rivage Resorts Inc. in Mississippi.
Or in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia or Texas. Beau Rivage is a luxury destination resort, a self-contained city that covers 3.4 million square feet. The closest comparable resorts are in south Florida, at Hilton Head, S.C., or the Ritz in Puerto Rico.
It is one thing to see the figures on Beau Rivage, estimates that the resort cost $675 million. It is another thing to actually see what that kind of money buys: the multi-storied atrium filled with full-sized magnolia trees, floral-design Italian mosaic tile floor centerpieces that look more like fine art than something you should be walking on, breathtaking art work, large fresh flower arrangements and an extensive pool and spa area that give the impression of being smack in the middle of the Mediterranean instead of in Biloxi.
The general contractor for Beau Rivage was W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. of Philadelphia. Up to 1,900 construction workers were employed at peak times building Beau Rivage.
The third week of March about 70 journalists from across the country joined locals and out-of-state visitors to Beau Rivage in rubbernecking to view the attractions of Beau Rivage. Some people wondered if Beau Rivage could possibly live up to the high expectations people had for the resort. But it was clear in the weeks after opening that most people couldn’t even have imagined how nice the resort is.
The out-of-state journalists were surprised by what Beau Rivage and Biloxi had to offer. A reporter from the Miami Herald said when he was assigned to do a story on Beau Rivage, other people in the newsroom asked who he had made mad to get such a lousy assignment. But the reporter had no complaints, and concluded that the Beau Rivage was one of the nicest places he had ever stayed.
“The reporters said that Biloxi is so nice they wished they lived here,” said Beau Rivage Resorts chairman and CEO Barry Shier.
Traffic congestion on U.S. 90 related to Beau Rivage was less than expected, possibly because a lot of the traffic to the resort comes from Interstate 10 down I-110 directly to Beau Rivage. It was immediately apparent during the opening weeks that the amount of out-of-state vehicles on the Coast increased dramatically, particularly vehicles from Texas. But traffic wasn’t appreciably worse than before.
Shier said the measure of success for Beau Rivage will be if it increases visitorship to the Gulf Coast. The intent isn’t to draw customers away from existing Coast casinos, but to increase the size of the pie by attracting more out-of-state visitors. The reason why Beau Rivage spent so much on the resort aspects of the property is that it wants to attract people who visit destination resorts rather than the smaller percentage of people who are only interested in gaming.
Historically, gaming resorts with hotels still obtain most of their revenues from gaming. The ratio of gaming to hotel revenues might be five-to-one or five-to-two. Beau Rivage plans to have a mix closer to one-to-one.
In the early days it appeared that the Beau Rivage was increasing the size of the market. Other casinos that had expected a drop in revenue instead found gaming traffic remaining even. Some even found an increase in gaming revenues due to the larger number of visitors attracted to the grand opening of Beau Rivage.
LAP OF LUXURY
The five-star hotel rooms at Beau Rivage include panoramic views of the Mississippi Sound and/or Biloxi, bathrooms with a telephone and separate shower and tub facilities, fresh flowers and plush furnishings. But the cost is less that you might expect, with rooms averaging $90 to $100 per night. Suites run in the neighborhood of $300 per night. The resort also has a large convention center, seven restaurants, a coffee shop, ice cream parlor and numerous retail outlets.
BIGGER AND BETTER
Shier said Mirage Resorts Inc., the parent company of Beau Rivage Inc., originally planned to spend far less and have a market radius of only 500 miles. Later they decided that Biloxi had potential as a destination resort that could attract travelers from all over the country, and from foreign countries as well.
Beau Rivage went from a regional destination to a world destination business. Mirage Resorts will draw on already-established international relationships to attract visitors from Europe and South America.
“We will make a strong effort to position ourselves for Latin America,” Shier said. “We went from a potential market of 40 million to a potential market of 110 million. Growing the market here is everything to us.”
Shier believes that Biloxi can make a good marriage with New Orleans, attracting travelers who traditionally visit the Crescent City to spend a few days at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi. He also believes Orlando might make the third leg of a potential Orlando-New Orleans-Biloxi travel destination pattern for foreign tourists.
WITHOUT A HITCH — ALMOST
As with any grand opening, there were some unexpected occurances. One humorous incident involves the free-flying finches that have been released in the atrium area of the hotel. Shier said prior to releasing the birds, he consulted bird experts who recommended keeping the finches in a cage for two weeks prior to releasing them. The birds fly throughout the atrium, and then return to the cage to eat and deposit droppings.
Things seemed to be going well, and visitors were delighted to see the birds and hear their songs. But then one finch landed on the carpet. A security guard, believing the bird had flown in from outside, carefully picked up the bird and released it outside.
Otherwise, the opening was smooth and shortages of workers didn’t appear to a problem. Beau Rivage has its full complement of 4,300 workers. And, judging by early traffic, Beau Rivage is attracting plenty of visitors.
One element of Beau Rivage that is appreciated by elderly and handicapped individuals is that the casino — unlike most other Coast casinos — is located all on one level. There is no ramp between the lobby and the casino; when you walk between the hotel and casino, you have no idea you have crossed over to the water.
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