4 Inspirational Hoteliers According to Steve Wynn

The success of Wynn Resorts is closely tied to Steve Wynn’s personal philosophy on luxury and customer service, and his image of the ideal resort experience comes to life at the Wynn and Encore resorts in Las Vegas and Macau. The Wynn properties offer visitors endless opportunities to experience the finer things in life, from bespoke designer handbags at the Prada boutique to Ono, the XS Nightclub’s $10,000 cocktail.

But Steve Wynn believes that true luxury is about far more than material goods – rather, luxury is an experience. “If you’re surrounded by beautiful things,” he says, “you could feel lonely and disconnected. But when you’re being attended to, then the story comes to life.”

Steve Wynn made his foray onto the Las Vegas Strip with the opening of The Mirage in November 1989, and he launched the first Wynn resort – the Wynn Las Vegas – on April 28, 2005. But the inspiration and experience that influenced his business ventures began long before he arrived in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn commenced his career in the midst of a postwar era that saw the development of many of America’s most iconic resorts and casinos, all of which were characterized by once-in-a-lifetime luxury experiences. In describing those that have impacted his career as a hotelier and real estate developer, Wynn cites a diverse array of influential entrepreneurs from Miami Beach to the Magic Kingdom.

1. Ben Novack, founder of Fontainebleau Miami Beach

Steve Wynn spent most of his adolescence in Utica, New York, but in his final year of prep school, his parents relocated to Miami Beach. For the next five years, Wynn spent all of his holidays in the bourgeoning tourist town – more specifically, on Pine Tree Drive at the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach. In the 1950’s, the Fontainebleau was one of the most popular resort destinations in the nation, if not the world, and Steve Wynn considers his time there to be the factor that most heavily influenced his future career path.

The luxury hotel conceived by Ben Novack was truly a world in itself, with French gardens, restaurants, and shopping centers all coming together to create an exclusive realm of luxury. No sign marked the entrance to the Fontainebleau, and guests needed a key to even enter the lobby, but the establishment’s exclusivity only fueled its popularity. In fact, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach provided an opulent setting for the film Goldfinger, and the Wynn family’s residence – Cabana 364 – is even visible in one of the scenes.

Wynn had his first taste of Las Vegas in the Fontainebleau’s La Ronde Room, where he saw emerging stars of The Strip such as Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr. But the resort also introduced him to the idyllic romance of the luxury hotel, providing a prime example of how architecture can inspire a sense of fantasy and exclusivity. With its numerous cafes, gardens, and lavish interiors all following a French theme, the Fontainebleau offered an experience far greater than that of the outside world. Wynn’s time there inspired him to change his major from pre-med and pursue a career in creating the world’s next great resorts.

2. Walt Disney, founder of Disneyland

Walt Disney was famous for creating new worlds through the art of animation, but in 1955, he brought these worlds to life with the launch of Disneyland. Built on 160 acres in Anaheim, California, the $17 million metropolis Disneyland quickly became one of the world’s most famous theme parks, promising to transport guests to a carefree world of imagination and nostalgia. Steve Wynn notes that “Walt became much more famous for the park than he did for the cartoons,” pointing out that even the television show The Wonderful World of Disney focused on whisking viewers away to the magic of the palace.

Much like the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Disneyland created an exciting new realm of pleasure and fantasy unlike anything one could experience in the outside world. By 1960, Disneyland had become an institution, and its success inspired the young Steve Wynn to create new worlds of his own.

3. Jay Sarno, founder of Caesars Palace

The luxury and fantasy of the Fontainebleau inspired Jay Sarno to create Las Vegas’ first themed resort. Steve Wynn recalls that, before Caesars Palace, “all the hotels on the Strip were identical,” consisting of nondescript hotel buildings positioned behind casinos. Caesars was the first to offer guests a themed experience integrated throughout the entire property, and the Roman paradise became the spiritual center of Vegas. As Wynn describes, “Caesars almost became as big as the town,” hosting a constant stream of celebrities and historic boxing matches.

As the father of one of his fraternity brothers served as the chairman of Caesars Palace, Steve Wynn had the opportunity to attend the hotel casino’s opening night in 1966. A 24-year-old man with a full career ahead of him, he drew a great deal of inspiration from the glamorous new establishment.

4. Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos

Bill Harrah had a significant impact on Steve Wynn in the early years of his career, though his influence had little to do with architecture or other aesthetics. Instead, Harrah helped to shape Wynn’s philosophy on customer service, inspiring him to make luxury not just a look, but an experience.

In 1973, Steve Wynn was traveling to Nevada as the recently elected chairman and president of the Golden Nugget. His final destination was the Nevada Gaming Commission in Carson City, where he would complete the final hearing to earn his license, but he first spent a night at Harrah’s hotel in downtown Reno.

Although Wynn described the hotel as being “bare bones”, the experience he had there was anything but ordinary and would remain with him for the rest of his life. To this day, he recalls that arriving in his rental car “felt like pulling up to the Plaza”, and the valet gave him a warm, courteous welcome that showed a clear eagerness to cater to his every need. The young woman behind the reception desk gave him an equally hospitable welcome, exuding genuine excitement at his complimentary reservation in the presidential suite and happily assuring him that he’d love the room. This enthusiastic customer service and authentic friendliness made a lasting impression on Steve Wynn that built the foundation of his ideal luxury resort experience. In fact, Wynn hired Harrah’s human resource consultant to assist him in his new role at the Golden Nugget.