The travel and leisure industry has been devastated in 2020. I invited my friend, colleague and digital thought leader, Atif Rafiq President at MGM Resorts International on the Reboot Chronicles to explore how he is helping to reboot Vegas and the global hospitality industry.

Pivoting into Hospitality

Over the years, Atif Rafiq has worn a variety of hats as an exec. at Amazon, McDonald’s, and Volvo. Now, at the $14 billion dollar Fortune 300 company, Atif has a full plate overseeing marketing, sales, revenue management, direct marketing, digital products, IT, and business and corporate development. Additional key components include rebooting MGM's growth strategies including business models, customer experiences and commercial approaches. Bringing a diversity of experience, Afit describes his career pivot as “an art as much as it is a science”, with an evolving toolkit of tips you can use when rebooting your organization. Things like establishing a shared vision, something to stand for...and improve your brand relevance. Also, take steps to mobilize the company, push your teams thinking and establish what we like to call "the why", to make the mission more meaningful and interesting.

Rebooting Leisure Back from the Brink

With global travel coming to a screeching halt in 2020, there was little travel and hotels experienced the lowest occupancy levels in decades. Being the third-largest provider of live entertainment, MGM has high expectations about rebooting that category soon. Atif discussed preparing resorts to continue operating as a safe space, while creating the next-level of stellar services. Some things implemented include hand washing stations, putting up plexiglass, modifying operations to be contact-less for check-in and check-out using cellphones, print your own keys, no lines or buffets and QR menu codes. With the emphasis on safety and technology, MGM resorts have seen customers willing to return. Being a hot spot (pun intended) for travel, Vegas works off a 90% occupancy rate, but amid COVID hotels have been around 40% in the restart, as they continue to ideate on and provide a balance of entertaining experiences with the need for safer, more restricted, less fun environments.

WFH -or- WFV ... Work From Vegas

With the work from home movement becoming increasingly popular, Atif shares one of their newest innovations, Viva Las Office, providing people with a change of scenery instead of being stuck at home. MGM Resorts are now providing luxurious work experiences in partnership with JSX where you can fly in a private jet, skip the TSA line and stay at the Bellagio or ARIA in Vegas 3-5 nights for cheap. This creative offer includes contactless experiences where customers can check-in and leave at their leisure, food and beverage credits and an “executive assistant” to help coordinate stuff, saving time to focus on work and enjoy the resort.

Building an Experience Economy Company

The size of the global video/online game market has exploded to approximately $160 bill, probably on its way to $200 bil., with Esports making it even more popular as a spectator sport. As the CEO of one of the first online games companies, The Imagination Network, which I sold to AOL transforming it into AOL Games, it is great to see the global mass-market appeal of this category. The hospitality industry is helping to drive Esports in addition to, as Atif mentions, sports betting. With sports betting becoming increasingly legalized in various states, the category is a sizable opportunity for growth. Thus far, MGM has created an app, BetMGM ,that has really taken off, with customers engaging in real-time sporting events, giving them the best odds and offers to participate virtually. This allows millions of sports fans and enthusiasts to enjoy the experience from the convenience of their phone.

Words Of Wisdom

Atif shared some parting words that are great points for entrepreneurs, startups, corporates, or people still stuck at home. In his experience, agility is all about the speed of learning, paying attention to details are key and beneficial to an organization needing to make higher quality decisions. To overcome the pandemic, transformation within an organization is necessary for surviving and coming out the other side with more robustness.

A lot was unpacked in this episode, watch it here or tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.

About The Reboot Chronicles Podcast: Hosted by Dean DeBiase, The Reboot Chronicles is a popular no-holds-barred podcast on iHeartRadio, iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts and YouTube that has been bringing together CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors, and global leaders, for over a decade, to discuss how organizations are rebooting their leadership-competitiveness of everything from growth, innovation, and technology to talent, culture, and governance. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts or at

Named a “Growth Guru” by Inc. Magazine, Dean DeBiase is a Faculty Member at Kellogg School of Management and Silicon Valley serial CEO, where he has served in chief executive and chairman roles of more than a dozen emerging growth companies, CEO of Fortune 500 subsidiaries, and a director on public, private, family-enterprise, CVC, PE and VC boards. He is a Technology Fellow at Northwestern University, a Board Leadership Fellow at The National Association of Corporate Directors, and an Advisor to the National Science Foundation. A Forbes Contributor and co-author of the best-selling book The Big Moo, Dean, is working on his next book, Dancing with Startups. Connect with Dean here: