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Derek Stevens’ team ‘overwhelmed’ in 2,000-flight giveaway

Updated May 28, 2020 - 10:56 am

Derek Stevens hadn’t expected such an aerial assault. Within two hours after offering 1,000 free, one-way flights to Las Vegas, the owner of the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate was summoning the reserves.

“At 9:01 a.m., when I posted my tweet about this, the response went through the roof,” Stevens said Thursday, a day after he gave away 2,000 flights to tourists across the country. “We were getting about 1,500 requests per hour, and we had no real direction on how to deal with it.”

The first 1,000 flights from 24 U.S. cities were gone in about 90 minutes. Stevens knew the gravity of the challenge during a 10 a.m. operations meeting. “Our operations manager, Norm Thom, told the group, ‘Guys, just to let you know, we’re overwhelmed.’ ”

Stevens then started contacting all available officials — from accounting, casino hosts, concierge services, any department — more than doubling his staff of 11 reservations agents. As the original 1,000 flights went to the early responders, Stevens restarted talks with such airlines at Spirit, Allegiant, Southwest and Sun Country.

The list of cities grew from the original 24, all of which had been booked. New cities were added: Oakland, California; St. Louis; Buffalo, New York; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; Tampa, Florida; Orlando, Florida; Boston; and San Antonio.

Stephens’ team added 700 flights, announced at 3 p.m. He then tacked on 300 more as the entire inventory of 2,000 was reached just before 5 p.m.

Stevens was effectively performing a real-time market survey for his hotels, and for Las Vegas.

“We had 100 flights set up out of Dallas, but we had an immediate demand for 500,” Stevens said. “We had 100 out of Detroit. That went to 600 or 700. Chicago was over the top as well.”

Stevens says the program was to generate airline activity across the country and reignite the city’s fly-in tourism. Those who secured flights are encouraged to stay at the D and Golden Gate, of course, but such bookings are not mandatory.

As for what’s next, Stevens says, “Right now, the crew is coming in today and we’re going to get back to work. We have a lot of guests coming in.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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