When planners think of meeting in Nevada, they typically think Las Vegas — with good reason. It’s one of the most well-known cities in the world, an urban cornucopia of meeting space and inspiring entertainment, not to mention superb dining. Yet, Reno-Tahoe — at the edge of the towering Sierra Nevada — offers its own brand of inspiration and should be on every planner’s Nevada go-to list.
With members from 43 countries, good airlift is a priority for the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), which held its annual convention and trade show at MGM Grand earlier this year, drawing 1,752 attendees. This was the second time the group met there, with both meetings very successful, according to Debra McFarland, AEA’s executive vice president.
McFarland says close proximity to the airport is another plus, along with the fact that the group has everything it needs under one roof. “We can have our general sessions, breakout training classes, social functions and our exhibit hall at one location. That saves time and money by not having to bus attendees from hotels to meetings and exhibits.”
Additionally, she notes, the lodging is excellent, and the wide range of restaurants appeals to all budgets and palates.
McFarland readily admits that there are many hotel options in Las Vegas that receive high marks from groups, but for her, “it’s the people at MGM Grand that make this a first-class operation. From the top down, they are working with you and for you. It’s nice to have the hotel on ‘your side.’ Never once did a I feel I had asked a stupid question and always received quick responses to calls and emails,” she says.
“The MGM meeting staff understands the pressures a meeting planner is under; they truly team up with you to help with budgets, meeting needs, special events — have you seen their entertainment warehouse? OMG! — and basically make you look like a superstar to your attendees and, in my case, my board of directors!”
Specifically, she adds, “It’s my salesperson, my convention services manager and my catering manager — Crystal Terwilliger, Lynda Posgay and Diane O’Brien. I made sure when I signed my second contract that I was assigned the same staff. They’re team players who make sure every detail is done to perfection.”
McFarland says her events included pool parties onsite both years, which were highly successful. Additionally, “Audio-visual was top-of-the-line and always ready to help with general session openings and uplighting at the parties. Catering offered unique options — not just off a pre-printed list — and worked with me to create the perfect menus, from small receptions to parties for more than 800.”
“Las Vegas is a great location for our annual West Coast Show… The team at South Point is a great group of people who work hard to meet the requests and needs of the event planner. They were a perfect match for our down-to-earth group.” — Tracy Sears
Although the hotel was in the middle of a major construction project this year, McFarland says the team worked with her to minimize impact. “The entrance into our exhibit was an alley of sorts, where all the HVAC systems were. They put up greenery and planted flowers to make it into a beautiful garden-looking area — I seriously doubt my attendees even realized that this was not the normal entry. The hotel also provided extra staff to direct attendees through the construction area,” she says.
To planners considering the MGM Grand, McFarland says, “You have access to some of the most caring and thoughtful individuals that I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and I’ve been doing this for 41 years. It’s not every hotel that treats the hardworking planning staff to unexpected treats during the day. My staff felt so appreciated and pampered.”
Beyond that, she says, “Go in understanding that the hotel can’t give everything away for free, yet there could be areas of cost that could be adjusted to help you stay within your budget. Let’s face it, a happy attendee means everyone is going to be happy!”
Earlier this year, Monica Dozier brought 2,000 domestic and international attendees of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) to Bellagio Las Vegas with equal success.
“Most of the attendees are lawyers or professionals in the legal industry, “ CLOC’s head of marketing says. “The attendees are well-traveled and have high expectations when attending the CLOC Institute. Bellagio does half the work for us in terms of creating a professional atmosphere the moment our attendees arrive.”
CLOC has chosen Bellagio because of its five-star service and five-star accommodations,” Dozier says. “We keep our meetings in Las Vegas because of ease of access, cost and value. We keep coming back because of feedback from our attendees that they love it at Bellagio.”
Dozier says the group never has to go offsite because everything they need is on property, “keeping down our costs and augmenting the experiences for our attendees. We leverage the nightclubs and extraordinary restaurants surrounding the world-famous fountains; we send guests to the Cirque show, “O”; the lobby is an experience every time you have the good fortune to go there; the casino is classy and bustling; the shopping is second to none; the pool and patios are a respite; and, of course, we leverage the astounding spa and exercise room.”
Every amenity, she adds, is worth experiencing. Dozier’s recommendation to planners is to get to know Bellagio’s service providers. “Most have been there over a decade and will provide useful guidance on what will work for your group. Ask the Bellagio team for advice. This is a special property. Let them show it off,” she says. “You might not know what questions to ask. There are hidden gems all over the property, such as nooks for intimate dinners and a perfect room to bring in a celebrity chef.”
In addition to the amenities and service, Dozier says her group was also “blown away by the hotel staff’s willingness to work with us to create a custom experience for our attendees. We continue to choose Bellagio because of the people and because of the top-quality property and amenities.”
While putting together a custom event for 2,000 is a project, Dozier says that Bellagio staff “understood that the bulk of the CLOC staff had day jobs and that our event was special. They went above and beyond to develop a relationship with us. Every person on the convention services team showed up on time and prepared for our weekly team meetings. Kristi Berardi, our Bellagio convention services manager, set the bar high, and we continue to improve and streamline our event each year.”
Bellagio’s partner-providers also made a difference. “We use Shepard to support the exhibit floor,” Dozier notes. “They’ve been a treasure, transforming a traditional exhibit floor into an innovative, interactive, vibrant space. Although not Bellagio’s preferred provider, the hotel partners seamlessly with them and with us.”
Dozier says that although the size of the property and the fact that it has multiple businesses under one roof can be a challenge, working with the hotel has been highly rewarding. “We have spent a lot of time informing the entire Bellagio team about who we are and what our expectations are. It has paid off in terms of creating a custom experience for our attendees year over year,” she says.
In choosing Bellagio, Dozier concludes, much of a planner’s work is already done. Before you do anything, she says, “Bellagio has already created a feel and an experience.”
Bob Dorsa, president of the American Credit Union Mortgage Association, has used multiple hotels in Las Vegas, including Bellagio, where the group of 490 met this fall. “The Bellagio is one of the premier hotels in the world,” Dorsa says. “Its overall class, as well as very nice sleeping rooms, event space and much more to do for our guests while onsite makes it highly desirable for our events.”
The group meets in Las Vegas in September when the weather is “outstanding,” and over 22 years has only met elsewhere once. Although prices have risen since the group was first drawn to Las Vegas in part for its affordability, Dorsa says the city still provides great value.
“Las Vegas is an ever-changing city, including hotels and attractions, which makes it a great city for events. Our group uses a single venue. We find with the spacious ballrooms offered by most of the finer hotels combined with quality sleeping rooms and other event amenities, it has worked very well for us,” he says. “The large hotels also have more specialized staff for assistance with meetings and events. This allows an organization like ours with only two dedicated employees to produce a great event. We do use local temp staff and outside services for logistics, transportation, entertainment and speakers.”
Dorsa calls the F&B “very good and consistent,” and praises the staff not just for being efficient but also for working hard to “ensure that our event went smoothly.” He says that even with a moderate budget for AV, Bellagio provided exactly what was needed, including talented tech support.
That said, he notes that the hotel is “outsourcing more functions than ever before.” He says his group had to pay extra for electrical — primarily power strips, “not exotic exhibits” — and for Wi-Fi. His group also requires minimal décor, but says costs are rising, and “it’s often difficult to pass those costs on to our participants.”
Still, he says, “The Bellagio is an outstanding property known to most people in the world. Its location at the center of the Strip is great. Food and beverage for events is very good and choices for restaurants and entertainment is also outstanding.”
Considering the size of the hotel, 8,000 employees and a slew of individual departments and vendors that a planner has to work with, Dorsa says good communication is critical — even with a qualified convention services manager in place.
“My advice is to ask as many questions as you can in advance. Be sure you’ve clearly communicated your goals and objectives and that you have received the same from the hotel. And create a realistic time line so you are not having to deal with too many final details just prior to your event. Mistakes are more likely to happen during high-stress times, in my experience.”
Tracy Sears, marketing communications and event planner, Mac Tools, held its West Coast Show with 700 attendees at South Point Hotel & Casino in September.
“Las Vegas is a great location for our annual West Coast Show,” she says. “We were pleased to find the South Point Hotel & Casino. This venue is truly a hidden gem in Las Vegas. Our attendees like the fact that it is away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger hotels, and appreciate the close proximity to the airport and the complimentary airport shuttle.”
Located just minutes away from the Strip, some of the property’s many amenities include a 16-screen movie complex, 64-lane bowling center, 400-seat showroom and 11 restaurants, including the DiRoNa and Zagat award-winning Michael’s Gourmet Room.
“The bowling alleys, movie theaters and restaurant options were a fantastic draw for our attendees. Our group is very family-oriented, and South Point offers activities for family members of all ages,” Sears says.
Boasting a 75,000-square-foot conference center with 22 breakout rooms and an 80,000-square-foot, column-free, carpeted exhibit hall, South Point can accommodate everything from a 20-person board meeting to a 500-booth trade show. The space provides state-of-the-art technology, and high-speed and wireless connections are available.
“We used the exhibit hall and a few breakout rooms. Move-in and move-out for the exhibit hall was seamless with the available dock accessibility,” she says. “I was very impressed with the hotel’s Wi-Fi service. We have about 500 iPad users during our events, and we experienced no hiccups in wireless service. The AV staff was very knowledgeable and supportive.”
Additionally, she notes, “all of the venue meeting services, such as utilities, internet and audio-visual, are very (affordable) compared to other cities.”
And getting back to that family-oriented priority, Sears was pleased to find that “the function space is easily accessible from guest elevators without having to go through the casino.”
Sears strongly believes the South Point Hotel & Casino is the perfect location for meetings and conventions. “The team at South Point is a great group of people who work hard to meet the requests and needs of the event planner. They were a perfect match for our down-to-earth group.”
This dual destination combines small city and lakeside resort. While the core meeting can be set in either, most attendees are likely to take advantage of both during a stay.
The Association of College and University Printers (ACUP) held its 53rd annual conference in April at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Jennifer Bowers, administrative director, calls the location great thanks to good restaurants and shopping, affordability and the fact that it’s walkable. “The price of rooms and F&B costs were reasons we chose Harrah’s,” she says.
To maintain that affordability, she says the group stayed on Harrah’s property for the most part. She liked the abundance of space for the group. “We are space hogs,” she says. “Plus, the food was a hit, especially the top-floor restaurant with its sweeping views.”
There were a couple of downsides, however. One was the one-hour shuttle and its extra cost for attendees to get to the property, and Bowers felt there was too much “nickel-and-diming for small changes and standard requests, such as easels for our signage.”
That said, Bowers notes that the hotel worked with the group and, ultimately, helped offset transportation costs by providing a credit and reduced the cost of the easels by half.
She says it’s also important to know your group before booking here because not every member likes casinos. Some of her group, for example, were bothered by the smoke from the first-floor casino, which they said, “wafted up the stairs and escalator to the second-floor conference center.”
Still, the location by a spectacular lake and ultimate affordability made Harrah’s work for ACUP.
The city of Reno, says Amberly Jackson, national event coordinator for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and DAV Auxiliary, stands out from other comparable cities because of its affordability and amenities.
The DAV national convention was set at Grand Sierra Resort & Casino last July, with 2,435 in attendance. “Some of our members are on a fixed income or have strict travel budgets, so the significantly reduced room rates, discounts and concessions offered by Reno hotels, which met or exceeded our stringent standards for consideration, made the destination affordable to a larger population of members,” says Jackson.
And that allowed the group to enhance and increase its schedule of events.
“As we began planning, we quickly realized the difference in the level of service from our property, Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, and our account manager and her support staff at the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority,” Jackson says. “The accessibility, responsiveness, excitement and compassion we received was unlike any we had experienced in recent memory.”
And, it went beyond the immediate staff. “It was a community-wide network of hospitality professionals across many businesses,” she says. “For instance, we needed a wheelchair ramp for a second stage, and our hotel only had one. Typically, it becomes our problem to find another ramp, rent it and have it delivered and picked up. But our catering and convention services person reached out to a neighboring hotel and made arrangements to borrow a ramp, collect and return it at no cost to us! This was one of several situations that allowed us to stretch our budget extensively and improve our guest experience.”
The Grand Sierra, Jackson says, not only offered the best product and most competitive pricing, its staff was creative in its concession offerings, which differentiated it from other properties. Additionally, she adds, “The property was clean and well-cared for, a must for our ill and injured veterans and their families.”
As always, people make the difference. Jackson says the hotel’s catering and convention services manager was “amazing, cared about our event and went to bat for us whenever a road block appeared.” The account manager, Jackson continues, “was the best we’ve encountered in any city. She knows everyone at all the hotels and has a love for her city that shows in everything she does, but she also knew how to make us feel like her most important client.”
Jackson says the AV director and techs all delivered what was needed, not only for the group’s breakouts and show, but on a more human level, too. “They were exceptional and, most of all, were compassionate to our members, often expressing their appreciation of being able to work our show.”
That dedication extended to the entire staff, Jackson notes. “For our final night, we had a sit-down dinner for 1,700, and I saw every VP and manager from sales and convention services in the back plating food,” she says. “It’s a team effort at Grand Sierra Resort, and that was impressive.”
The space itself was also a positive. “The newly remodeled space is great — light and bright, and it helped our members focus during the long days. We enjoyed a private concert in the Grand Theatre that was top of the line. It’s a gorgeous theater, and the sound and lights were of the highest quality. There was no bad seat in the entire room!”
Not surprising, Jackson says DAV will return to Grand Sierra. “I heard many, many staff thank our members for their service and tell them it was an honor to serve them. It was a genuine hometown-service experience in a sophisticated yet affordable venue.
“We are excited to return in 2021,” she says.
Peppermill Resort Spa Casino is another popular option in Reno. Sherry W. Hadley, CMP, is the contract event coordinator for the Airborne Public Safety Association, which has been meeting there for more than a decade.
“The association has been using Reno for many years and intends to continue to do so. We have a good attendance here that speaks to the property itself and location in the country, as our attendees are national and international,” Hadley says. “We like Peppermill for our large summer meeting that utilizes the convention center and for our smaller meetings that are self-contained in the resort. Our attendees like staying here, and the staff is one of the best I have worked with in my 27 years as a planner.”
In addition to the AV staff and capabilities, which the group’s education manager called “the absolute best,” Hadley points to Alberta Sanchez, conference services manager.
“I’ve worked with her several times now and can depend on her professionalism in the planning and execution stages of my event,” she says. “She is a no-nonsense, attentive partner, and I hope to continue to work with her in the future.”
Hadley’s group relies primarily on the Tuscany meeting space at the hotel and says it works perfectly.
In addition to the hotel, Hadley says, “Reno is flexible; they have always strived to make our events easier to plan and execute.”
To any planner considering the resort, Hadley says, “I highly recommend the Peppermill; you will not be disappointed. We love it and continue to come back.”
The bottom line is that Nevada is more than its most famous city, which is good news for associations. Planners can find an ideal destination for their conferences, regardless of the budget, goals or specific demographic of their members and attendees. AC&F