Although Las Vegas remains the nation’s No. 1 trade show destination, the city demonstrates a relentless drive to constantly reinvent itself. Over the last year alone, Las Vegas has opened more than a dozen new resorts, hotels and meeting venues as well as new restaurants and entertainment options. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, overall, there are more than 150,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas and 10.6 million sf of meeting and exhibit space citywide.
The latest and largest reinvention effort by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is the $2.3 billion expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center from 3.2 million sf to 5.7 million sf. It will be completed in two phases over the next five to eight years. Phase one includes 750,000 sf of new exhibit space and 187,500 sf of supporting meeting space. Phase two focuses on renovating the existing facility and includes a 100,000-sf general session space and another 100,000 sf of meeting space.
The expansion is part of the larger planned Las Vegas Global Business District project, which includes developing a district concept in the neighborhoods surrounding the center as well as a centralized transportation hub. “This project is a defining moment for our organization, our industry and our city,” said Rossi Raalenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA, in a statement. “It will take us 25 years into the future and ensure we stay ahead of our completion and remain the envy of the convention industry.”
Las Vegas’ continuing reinvention is a powerful meetings lure for several reasons: Groups can have a unique experience no matter how many times they visit. Planners get good value because they spend less on entertainment for attendees, who often arrive early and stay later to enjoy all that the city has to offer. According to the LVCVA, on average, attendance increases 8 percent when conventions rotate into Las Vegas. Research also shows that attendees spend more time in meetings and on the trade show floor when programs are held in Las Vegas.
Claudia Betzner, who has been the executive director of the Service Industry Association (SIA) for more than 20 years, is a veteran of Las Vegas meetings, having planned some 15 of them over her tenure. “They absolutely are always coming up with something new,” says Betzner. “I have to keep up with what they are doing because I do so many events there. I’m very connected to the convention center, casinos and hotels. I get emails from them all the time on what they are doing and how they are changing.”
Betzner observes that Las Vegas has reshaped itself considerably over the last 15 to 20 years. “Practically every hotel has had to reinvent itself,” Betzner notes. “They were at the most 1,000 rooms back then. Most are mega properties now and have as many as 4,000 or 5,000 rooms. That’s probably the biggest change of all. They have also upgraded and updated their shows and dinner venues. So you now have as a good a dinner venue in Las Vegas as you have anywhere in the world.”
Because of all that Las Vegas offers, Betzner has held the SIA’s annual Global Executive Summit for Service Leaders in the city every year for the last 15 years. “In the beginning, I would have the annual meetings on the East and West coasts. Usually the East was Florida or the Bahamas and West would be Las Vegas or California. We did that for more than 10 years. Then we noticed that when we do it in Vegas we get more people attending, so we started having it there every year.”
Like many associations, the SIA’s attendees prefer to meet on The Strip. “Our people want to be right in the center in that area where you have The Mirage, Caesars, Bellagio, Venetian, Paris, Wynn and Encore,” says Betzner. “We do Caesars quite a bit. We do The Mirage more than any other.”
Earlier this year, SIA held their Global Executive Summit at The Mirage Hotel & Casino. The meeting attracted 200 presidents and owners of companies worldwide. The highlight of the meeting was a dinner and networking event at the Tao Nightclub inside The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. “It’s an Asian-themed nightclub,” says Betzner. “They have private areas for events. We went up to the Opium Room, which has its own bar, and later went into another private room for the dinner. We usually have music. Afterwards people can go back downstairs to the nightclub and have fun.”
Betzner adds that she will continue to meet in Las Vegas for several reasons: “The hotel rates are higher than they used to be but we still get good value for our dollar,” she says. “Members always give meetings a better evaluation when we meet there. Some of them decide to use the trip as a vacation by coming early or staying on afterwards.”
Carine Desroches, meetings manager of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), cites similar reasons for going back to Las Vegas again and again. “It’s the total attraction for any attendee,” she says. “We know we will always have good attendance in Vegas, usually around 10 percent more. We know when we book Vegas there will always be people who stay longer. The rates are great and there are so many great hotels that, if we come up with an issue like a hotel being oversold, there are lots of other options.”
“We know we will always have good attendance in Vegas, usually around 10 percent more. We know when we book Vegas there will always be people who stay longer.” — Carine Desroches
ASME decides whether to hold a meeting on or off center Strip based on the goals of the meeting and the group. “We want people to attend the breakouts,” says Desroches. “We are concerned about losing people to entertainment. That’s why we will do it off The Strip. You have the convenience of being in a resort while being a short drive from The Strip as well.”
Hotels booked by the ASME have included Caesars Palace, Tropicana Las Vegas, a DoubleTree by Hilton and Tuscany Suites & Casino. Since the start of 2013, ASME has held at least five meetings in Las Vegas with 30 to 700 attendees. The ASME plans to book its largest meeting, a six-day conference called Boiler Code Week, in Las Vegas in February 2016. The conference is expected to attract up to 700 engineers from the U.S. and worldwide.
Boiler Code Week is education-intensive and Las Vegas hotels have the meeting space that ASME requires. “That’s important because we use so many meeting rooms,” says Desroches. “We will have about 120 breakouts altogether with many of them being concurrent.”
In addition, Las Vegas hotels offer the state-of-the-art technology and equipment that ASME needs for its numerous breakout sessions. “We are AV- and technology-intensive,” says Desroches. “We need wireless within every meeting room so people can download what they need to participate in the sessions, access websites and Skype with other association members, colleagues and students in the U.S. and overseas who aren’t able to attend. We also require many laptops, projectors and screens. We travel with our own AV company who works hand-in-hand with the hotel.”
A planner for a major manufacturing association that has held meetings in Las Vegas many times, says technology is the key reason they’ll return again. “The hotels invest in state-of-the-art AV and technology equipment that we use for our meetings,” says the planner, who requested anonymity. “I have never had a problem with bandwidth at a meeting space in Las Vegas. I can’t say that for other destinations.”
Airlift also is a big plus. “It’s easy for anybody to get there from anywhere affordably and easily with a lot of options in terms of arrival and departure times,” says the planner. “You know that people will get there on time and leave easily after the meeting is over. The location of the hotels to the airport is great. It’s not even a 15-minute cab ride. And the ground transportation is affordable.”
Service is another Las Vegas calling card. “Las Vegas is a well-oiled service machine, and they have it down like no other destination,” says the planner. “They know how to move people better than anybody. When you arrive, a check-in desk is right there along with people waiting to pull your luggage. You find this in every property — high-end and others. The hotels are so large but they are very good at getting people to their destinations within the hotel. There is great signage, knowledgeable personnel and service all over the place. All of this is important for a successful meeting.”
Las Vegas also offers some of the best planner resources in the nation, from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) to local DMCs. “Lots of DMCs in Las Vegas are experts and provide great information for attendees,” says the planner. “More importantly, they have great CVB services. I live in a market where the CVB has a satellite office. They make phone calls, send emails and visit to keep me informed about what’s going on — new builds, changes in restaurants and shows. They support meeting planners with accessible information before, during and after meetings.”
Some groups are wary of meeting in Las Vegas because its endless attractions can tempt attendees to skip meeting sessions or arrive late. However, such concerns usually disappear with properties that offer a good compromise between focused meetings and access to the action.
For instance, the Wheel Rail Interaction Conference, an educational railroading conference, recently held a four-day meeting in Las Vegas for 150 people. It was the group’s first meeting in the city. “They were anxious about going to Las Vegas because they thought they would lose people to the entertainment,” says Brandon Koenig, CMP, president of Meeting Solutions, which managed the meeting. “Because this is such a technical group they didn’t want any distractions. They didn’t want people to be on The Strip all night and not be able to get up and go to early morning meetings.”
But Koenig convinced the group that it could have the best of both worlds by meeting at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa & Casino in Henderson, less than 20 minutes from The Strip. “It wasn’t on The Strip, but it had easy access to The Strip,” he says. “It was like being on your own island. We could capture them for the meeting, and they were able to explore The Strip at night. They were on their own after the receptions. We gave them information on things to do in Las Vegas and provided a link on the meeting website of where to go for information and tours.”
The group also was attracted by the location of the Green Valley Ranch’s meeting spaces in relation to its casino. “That was one of the key points of selling this to my client — if you don’t want to, you don’t have to see the casino because the meeting space is separated from the casino,” says Koenig. “You have to make a concerted effort to get to the casino from the meeting rooms.”
The group had one of its best-attended programs ever and is looking at returning in 2016. “Almost everybody thought it was a wonderful location and they want to go back,” says Koenig. “People want to go to Las Vegas because of the gaming, the shows, the activities, and all the new attractions that people read about and want to see. Every association can find its niche in Las Vegas.”
Koenig adds that even small groups like his can find their niche. He bears witness to Las Vegas having reinvented itself from a destination with a perceived reputation for not caring about small meetings to one that rolls out the red carpet for them. “Las Vegas has done a good job of catering to small programs within the last several years,” says Koenig. “They realized that if you get 10 small programs that can equal a large one, and that some small programs grow over time. They got smart about it.”
There is nothing a planner values more than predictable excellence in value, service, meeting space and entertainment. Las Vegas delivers all of that and much more due to its endless push to create new experiences for attendees. Every time other major destinations offer something new, Las Vegas ups the ante with its own cutting-edge offerings. Such dedication is likely to keep Las Vegas the No. 1 meetings destination for some time to come.
The LVH – Las Vegas Hilton has been acquired by Westgate Resorts and renamed Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. A significant renovation of 1,200 of the Central Tower’s guest rooms is set for completion by December 2014. The hotel also plans to convert approximately 300 Central Tower guest rooms to 100 Time Share Villas, which will be available to groups when they are not occupied by timeshare owners.
Over the next several months, the renovation project also will include enhancements to the convention areas, renovations to the pool area as well as the Health Club & Spa and Cabanas; sports book improvements such as new seating and state-of-the-art TVs; new LED lighting throughout various areas of the property; a new guest service program and customer service training. Also, several new restaurant concepts are in the planning stage.
Westgate Las Vegas, which can accommodate from 10 to 10,000 attendees, features a 95,000-sf casino, 200,000 sf of meeting and convention space, restaurants, entertainment, a spa and fitness center, pool with luxurious cabanas, access to golf at the exclusive Las Vegas Country Club, and the world’s largest race and sports SuperBook. The landmark property, which was once home to such iconic legends as Elvis Presley and Liberace, is located just one block off the Las Vegas Strip, adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center. It’s also one of seven stations on the Las Vegas Monorail route.
Stay Well Meetings, the industry’s first-ever wellness meetings experience, was officially unveiled at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in August. Created by Delos, the pioneer of Wellness Real Estate, the program offers healthful environments for high-performance meetings with meeting rooms and spaces designed to optimize the health and well-being of attendees while complementing the existing Stay Well room and suite experience in the hotel’s main tower. The Stay Well meeting rooms incorporate elements such as ergonomic seating, air purification, circadian lighting, virtual window lights, aromatherapy, healthful menu items, and much more. The Stay Well rooms feature vitamin C-infused shower water, advanced room lighting tailored to sleep/wake cycles, air purification systems, EMF protection and more.
Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton announced a March 1, 2015, completion date for the expansion of the Pavilion. The expansion, which also includes enhancements to the existing pavilion area, will increase the resort’s total meeting and convention facilities to 100,000 sf. The new 26,000-sf Tropicana Pavilion area will offer up to 11 separate breakout rooms, some with up to 16-foot ceilings, and will feature new private restrooms as well as new escalators. The current Tropicana Pavilion also will be enhanced, including a decorative acoustic treatment for the walls. Once the addition is complete, the Tropicana Pavilion will provide 55,000 sf of meeting space.
Caesars Entertainment’s The Linq Hotel & Casino welcomes its first guests beginning on October 30, 2014. The Linq Hotel & Casino, combined with The Linq retail, dining and entertainment promenade and the world’s largest observation wheel, the High Roller, is located at the heart of center Strip. The hotel, which is a complete re-imagination of the Quad Resort & Casino, will feature 2,256 brand new rooms and suites, a completely renovated welcome experience built around a signature lobby bar, all-new retail and spa amenities, and a new pool deck.
Hakkasan Group has announced its newest nightclub concept, Omnia. Omnia will take over the former space of the iconic Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace. Omnia, which is set to open spring 2015, spans 75,000 total sf. The multi-level venue will encompass an ultra-lounge, a high-energy main room and mezzanine, as well as a rooftop garden with panoramic views of the Strip.
The three-level Mandalay Bay Convention Center recently unveiled plans to expand the facility to more than 2 million sf from its current 1.7 million sf of event space. Plans call for the addition of more than 350,000 sf of exhibit space, as well as underground parking and additional carpeted ballroom space. Construction on the $66 million project is scheduled to begin this fall, and the new exhibit space is expected to be available in late summer 2015.
Circus Circus Las Vegas recently debuted the “gravity defying” new roller coaster El Loco at The Adventuredome, one of the world’s largest indoor theme parks. The thrill ride features “a greater-than-straight-down diving drop producing a negative 1.5 ‘vertical G.’ ” Circus Circus also boasts the world’s largest permanent circus, which performs under its hallmark Big Top. The Adventuredome is available for private groups of up to 4,000 attendees and includes a covered outdoor deck for groups of up to 500. Circus Circus features 3,767 newly remodeled guest rooms and 21,400 sf of meeting and banquet space. AC&F