City of 1,000 distractions? Sure. But with careful attention, association meeting planners still can keep attendees focused. The competition for their attention is worth it: The No. 1 trade show destination for 21 years running routinely outpaces the draw of any other convention city.
“Consistently we do Vegas because we try other places, but we lose 20 percent of our attendees when we do. Vegas is the place you love to hate, but whatever you like — it’s there,” says Claudia Betzner, executive director of Service Industry Association. But room attrition, on the other hand, can be as high as 25 percent, she says.
“There are so many package deals that when you block rooms, you have to have an attrition clause,” she notes. “Participants may get cheaper deals than you can offer since hotels continue to lower rates until occupancy is over 95 percent; attendees can find package deals — more than any other place in the world. Vegas is not a destination resort; 75 percent will stay at your property, not more.”
“Consistently we do Vegas because we try other places, but we lose 20 percent of our attendees when we do. Vegas is the place you love to hate, but whatever you like — it’s there.” — Claudia Betzner
She held her annual event for presidents and owners of high-tech service companies — about 150 this year — in March 2015 at The Mirage Hotel & Casino. “Ninety-nine percent of people who come to my events are men who started out as engineers or in tech,” she says. “Sometimes they bring their wives, but mostly they come alone and hang out with the guys and do guy things” such as NASCAR and March Madness.
She’s chosen The Mirage for the past 15 years, with intermittent events at Caesars Palace, Aria Resort & Casino and The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, among others. “We have a lot of people who gamble and go to shows and do what casinos want them to do, so they always provide the best venue and best price.” She also appreciates the setup, which is such that the meeting spaces are convenient to the guest rooms. “You can easily run back to the room to get something, whereas some places it can be very far.
“Making sure that everything that you’re presenting is relevant and your content is strong enough that people want to sit in a room and hear what people have to say instead of playing in Vegas — that’s probably the biggest challenge.” To help keep attendees on point, she recommends planners engage speakers who are completely out of the industry, noting that “the same principles that motivate people to play football or fly under fire motivate a work force.” (Learn more about SIA’s Las Vegas meeting in “Setting the Stage,” page 44.)
Karen Autunno-Edmiston, meeting planner for Quarter Midgets of America, a nonprofit association of youth midget-car racers, also has found that Las Vegas just tends to bring in more attendees than other venues she’s tried since the 1990s, including in California, Connecticut, New York and Florida. “We have done multiple different surveys, and this is the one that works for us,” she says of the city. “The cost of the rooms – they have the cheapest that have all the facilities. For the class of room, it’s very reasonable.”
She has been holding her annual meeting of regional representatives from the clubs and the governing body — about 80 attendees — at the Orleans Hotel & Casino for the past four years. “The event center gives me a purpose room from my meetings; away from the hotel, very short walk, can go right over to the events center,” she says.
Still, she says she’s not locked in; each year she books for the coming year and listens to various proposals.
Doug Poindexter, president of the World Pet Association, has also sampled various cities for his SuperZoo convention, which draws close to 20,000 attendees, including 1,000 exhibitors. “We were in LA for a number of years, with a lot of driving in traffic. We wanted more national and international attendees, so Vegas is very good for that — it draws a large crowd.”
He has used Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino as the headquarters for SuperZoo since 2005. “Mandalay Bay gave us a little better footprint,” he says of his decision to move to the space from the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall, where his organization originally partnered with the California Nursing Association until the event required more space.
For his latest event in July 2015, he also had a block of rooms at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, Delano Las Vegas, Excalibur Hotel & Casino and Luxor Hotel and Casino. “The vast majority stay at their own brand or price point, or they rent out a condo for a week,” he says of his attendees.
For the summer event, he needed ballroom space for about 2,000 people for the keynote address and also set up a concert at House of Blues, which could accommodate about 1,800 attendees. He also bought out the hall’s Wi-Fi so all attendees and exhibitors could use it free of charge.
Of his experience at Mandalay Bay, he says: “They respond quickly to issues and problems and resolve them as quickly as they can, trying to help us make the whole process as smooth as possible.” For example, the hotel allowed his decorator to come in a bit earlier.
“It was a tough sell at first to move to Vegas,” he acknowledges, because of the city’s reputation for losing attendees to the tables. But for his organization’s part, “We have not found the stigma —party town — to be true.”
Becky Bosworth, meetings and conference manager, staff operations for the Arthritis Foundation, says meeting planners can do more to change the perception of Las Vegas; for example, by “showing visuals of the meeting space: How do I get from my guest room to the meeting?”
Her July 2015 meeting of about 80 people was really two events: leadership skills training and later, separately, a meeting of CEOs. She found that the location of Aria Resort & Casino worked well for both in terms of seeming…un-Vegas. “Get off the elevator, and it’s like you’re in Orlando or Chicago or wherever. The convention center is easily accessible from guest rooms, and you can’t see the casino. It’s a straight shot, so you don’t lose anybody.”
She also appreciated the feel of the hotel. “Aria is like a little hidden jewel. It’s close to everything, but when you walk in, there’s a very serene feeling. There’s not a lot of noise and hype; you don’t feel like one of thousands. From the doorman to the front desk: friendliness, courtesy — it was so refreshing. You just don’t see that a lot in other hotels, and sometimes you don’t expect that in Vegas.” She also notes that thanks to the hotel’s special ventilation system, attendees don’t even realize there’s a smoking section.
Having a business center meeting room separate from the convention center helped expedite her meeting as shipments could be brought directly to the room. When her meeting grew, the hotel also sent her diagrams showing exactly why she needed a new space and suggested one.
With an overlap of 11/2 days between the groups, she planned two offsite dinners, one for the CEOs at the steak house The Stack, which was close to the show they were going to see. “Stack worked with our budget with a set menu, and the food quality was perfect for the group.” She also noted that the restaurant was very accommodating of food preferences and special diets.
“Hotels forget sometimes that you’re also working on other meetings; but here, there’s one conversation, one email and boom, it’s done.”
The Las Vegas Global Business District master plan, which will add at least 600,000 sf of exhibit space to the Las Vegas Convention Center and renovate the existing 3.2 million-sf facility, is still eight to 10 years away from final realization. Closer to completion is the China-themed Resorts World Las Vegas, expected to come online in 2018, when it will offer a panda exhibit, an indoor water park, a bowling alley, aquarium and ice skating rink, along with almost 6,600 rooms, a 175,000-sf casino and a 4,000-seat theater. How much of the nearly 2 million sf will be devoted to meeting space hasn’t yet been determined.
Caesars Palace Las Vegas is renovating the 587 rooms in the Roman Tower, which will be rechristened the Julius Tower. The $75 million renovation should be complete in time to ring in the new year. The rooms will feature 55-inch TVs, specialty mattresses and Gilchrist and Soames bath products.
The millennially minded Linq Hotel & Casino renovated its 2,253 guest rooms, including two lofts, in July. The hotel is part of a finished complex that includes the Linq Promenade, with several dozen bars, restaurants and shops, and the High Roller observation wheel.
Wynn Las Vegas’ Encore Resort rooms and Encore Tower suites underwent a remodel that includes new furniture, linens and carpets; new giant-screen TVs and desk outlets; and remote controls to adjust the curtains and lighting. Every room also has 507-thread-count sheets made to order for the hotel and a Molton Brown bath product line “Coco & Tonka Bean,” also made specially for the hotel.
Mandalay Bay Convention Center has expanded by 350,000 sf, for a total of 2 million sf including 1.1 million sf of exhibit space. Only the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo and Convention Center have more space in Las Vegas. The new space includes a 70,000-sf ballroom and a rooftop solar array.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino also is undergoing a resort-wide transformation with the upcoming $100 million redesign of more than 3,000 guest rooms and suites. Created by the MGM Resorts International Design Group, the new rooms and suites will feature vibrant colors and bold statement pieces. Reservations for select remodeled rooms are now available. The project is expected to be completed by spring 2016.
This year, the final phase of the multi-year renovation of The Venetian and The Palazzo Congress Center and Sands Expo was completed. Recent improvements at Sands Expo included a new $6 million, 12,000-sf kitchen designed to provide higher quality food for trade show attendees, support show growth and increase energy efficiency by 35 percent. This is in addition to the recent total remodel and redesign of all lobbies and common spaces; construction of a 60-foot central atrium with a 30,000-sf, 3-D articulated ceiling; reconstruction of meeting rooms and business center; renovation of the building facade and porte cochere; and upgrades to the exhibition halls. Also, attendees will find upgrades to the technology and Wi-Fi infrastructure throughout the resort and convention center.
South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa opened a new 60-lane, state-of-the-art tournament bowling and event center. As part of a partnership between the United States Bowling Congress and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the venue will host 122 days of professional bowling tournaments through 2017.
With a unique South Beach vibe after a $200 million complete transformation, The New Tropicana Las Vegas, a DoubleTree by Hilton features all-new rooms, suites and luxury villas, a fresh redesign of the 50,000-sf casino, several award-winning restaurants, a new race and sports book, and Glow, a Mandara Spa and fitness center. And after a recent expansion, the Trinidad Pavilion and Meeting Rooms at the Tropicana now boast 42,000 sf of space. New Wi-Fi technology including wired and wireless Internet access is now available throughout the property’s approximate 100,000 sf of convention space as well as in the resort’s 1,467 guest rooms and suites.
The renowned New York City Italian restaurant Carbone has just opened its first expansion outside of the Big Apple at Aria Resort & Casino; it features tableside presentations by table “captains,” traditional specialties such as spicy rigatoni vodka, veal Parmesan and lobster fra diavolo and meatballs. The private dining Blue Room, with walls made of New York subway station tiles, can seat 40; the main dining Red Room features a floor-to-ceiling Murano glass crystal chandelier. California coastal cuisine chain Herringbone will open at the resort in late 2015, featuring outdoor seating and live music with the “ocean-to-table” menu; and a new Rockwell Group-designed nightclub, Jewel, is set to open in spring 2016 and will be available for buyouts.
Rivea and Skyfall Lounge are now open at Delano Las Vegas. Helmed by chef Alain Ducasse, Rivea specializes in Mediterranean foods such as Provençal caponata with capers and pinenuts and pepper-crusted bison tenderloin. A 50-seat private dining room, Rivea+, offers wraparound views of The Strip. Skyfall Lounge also provides 180-degree views. Both are on the 64th floor.
The Park, AEG and MGM Resorts International’s entertainment district project that will offer outdoor dining and strolling as well as connect Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, New York-New York Hotel & Casino and the new 20,000-seat Las Vegas Arena, is still on track to open in spring 2016. A new 5,000-seat theater at Monte Carlo has been added to the mix and will open in late 2016.
Salute, serving the food of Southern Italy, is now open at Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa, with Napolitano chef Luciano Sautto at the helm.
Farm-to-table restaurant Harvest by Roy Ellamar will open at Bellagio Resort & Casino in December 2015. The restaurant will highlight regional American dishes made with locally sourced foods.
Reality-show restaurant Wahlburgers, established by Marky Mark Wahlberg and his brothers, will open at Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally’s Las Vegas at the end of 2015. Gourmet burgers and drinks are on the menu.
Food Tours of America launched in Las Vegas in October with a Vegas Celebrity Chocolate Walk offered daily at 3 p.m.
Big Ern’s BBQ opened its second soul food eatery in October in the Fiesta Rancho Hotel & Casino food court. The decor is similar to the original — barn style with a picnic table — and offers an expanded menu of sides, including macaroni and cheese, collard greens with smoked ham hock, fried okra, sweet potato fries and bread pudding.
The upgraded Center Bar is now open at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas with a new lounge area, more cocktail offerings and better views of the casino floor.
Lavo Casino Club, which features blackjack table games with bottle service and the option to order from the restaurant’s menu of Italian food, is now open at The Palazzo Las Vegas. The space also offers dancing to a deejay and sporting events on multiple screens.
The Omnia Nightclub — the former Pure Nightclub — opened last March at Caesars Palace after a top-to-bottom makeover. The completely redeveloped 75,000-sf venue houses three distinct nightlife spaces: the Main Club including the Balcony level, Heart of Omnia; the sleek ultra-lounge; and the Terrace offering sweeping views of the Las Vegas Strip. Omnia is available for group buyouts for 200–4,000 people. AC&F