It’s no accident that Las Vegas is the top dog on the preferred lists of U.S. destinations for many association meeting planners and their attendees. For decades, Las Vegas has expanded and refined its meeting-related infrastructure. And since the recession of 2008–09, the city has staged a remarkable recovery from the downturn that brought it to the brink of disaster.
Today, it’s better than ever — and constantly improving itself.
Las Vegas was again named the No. 1 trade show destination for the 21st consecutive year, according to the Trade Show News Network’s “2014 TSNN Top 250 Trade Shows in the United States” list. Las Vegas hosted 60 of the largest shows held in the country last year, up from the 53 it hosted the year before.
What’s more, the new $2.3 billion Las Vegas Global Business District project is the largest economic development initiative the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has undertaken since the Las Vegas Convention Center was originally built in the late 1950s. Phase one of the two-phase project includes 750,000 sf of new exhibit space and 187,500 sf of supporting meeting space as part of the new 1.8-million-sf expansion. Phase two focuses on renovating the existing convention center and includes a 100,000-sf general session space and another 100,000 sf of meeting space. Including public areas and service areas, the expansion and renovation increases the facility from its current total footprint of 3.2 million sf to nearly 5.7 million sf.
Over and above that, the Las Vegas Global Business District is a visionary project that includes developing a district concept in the neighborhoods surrounding the center. The district would provide the opportunity for economic development related to the industry, including the development of a global business center that utilizes the facility’s World Trade Center designation to attract corporations wanting to interact with the tens of thousands of businesses who visit the convention center each year.
“Las Vegas is clearly the No. 1 meeting and convention destination in the country and that’s why we’re there every year with one of the biggest shows the city attracts,” says Chris Dolnack, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Newtown, Connecticut-based National Shooting Sport Foundation (NSSF), whose annual, four-day show every January draws more than 63,000 attendees, making it the city’s fifth largest citywide meeting.
As his headquarters and convention facility since 2010, Dolnack has used the vast complex that includes The Venetian/Palazzo hotels and mammoth The Sands Expo and Convention Center.
He has a current contract in place through 2020.
“Las Vegas is the most exciting meeting destination in the country,” Dolnack says. “It always generates a lot of excitement. In our post-show surveys, 80 percent of our attendees each year say they want to be back in Las Vegas the following January. And that helps us grow our attendance.”
Jan Stieger, CMP, CAE, executive director of Sacramento, California-based DBA International, an association of debt buyers, has held her annual four-day, three-night February meeting for 1,200 to 1,500 attendees at Aria Resort & Casino, an MGM Resorts International property that anchors its sprawling CityCenter complex, every year since 2012. Before that, DBA International used The Mirage Hotel & Casino, another landmark MGM Resorts property, for nine consecutive years.
“Because we meet in February every year, Las Vegas is one of those relatively few destinations where you know you can count on the weather,” Stieger says. “You can’t always count on the weather anywhere, but at that time of year, Las Vegas has better odds than most other options. Another thing that is unique about Las Vegas is they can handle an unusually large number of VIPs. And many of our members want real VIP treatment, with things like big suites and limousine service. And Las Vegas is uniquely equipped to deliver those things at a very high level.”
The city’s unparalleled range of amenities, from high-end restaurants to exclusive shows and shopping, also are very popular with her attendees, Stieger says. As a result, Las Vegas has always been a great draw.
Steve Deel, in-house counsel at Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network (ALEAN), headquartered in Flower Mound, Texas, has used Las Vegas every year for one of the organization’s big annual conferences. Since 2002, the fall meeting for about 100 airport law enforcement professionals has been at New York-New York Hotel & Casino, yet another member of the MGM Resorts portfolio.
“ALEAN is a very business-oriented association,” Deel says. “So, when we plan our meetings, they are not designed around entertainment value. They are designed for business purposes. And that’s actually the No. 1 reason we like Las Vegas so much.”
That’s also why Deel has been so loyal to the destination for so long. “As we grew over the years and after we stopped just using local airports for our meetings, we wanted to develop an independent site for our meetings that had good airport access from all over the country, that had good and a wide variety of hotels, good transportation, and also offered after-meeting entertainment value that our attendees could enjoy on their own, even though there is no entertainment component to our meetings themselves,” he says. “But we did want there to be a lot of things for our people to do after hours. And I was already going to Las Vegas for fun back in those days and I knew the hotels. So I knew that Las Vegas would be a good match for us.”
Because ALEAN’s attendees are primarily publicly employed executives at airports across the country, the most important single factor in Deel’s long-term loyalty to the city is because “we wanted a place we could all easily access and where we could get reasonable hotel rates so that our people would want to go there every year. And so we chose Las Vegas as our destination for business purposes, not because of fun and games.”
For meeting planners, two factors that combine to give Las Vegas an almost unbeatable edge are its airlift and hotel product.
“Las Vegas has great airlift. People can get there easily from a wide variety of domestic and international locations,” says Luanna Squerzi, meetings manager at the American Society for Prosthetic Plastic Surgery in Garden Grove, California. She has used Las Vegas two or three times a year for the last four years and hosted one of her most important events, a three-night continuing medical education (CME) meeting for about 350 board-certified plastic surgeons each January at the legendary Bellagio, yet another MGM Resorts property. Next year will be her fourth consecutive year at Bellagio.
For Deel, not only is the formidable airlift Las Vegas features an important factor from a logistical perspective, but the location of McCarran International Airport — extraordinarily convenient to hotels located toward the southern end of The Strip — offers a unique benefit critically important to ALEAN’s attendees. In the post-9/11 era, he says, its airport law enforcement executive attendees must be prepared to go to the airport in an emergency and fly home. “And since we’ve always used hotels on the southern end of the strip, you can jump in a taxi and literally be at the airport in a matter of minutes. And that is very important to our attendees. You can’t find that kind of close proximity to the airport in many places.”
Likewise, the size and range of the exceptional hotel room inventory Las Vegas offers means there is a good fit, at the right price point, for virtually any type or size of meeting.
And to planners not already familiar with the destination, their usual first surprise is the value proposition and rates the city boasts.
Because of all the amenities such as celebrity chef restaurants, shows, spas and shopping arcades offered by all of the major meeting hotels, they generate large revenues over and above room revenues, Squerzi says. “And then on top of that is the gaming, which is an additional revenue stream,” she adds. “As a result, they work to keep room rates very competitive with other major destinations as a key strategy for getting your group to Las Vegas.”
Dolnack, who must offer a broad-based room block at many different properties to accommodate his huge audience of attendees, agrees that the value proposition in Las Vegas is one of its most powerful selling propositions. “You can find hotels covering all the different price ranges,” he says. “That means you get value for your attendees, who can have a very good experience at a good price.”
Based on his experience, Deel says that Las Vegas hotels also are “easier to deal with” than in other destinations. “And that is especially true of New York-New York,” he says. “When I’m dealing with them, it’s not like it is at other hotels, where everything is black and white. In other places, you find that hotels that get a lot of meetings just kind of (state their terms) and say you can take it or leave it. And they know that for your group you might not have that many other real options for when you want to do your meeting. But because of the number of hotels in Las Vegas and the amount of business they do, they all know that if you’re not happy with the deal, you can just take your business across the street and find a hotel that wants your business. You can’t always find that in the center of other cities.”
Again because most of his attendees are public employees, Deel finds another unique benefit in Las Vegas when it comes to hotel rates and room blocks. “Everybody is cost-conscious, especially government employees,” he says. “And so, even though New York-New York gives us a room rate that we publish for our attendees, if one of them finds a cheaper rate on the Internet, New York-New York will honor that rate for that attendee as part of our room block, even though they don’t get the same kind of room people do who pay the published group rate. That is a rare thing and something we really appreciate.”
Like Deel, Squerzi says the price points for hotels and the value received by attendees are another key factor in her loyalty to Las Vegas and Bellagio. “And if you compare what you get in Las Vegas to other major meeting destinations, you find that you really do get better value for the same money.”
The No. 1 thing she likes so much about Bellagio is the quality of its room product. “Their room product is really outstanding,” she says. “The rooms are quite large. And they’re always very clean. And the bathrooms are huge, especially for this day and age.”
Bellagio’s food and beverage service is also a cut above a number of its local competitors, Squerzi says. “It really stands out. And the service you get from the banquet staff is exceptional.”
She uses Bellagio’s banquet services for daily breakfasts and lunches. “And at every meeting we do at Bellagio, we always get very high marks from our attendees for the quality of the food and beverage we get and the quality of the service we get,” she says. “Even though they’re catered meals at a meeting, people are excited to find out what’s for lunch each day because the food is so good. And you’re not getting standard hotel catering fare. We get really good meals that are well presented.”
Deel has a similarly satisfying experience at New York-New York every year. “The food is as good or better than at any catering facility I’ve ever been to or used as part of a meeting,” he says. “But the key is it’s also more reasonably priced. And although to most people a catering menu is a catering menu, in Las Vegas that’s not the case, especially for smaller groups like ours. We get great menus that not only give us great food, but food that our people can afford. That’s another way we keep costs down. And from a service point of view, we get the same wait staff every year. They know us and we’re on a first-name basis. And they give us everything we want. There’s nothing we ever ask for that they can’t do for us.”
The world-class dining scene in Las Vegas — unrivaled by no other city except New York and Paris — is yet another factor in its perennial popularity for so many meeting planners and attendees.
Celebrity chef restaurants also are very popular with her attendees, Squerzi says. “Our doctors are exceptionally well-traveled, and they like good food. And the food you get at the restaurants in Bellagio and the other major hotels in Las Vegas is just extraordinary. And the big hotels have so many restaurants that you can go have a great meal in a different place every night and never leave the hotel.”
Dolnack says his attendees also appreciate the range of dining options. “You can find good restaurants across a range of prices,” he says. “You can go to places where locals eat and have a very inexpensive meal, or you can go to a celebrity chef restaurant and have an amazing meal that you’ll remember for a long time.”
The restaurants in Aria have been a big draw for her attendees, Stieger says. “And they change them out and open new ones, so there’s always something fresh and new even though we go back every year,” she says. “But the dining options there are always excellent. But there are also good cafés and buffets.”
Another thing Deel particularly likes about Las Vegas is that he does not have to act as a personal concierge for his attendees. “I don’t have to worry about what people want to do after hours,” he says. “Not only is there plenty to do, but it’s easy for them to make their own choices and do exactly what they want to do, with no help from me. I always said to people, ‘After the meeting is over for the day, if you can’t find a place to be entertained in Las Vegas, regardless of what you want to do, you probably just need to sit in your room and watch TV. But you shouldn’t have to ask me what to do.’ ”
Squerzi sees a similar benefit for her well-heeled and sophisticated attendees. “For a lot of our meetings, the doctors don’t travel alone,” she says. “They travel with their spouses. And Las Vegas just has a lot to offer everyone, no matter what kinds of things they like to do. The main thing to us about Las Vegas is that there is literally something for everyone to do and enjoy. And you don’t have to gamble. There are a lot of great restaurants, a great shopping scene, great shows and other entertainment.”
“Las Vegas just has a lot to offer everyone, no matter what kinds of things they like to do. The main thing to us about Las Vegas is that there is literally something for everyone to do and enjoy.” — Luanna Squerzi
As a result, she says, her Las Vegas events typically rank among the association’s most well-attended meetings.
She adds that the city also can claim a singular kind of wow factor. “Another thing that makes Las Vegas different from most other destinations in my experience is that people are always excited about being there and they want to share the great things they did the night before,” she says. “And you don’t always find that in a destination. No matter what you choose to do in Las Vegas, versus other places, it’s always a conversation-starter and something interesting to talk about. It’s always sexy and intriguing. It’s never boring. And all of that is very exciting for our attendees.”
Because NSSF is working to grow its international attendance, that buzz also is vitally important to Dolnack. He works closely with the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority to promote more international attendance, which now represents about 10–11 percent of total attendance, but from more than 100 countries. NSSF wants to double that to 20 percent over the next few years.
And based on the broad and universal appeal Las Vegas offers, that should be a realistic goal. One reason: Las Vegas is constantly evolving.
“Every time you go back, there’s always something new and different,” Squerzi says. “Las Vegas constantly reinvents itself, whether that’s a hot new restaurant or a new nightclub or a new show. And that means it’s always going to be exciting for attendees.”
Las Vegas will host a total of 12 new and returning conventions and trade shows attracting more than 10,000 delegates each in 2015. Combined, the shows will draw an estimated 242,000 attendees generating nearly $315 million in local non-gaming economic impact. Nine of these shows will be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). Current and future shows in 2015 include the following:
The American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual conference (November 14–17) and Magic: The Gathering Tournament (May 28–31) are two new shows that are expected to bring an estimated 35,000 attendees generating $46 million in local non-gaming economic impact.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) returns November 17–19 with an expected 25,000 attendees and a non-gaming economic impact of $33 million. NBAA is the leading organization for companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their business more efficient, productive and successful.
The Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) also rotates its Pack Expo back to Las Vegas September 28–30 bringing an estimated 43,000 attendees and a non-gaming economic impact of $56.5 million dollars. NBAA and PMMI were both last in Las Vegas in 2013.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, held in April in Las Vegas, is the world’s largest electronic media show covering the creation, management and delivery of content across all platforms. With more than 98,000 attendees from 150 countries and 1,700+ exhibitors, the NAB Show is the ultimate marketplace for digital media and entertainment. This year, the show floor was expanded to more than 1 million net sf of exhibit space at the Las Vegas Convention Center with 244 companies exhibiting for the first time. The exhibition features new products and next-generation technologies displayed through interactive exhibits, live demonstrations and technology-focused pavilions.
The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, located one block off The Las Vegas Strip and adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center, is currently undergoing a property-wide $100 million renovation. Upgrades to 1,200 signature guest rooms and the pool area have been completed. The ongoing renovation project will include enhancements to the convention areas and sports book. Two new restaurant concepts, including Sid’s Café, are expected to open soon.
The Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton now provides one of the fastest Internet services available in a Las Vegas hotel. The Internet access is available throughout the property’s newly expanded convention space as well as in the resort’s 1,467 guest rooms and suites.
The doors to the Trinidad Pavilion and Meeting Rooms, a 30,000-sf expansion of the convention area, are now officially open. The expansion brings the hotel’s total meeting, event and exhibition space to more than 100,000 sf with 38 separate meeting rooms, which does not include the outdoor venues.
Delano Las Vegas opened last fall in the Mandalay Bay complex, bringing the chic style of its iconic sister property in South Beach to the Las Vegas Strip. The new smoke-free, luxury hotel features 1,100 suites, the Delano Beach Club, the Bathhouse Spa and Delia’s Kitchen, a restaurant specializing in sustainable foods.
Among MGM Grand’s 5,044 guest rooms is the 14th floor comprised of 171 Stay Well guest rooms, which feature vitamin C-infused shower water, advanced room lighting tailored to sleep/wake cycles, air purification systems, EMF protection and more.
The companion Stay Well Meetings incorporates healthful environments in meeting rooms and spaces, such as ergonomic seating, air purification, cicadian lighting, virtual window lights, aromatherapy, healthful menu items and much more.
The Mandalay Bay Convention Center is adding 350,000 sf of exhibit space, more carpeted ballroom space and other amenities for a total of more than 2 million sf. The $66 million project expects to welcome its first attendees in August, with the anticipated completion of the entire expansion and renovation in January 2016.
Caesars Entertainment’s Linq Promenade offers a variety of restaurants, retail outlets and non-gaming entertainment options, many of which provide thousands of square feet of unique meeting venues.
For example, The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority joined leaders from across the Las Vegas meeting and convention industry to celebrate the inaugural North American Meetings Industry Day on April 16, 2015 at The Linq promenade. To celebrate, Chris Brown, executive vice president of conventions and business operations of National Association of Broadcasters, was presented with the Key to the Las Vegas Strip during a press event at The Linq. The NAB Show, which recently hosted nearly 100,000 attendees at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is just one of the more than 22,000 meetings, conventions and trade shows that happen in Las Vegas every year.
The newly branded and renovated Linq Hotel & Casino will open all new meeting space on May 1.
The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino recently renovated all standard guest suites, including desks fitted with a media “hub” system, providing USB charging capabilities.
The Encore Tower Suites and Encore Resort Tower at Wynn Las Vegas will undergo room renovations beginning this summer, which call for new furnishings, carpeting, technology and added USB plugs and electrical outlets.
The revitalization of Monte Carlo Resort and Casino and New York-New York Hotel & Casino will lead visitors to The Park, an immersive outdoor destination, and a new world-class 20,000-seat arena being developed by AEG and MGM Resorts International, is scheduled to open in 2016.
The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, recently announced new special offerings for groups. The museum’s Speakers Bureau features members of the museum’s board of directors who include professionals from local and state government, law enforcement, the judicial system, media and the business community. For groups seeking teambuilding activities or simply to be active and entertained as part of the company gathering, Museum Scavenger Hunts provide an unique solution. The Mob Museum offers flexible space and can accommodate groups of from 10 to 400 people.
South Point Hotel and Casino’s new $35 million bowling tournament facility, South Point Bowling Plaza, boasts a full schedule of tournament events. The South Point Bowling Plaza, a 90,000-sf facility, features 60 lanes with two parallel rows of 30 lanes, a 360-seat viewing area and a 720-unit locker room.
The Omnia Nightclub — the former Pure Nightclub — opened in 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 corporate event buyouts for groups of 200–4,000 people.
Award-winning chef Michael Mina opened Bardot Brasserie at Aria Resort & Casino in January. Offering a modern and sexy take on the traditional French brasserie experience, Bardot will present an exquisite array of Parisian cuisine, transporting guests on a culinary journey through The City of Light. Located on the second floor of Aria, Bardot is open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily and offers group options.
Bellagio debuted Lago by Julian Serrano — a contemporary, Milan-inspired Italian restaurant concept.
“I remember when I was approached about opening my first Bellagio restaurant, Picasso, in front of some ‘wild fountain.’ It was unheard of at the time, but the potential was undeniable,” said Serrano. “Lago is a continuation of what Jean-Georges (Vongerichten), Sirio (Maccioni), Todd (English) and I started here — executing exceptional, thought-provoking cuisine in a setting you can’t find anywhere else in the world.”
Boasting a new outdoor patio with spectacular views of the world-famous fountains, Lago’s cutting-edge space is inspired by Italian Futurism — the sweeping artistic and cultural movement of early 20th century Italy.
The space includes a bold 1,500-sf mosaic map of Milan at its entrance and a sleek marble mixology counter. The dining room features large arched windows maximizing views of the scenic fountains to ensure every table is the best seat in the house.
Wynn Las Vegas introduced a new multimillion-dollar show element to “Le Rêve – The Dream” to mark the 10th anniversary of the aquatic production show. The new “dénouement” scene is situated as the penultimate act in the 75-minute production. More than 18 months in the making, the “dénouement” includes 172 high-powered fountains, 120 individual LED lighting fixtures and 16 fire-shooting devices.
“Over the past 4,500 shows, we’ve continued to introduce new elements, costumes, music and scenes to “Le Rêve – The Dream.” The ‘dénouement’ stands as one of the greatest advancements in the show’s history,” said Rick Gray, general manager of entertainment operations for Wynn Las Vegas. “We do this for our guests. As no two dreams are ever truly the same, neither is our show — and we take pride in that.
According to the Las Vegas Visitor Profile 2014 Annual Report, the popularity of visiting Las Vegas continues to grow in both the leisure and business categories.
For example, convention visitors were asked if holding a convention in Las Vegas made them more or less interested in attending the convention — or if it made no difference. In 2014, 59 percent said having the convention in Las Vegas made them more interested in attending.
On the other hand, 96 percent of visitors said they were “very” satisfied with their visit to Las Vegas in 2014 (up significantly from 94 percent each in 2010 and 2012, 92 percent in 2011 and 89 percent last year), while 4 percent were “somewhat” satisfied (down from 7 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2013).
No doubt, association meeting attendees are among the “very satisfied” visitors who look forward to returning to Las Vegas year after year for their annual conference. AC&F