It’s all a numbers game in Las Vegas, and the numbers for meetings and conventions couldn’t be more impressive: The city was named the No. 1 trade show destination in 2013 for the 20th consecutive year by Trade Show News Network for hosting 53 of the 250 largest shows; and the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) reports that in 2013, the city welcomed more than 5 million delegates and 22,000 meetings. To maintain this momentum in convention business, construction on major new developments and property improvements has cranked up at a dizzying pace. And with all the amazing properties to choose from that can adeptly handle the heavy lifting required of large conventions, planners looking at Las Vegas these days are like kids in a candy store.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. may be reaping the rewards of its successful developments in far-off locales such as Singapore and Macau, but the company’s home-turf operation continues to thrive as the site for major association meetings and trade shows — and not many are larger than the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Shot Show, the fifth largest trade show in Las Vegas. The 2014 Shot Show, January 14-17, which drew more than 67,000 total attendees, will be held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center through 2018.
With 2.25 million sf of exhibit and meeting space, as well as direct connections to more than 7,000 suites at The Venetian and The Palazzo, it’s easy to see why NSSF has partnered with Las Vegas Sands. But Chris Dolnack, vice president of the Newtown, Connecticut-based NSSF, also finds Las Vegas itself to be a desirable site: “It’s one of the most exciting cities in the country and a premier trade show destination, when you look at the airlift, and the number and variety of hotels, everything from standard business traveler hotels to some of the best resort casinos in the world,” he says, adding that the LVCVA is very attuned to his organization’s growth goals. “This year the LVCVA is cosponsoring our booth at the IWA OutdoorClassics in Germany, where we will be trying to attract more international attendees to our show in Las Vegas. We’ll have a hospitality suite so (potential) international attendees can learn more about Las Vegas.”
According to Dolnack, the Shot Show’s current attendees have welcomed Las Vegas Sands’ recent investment in its facilities, a $37 million renovation that included remodeling the lobby and adding escalators, new carpeting, Wi-Fi hotspots and food outlets. In addition, “We use an increasing amount of electronic signage, and the Expo recently completed a $1.6 million upgrade in their bandwidth.” Participants who choose to stay at The Venetian or The Palazzo, he notes, “on average are 10 percent more satisfied than those who stay off-property,” based on post-event surveys. Part of the reason is of course the direct accessibility to the Expo.
Sands has quite the convention industry triumvirate with the Expo and its two flanking hotels, a combination that the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society also recently took advantage of. The 37,000 attendees of HIMSS 2012 Annual Conference & Exhibition utilized 95 percent of The Venetian and The Palazzo’s room inventory, as well as lodging space at 14 other hotels, reports Karen Malone, vice president of HIMSS, based in Chicago, IL. “We were watching attendance at other shows and saw that Las Vegas performs really well compared to other cities,” she says. “So we took that into account, and when we went to the city in 2012 for the first time, we saw a 17 percent increase in our attendance over the previous year in Orlando. According to Malone, the increase was due in part to the new destination and in part to the state of the healthcare information management industry and certain regulatory developments.
The decision to bring the convention to Las Vegas also was motivated by the Sands Expo, which Malone feels is the only venue that could work for the event’s rotation to the Western U.S. “Our conference has grown significantly over the last five to seven years, and we’re now at the size where we take up about a million square feet of exhibit space and about 350,000–450,000 sf of meeting space. The Las Vegas Convention Center doesn’t have enough meeting rooms for us, (nor does it have) a general session room that can hold 6,000–7,000 attendees.” The layout of the Sands Expo also is an advantage, Malone adds: “From an attendee’s perspective, Sands is an ideal venue because it’s vertical. Getting from education session to education session is just (a matter of going) up and down an escalator or two, versus walking from one end of the building to another.”
Malone also found partnering with Las Vegas Sands “very similar to working with convention bureau staff in any city.” Being HIMSS’ first time in Las Vegas, “we needed someone to be our advocate in working with the hotels to give us the inventory that we needed. The Sands put in some calls to the adjacent hotels, and the LVCVA also helped with some of the other hotels. So we had a very good communication network.” The HIMSS conference will next be in Las Vegas in 2016 and 2018, she adds, with attendance expected to grow to around 40,000.
Delegates always can look forward to something new in Las Vegas with each visit, including lodging options, shows, shopping centers, and most certainly new dining experiences, which are regularly being developed. They might enjoy, for instance, the VIP treatment at the Bellagio Buffet’s new Chef’s Table, which allows them to bypass the main line and partake of fine dishes prepared tableside. Of course, this feature is merely among the latest enhancements in Bellagio’s 15-year history. In 2004, the hotel debuted the Spa Tower and completed a remodeling of its 928 guest rooms last year.
One of the first association groups to meet at the resort was Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). “We booked the resort while it was still being built in 1997-’98, and we’ve met there every three years since 1999,” most recently March 3–6 of this year, relates Richard C. Brown, executive director of convention and meeting services/production. More than 2,500 delegates convened at the 3,933-room Bellagio, where advantages included the layout and location of its 200,000 sf of convention space. “All the meeting space is in one area,” Brown comments, “and we appreciated that you don’t have to walk through the casino to get from your room to the meeting space.”
Some members do play in the casinos at night, Brown remarks, but for this group in particular, Las Vegas’ nighttime entertainment does not take away from the turnout at the sessions. “They’ll be up early in the morning, because as contractors, they are used to it, and pack out the meetings, educational, social and plenary sessions. We’ll have 7 a.m. breakfasts and start our sessions at 8:30 a.m.”
Among the special events was a gathering of about 100 VIPs at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which Brown describes as “Las Vegas’ answer to the Kennedy Center.” Venues available for rental include the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall, Cabaret Jazz and Troesh Studio Theater, accommodating receptions for up to 200 attendees.
However, the AGC convention takes place almost exclusively at AAA Five Diamond Bellagio, which offers numerous attractions such as a gallery of fine art, a conservatory and botanical gardens, Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” the 65,000-sf Spa and Salon Bellagio, and world-class restaurants by chefs such as Todd English, Michael Mina and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
As can be expected with a resort of such caliber, Brown says his event staff and delegates enjoy exceptional service and amenities. “In our six conventions at the Bellagio, I’ve never had one complaint regarding a sleeping room, and the meeting and AV staff is by far one of the best we’ve come in contact with,” he remarks. “You don’t hear them say ‘no.’ If you ask them for something, they’re going to work to get it done.”
“In our six conventions at the Bellagio, I’ve never had one complaint…and the meeting and AV staff is by far one of the best we’ve come in contact with. You don’t hear them say ‘no.’ ” — Richard C. Brown
A small percentage of attendees do require lower room rates, and Bellagio assisted in booking rooms at the 3,044-room Mirage Hotel and Casino (171,959 sf of function space) and the 2,992-room Monte Carlo Resort and Casino (30,000 sf of function space), which is accessible by monorail to Bellagio. Keeping the entire program within MGM Resorts International properties has its conveniences for both planner and attendee. “Since they’re all MGM properties, they can charge one to another. So if I’m eating dinner at the Bellagio but staying at Monte Carlo, I can charge back to my room at Monte Carlo,” Brown explains.
Planners can look forward to major improvements to the Las Vegas Convention Center that will be part of the planned $2.5 billion Global Business District, to be completed in phases over the next several years. The district will create an international business destination by incorporating major renovations of the Las Vegas Convention Center, leveraging the World Trade Center designation and developing transportation connectivity through a centralized hub. According to the LVCVA, convention center improvements will include additional exhibit space, meeting rooms and general session space; upgrading technology; adding new food and beverage outlets; and creating a grand concourse connector with more lobby space. Outside the convention center, plans call for outdoor event spaces.
MGM Resorts International recently released expanded plans and details for its park, dining and entertainment district taking shape on the west side of The Strip. Creating an interactive neighborhood environment spanning eight acres, The Park will connect New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts, and the 20,000-seat Las Vegas arena currently in development by MGM and AEG: the $350 million arena will break ground this summer and is slated to open in 2016. Both resorts are undergoing significant transformations of their Strip-facing experiences into plaza environments featuring casual eateries, bars, restaurants and retail destinations that will ultimately lead to The Park when it opens in 2016. Restaurants at Monte Carlo’s new entryway include the just-opened Double Barrel, a 12,000-sf roadhouse restaurant; Yusho, with authentic Japanese street food by celebrated chef Matthias Merges; and 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. Anchoring the new experience at New York-New York, a 2,024-room property with 21,500 sf of meeting space, will be the two-story Hershey’s Chocolate World. The two-story interactive destination for chocolate lovers opens in the second quarter.
Later this year, The Mirage hotel will see the debut of Morimoto Las Vegas, featuring the innovative Japanese cuisine of the renowned “Iron Chef.”
The 3,211-room Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, already one of the city’s most well-equipped meeting hotels with nearly 1.7 million sf of function space in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, has just announced expansion plans for the convention center. The $66 million project will add more than 350,000 sf of exhibit space; a 70,000-sf ballroom divisible by five; underground parking; and more carpeted ballroom space. When completed, the convention center will boast 2 million total sf including 1.1 million sf of exhibit space. Construction is scheduled to begin in late fall 2014 with new exhibit space available in August 2015 and anticipated completion of all spaces in January 2016.
Mandalay Bay also is transforming THEhotel into Delano Las Vegas, with all 1,100 suites converted to a South Beach style by the fall. The hotel is accepting reservations for stays beginning September 1. Delano will offer 36 meeting spaces totaling 21,000 sf.
Meanwhile, the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino has seen success with its 42 Stay Well rooms and suites, completed in October 2012. As a result, this January the 5,044-room resort outfitted the entire 14th floor of its main tower (171 units) as Stay Well rooms, which offer more than a dozen health and wellness features such as aromatherapy, wake-up light therapy and Vitamin C-infused shower water. The MGM Grand houses more than 600,000 sf of function space, most of which is provided by the $100 million MGM Grand Conference Center.
Also in January, ESPA at Vdara Hotel & Spa began welcoming guests to its 18,000-sf, two-level facility comprising 11 treatment rooms. Attendees who are spa enthusiasts will note that this is ESPA’s first branded spa on the West Coast and only the third in the U.S. The 1,495-suite Vdara, while relatively low on meeting space (10,000 sf), has a prime location in CityCenter, a mixed-use, 76-acre complex that also is home to Bellagio and the LEED-certified, 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino (300,000 sf of function space). Delegates have myriad shopping options here at the 500,000-sf Shops at Crystals, which showcases top-tier designer brands from Gucci to Tiffany & Co. to Versace, as well as restaurateurs such as Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck.
Circus Circus Las Vegas, another MGM Resorts property, 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 largest permanent circus, which performs under its hallmark Big Top. The Adventuredome is available for private groups up to 4,000 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.
Caesars Entertainment is transforming the corridor between The Quad and Flamingo in a highly publicized development known as The Linq. The $550 million open-air, pedestrian-only district features restaurants, bars, shops, entertainment venues and the just-opened 550-foot observation wheel known as the High Roller, which has 28 cabins holding up to 40 passengers each. (The High Roller recently received official recognition from Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest observation wheel.) Caesars will augment Las Vegas shopping even further with Grand Bazaar Shops, opening later this year directly in front of the 2,814-room Bally’s Las Vegas (175,000 sf of function space). Billed as a “21st century bazaar,” the 150-acre, $50 million Grand Bazaar Shops is inspired by some of the world’s greatest open-air markets, from Jerusalem’s Old Market to London’s Portobello Road to Seattle’s Pike Place Market. On the lodging front, Caesars debuted The Cromwell in May. Located on The Strip, the 188-room boutique property features a 40,000-sf casino and the first restaurant by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis.
This September, the north end of The Strip will see the addition of 1,600 guest rooms with the opening of SLS Las Vegas, after a $415 million transformation of the former Sahara Hotel & Casino. The property will offer 30,000 sf of dedicated meeting space.
Planners also will note one interesting development off The Strip: The South Point Arena and Convention Center, located at the 2,163-room South Point Hotel, Casino Spa, is expanding with the new Priefert Pavilion, with two climate-controlled arena venues totaling more than 100,000 sf. Groundbreaking took place in the spring, with completion expected this summer.
Also off The Strip and across the street from the Las Vegas Convention Center is LVH – Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, which offers 3,000 guest rooms and 200,000 sf of meeting space. The former Las Vegas Hilton reopened as LVH in 2012. The hotel offers a relaxing atmosphere yet is only a short hop away from all the excitement via the Las Vegas Monorail.
This year the Tower suites and spas at Wynn and Encore received Forbes Five Star awards. Wynn Las Vegas and sister property Encore together offer more than 4,700 guest rooms and 260,000 sf of meeting space. The luxury hotels have 32 F&B outlets boasting two signature chefs, two award-winning spas, an onsite 18-hole golf course, Maserati and Ferrari dealership, 94,000 sf of retail space, two showrooms, three nightclubs, a beach club and more.
Top-tier entertainment is a given in Las Vegas. Here is just a sampling:
Last summer, Mandalay Bay, in partnership with Cirque du Soleil and the Michael Jackson estate, debuted “Michael Jackson One,” a permanent production dedicated to the King of Pop that features a cast of 63 dancers and aerialists.
“Jubilee!,” the longest-running show on the Las Vegas Strip, reopened at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in March after undergoing a major transformation. The new show still reflects the original production’s spirit, but the choreography, staging and music have been refreshed for today’s audiences.
The brand-new “Panda!” show has made its world premiere at The Venetian and The Palazzo. It features a combination of acrobatics, martial arts, music and dance.
Wynn Las Vegas’ “Le Rêve: The Dream” is offering backstage tours and a special “Diver’s Dream” package for guests who are scuba certified. Guests are able to go behind the scenes of the show and see all of the props and special features that take place backstage. Also, those who take part in the diver’s dream package are able to be in the water during an actual performance of Le Rêve to see all the magic underwater.
“O” by Cirque du Soleil has unveiled seven new VIP suites at its theater at the Bellagio. Guests reserving one of these unique, opera house-style suites will enjoy a bottle of champagne or wine, chocolate truffles and the services of a private cocktail server.
Olivia Newton-John launched her “Summer Nights” residency at Flamingo Las Vegas on April 8. The singer, actress, songwriter will take guests on a musical journey through her life and music career.
Las Vegas properties are always upgrading their meetings infrastructure, and that effort contributes to the city’s success in drawing new and returning convention business, which will result in a multimillion-dollar boost to the local economy this year, according to the LVCVA.
The American Library Association’s annual conference and exhibition, American Wind Energy Association’s Windpower and Solar Power International are all first-time conventions this year in Las Vegas. The three events are expected to bring an estimated 50,000 attendees and generate nearly $63 million in local non-gaming economic impact.
The LVCVA also notes that 70 new conventions of at least 500 attendees each will take place during 2014, bringing an estimated 100,000 additional delegates to Las Vegas.
And nine rotating shows are returning to Las Vegas this year, attracting more than 320,000 delegates for a non-gaming economic impact of $404 million. The rotating shows include the return of the ConExpo-Con/AGG show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where the AGC staged its Technology & Constructions Solutions Pavilion. It is fitting that the largest construction show in the Western Hemisphere, with 140,000 attendees, found a home in Las Vegas, where the hospitality and construction industries are always in dynamic partnerships. AC&F