The Las Vegas DifferenceNovember 1, 2017

Variety Is the Spice of Life — and Ingredient for Meeting Success By
November 1, 2017

The Las Vegas Difference

Variety Is the Spice of Life — and Ingredient for Meeting Success
The International Avaya Users Group chose the MGM Grand for the February 2017 Avaya Engage meeting, with 2,600 attendees. Credits: IAUG

The International Avaya Users Group chose the MGM Grand for the February 2017 Avaya Engage meeting, with 2,600 attendees. Credit: IAUG

Las Vegas is more than the sum of its casinos — of which there are 40, give or take, along The Strip alone, according to the Nevada Gaming Commission, and another 60-plus across the city.

To be sure, casinos are a major draw for many attendees. But so too are all of the other free-time and networking options, from a huge variety of only-in-Las-Vegas shows and performances by music’s mega stars to dozens of restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, not to mention the assortment of thrilling rides and tours, spas and outdoor pursuits in the red rock canyons just a short drive away.

Gaming aside, Las Vegas is pro business to the max with everything meeting planners need to execute a successful meeting, and anything attendees want before, during and after conference sessions.

One Size Fits All

Victor Bohnert, executive director of the International Avaya Users Group, an organization of communications technology professionals, chose the MGM Grand for the February 2017 Avaya Engage meeting, with 2,600 attendees. He says one important aspect of meeting was that everything could be in one place.

“That gave us the ability to host a variety of functions, from large parties with 2,000 people to more intimate receptions, without using the same venue twice. And keeping everything in one place ensured increased attendance and participation. However,” he adds, “within a short walk or cab ride, our attendees could enjoy world-class restaurants and entertainment.”

Bohnert notes that the city also offers many available flights and affordable hotels, which works well for the makeup of this group. “We have a high number of education and government attendees, so the value we get from hosting our event in Vegas is appealing.”

In terms of MGM’s facilities, Bohnert says, “MGM has the size to host our general session and program and also our trade show. It has the flexibility of having large, finished (carpet and lighting) areas, and that allows us to keep our costs down. It also has breakout space that allows us to be flexible in size and number, configuring them to meet our individual size requirements. And finally, the trade show space allowed our partners to create large booth structures and complement them with signage, increasing the experience.”

In addition, he says, outside the event space, there are plenty of restaurants and entertainment options to meet all interests and budgets. “All of these factors together allowed us to create a self-contained event experience, without people feeling trapped.”

The group held its opening event at the resort’s pool and closing reception at Hakkessan nightclub. “Both offered extremely unique experiences for our attendees,” Bohnert says.

There are a few things he would do differently in hindsight. “It was exactly one mile from the hotel desk to the event center. The walk isn’t bad but in hindsight I would have done more with branding to keep it fun. I’d also consider virtual engagement opportunities that can extend beyond the event center itself (RFID, or beaconing).

That said, Bohnert calls the MGM staff fantastic, “which allows you to work around any unexpected issues that may pop up!”

Like others, Bohnert has found that the city can present challenges in terms of perception, but says these can be overcome. “Getting people to Vegas can be a challenge. People don’t often see it as a place to do work. We led with our conference agenda and program, and stressed experiences that started in the morning and went through the evening. We also stressed the value of doing it at a place like MGM Grand. The price was great for lodging and travel.”

To planners considering Las Vegas and the MGM, he suggests focusing on experience. “The size of the MGM allows you to do a lot of creative ideas that fit any budget.”

MGM Resorts International, with multiple venues in the city, isn’t focused only on large groups. In fact, its highly anticipated new conference space, part of Monte Carlo Resort and Casino’s transformation to the Park MGM, is geared specifically for small groups.

Included among the Park’s innovative and flexible spaces are the city’s first Executive Meeting Center (EMC) and Ideation Labs, both designed to maximize productivity for small groups. Planners also will have access to the hotel’s multiple ballrooms, 30,000-sf Park Theater, restaurants by celebrity chefs, an expansive pool environment and more. The main conference space will open this fall; the EMC and Ideation Lab will debut early 2018.

An Intimate Venue

Linda Kirk, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Housing Preservation (IRHP), chose the Four Seasons Las Vegas for the institute’s September seminar with 110 in attendance. Part of the hotel’s appeal is that there’s no gaming directly on the property but it is nearby for those who want it.

“We love the Four Seasons because it’s a more intimate venue, which is a good fit for our group. Additionally, no onsite casino is a plus for this group. Lots of our folks do gamble, and the proximity to Mandalay Bay gives any attendees wishing to gamble an easy option, but attendees that prefer a calmer atmosphere are also provided for at the Four Seasons. This property has proven to be a winning choice for us.”

The group has met at the Four Seasons multiple times. “IRHP does several seminars each year, one in NYC, one in Chicago and one in Las Vegas. We formerly held our West Coast programs in Santa Monica or La Jolla, but Las Vegas has proven to be a bigger draw for our membership. There’s so much to do within walking distance as well as within the property.”

About the hotel Kirk says, “Every aspect of this property is very guest oriented. It has a courteous and efficient staff, delicious food, comfortable guest rooms and wonderful amenities. It’s an amazing experience — not merely a hotel stay.”

The Four Seasons served as the gathering point for all meeting functions. “We used the hotel conference space for our meeting and for our F&B needs,” Kirk says. “The rooms are comfortable and beautifully designed. Our AV experience with PSAV was excellent, and our technician even built a PowerPoint loop on the morning of our meeting as we had forgotten to provide one. There were no problems with the Wi-Fi, catering was excellent, and both the food and service were impeccable. It is a bit of a hike from sleeping rooms to meeting space, but it’s actually nice to have work and play separated.”

Kirk had just one small complaint during the 2017 seminar. “The meeting space was uncomfortably cold and even after several requests to raise the temperature, the temperature remained too cool for comfort.”

Although IRHP does not have any sponsored events outside of the hotel, Kirk says that small groups of 10 to 25 often got together for a dinner at restaurants off-property, which is easy because there are so many within walking distance.

The one challenge for IRHP is the room block. “We sell out quickly,” Kirk notes, “but there is little wiggle room for attrition, so even one cancellation can affect our block commitment.”

Above-and-Beyond Service

Kari Messenger, CMP, Association Management Center, booked the Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, a Caesars property, for the Awards & Personalization Association (APA). The group’s 2017 International Awards & Personalization Expo was held in February, drawing 2,000 attendees.

“The Rio’s space and rate make the most sense for our program and budget, and Awards & Personalization has built a great relationship not only with Caesars but with the Rio as a standalone hotel,” Messenger says. “APA has been hosting its international meeting at the Rio since 2013 and is now signed through 2023. The space is the perfect fit for this meeting as it’s far enough away from those coming to Vegas for pleasure but close enough to have all the perks of being in Vegas. The meeting space is in its own private area away from all the hustle and bustle of the hotel so our attendees can focus on the content being presented at the meeting.”

Messenger says that since her team has been traveling to the Rio on an annual basis, “Our staff members have formed their own relations with the hotel team. Each year it’s a nostalgic feeling to come back and see the same servers that took care of us the year before. They remember us and treat us like old friends visiting once again. The service we receive at the Rio is fantastic. We’re always greeted warmly, and the staff goes above and beyond to ensure we are taken care of during the meeting.”

Although the Rio is off The Strip, Messenger says planners should not count it out. “The space is quiet and tucked away for attendees to engage and still close enough to enjoy all the amenities of being in Las Vegas.”

For this year’s staff outing, Messenger and her team headed to Town Square Las Vegas, a 100-acre open-air shopping, dining and entertainment center. “We enjoyed our meal at Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant & Bar, which my CVB rep had brought me to a year before. It was a hit. Great service, delicious menu and the room set was Hollow Square so we had a chance to talk with everyone at the dinner. It was a nice refresher to be away from The Strip and relax for a moment during the show.”

Self-Contained Conference Venue

The North American Neuromodulation Society has held its annual meeting in Las Vegas for more than 10 years. Executive Director Chris Welber says the group likes to meet in a self-contained conference venue rather than a standalone convention center, which makes Caesars Palace a good fit. The 2017 convention was held in January with 2,800 attendees.

“Las Vegas is a fairly easy destination for our attendees to reach, so that is a plus,” Welber notes. “There are also many options for post-meeting entertainment and other activities that our attendees enjoy taking advantage of.”

All dedicated events were held on-property at Caesars Palace in the hotel’s convention center. “Rates and location were good, and it’s located in the city we have been calling home for our meeting for many years,” Welber says. “It’s a very large space with a lot of options. It’s easy to get what you need in the self-contained facilities. It’s also nice to have tiered room pricing and options available.”

Among potential drawbacks, however, is the requirement to use the in-house AV as well as the distance from sleeping rooms to meeting space. “We are required to use in-house AV as part of our agreement, and this is perhaps one drawback some groups may find, including ours,” Welber says. “Of course, with any Las Vegas property, we always receive feedback that it is a rather long walk to get from sleeping rooms to the convention area. However, we were able to secure the majority of our room block in the tower closest to the meeting and function space. Catering was satisfactory, the catering team(s) were always attentive, and Wi-Fi was adequate throughout the property.”

Although they had to use the in-house AV provider, Welber says they also brought their own production manager, “who is familiar with our meeting product, knows our meeting requirements best and helped oversee things. Our production staff negotiated with the in-house company to try and achieve economies of scale and reduce costs as needed.”

To planners considering Caesars and/or Las Vegas, Welber says, “Be thorough and explore all of the options available onsite. We learned there was much more than we would have necessarily expected at this property. We will now take advantage of more of these items in future years.”

Responding to Tragedy

In addition to Caesars Palace and the Rio, Caesars Entertainment has multiple hotels and venues in Las Vegas and was quick to respond to the tragic October 1 shooting in the city. On October 9, the company announced it had organized $2 million in support of those affected by the shooting. Caesars’ employees, its roster of celebrity chefs and many of its entertainment personalities came together to help those in need.

“This senseless tragedy has forever impacted the lives of so many, and we are committed to offering resources to help those affected and to support the community organizations who will need our ongoing assistance,” said Mark Frissora, chief executive officer and president of Caesars Entertainment. “Last week’s events are still fresh and while we are still organizing the event, every single one of our celebrity chefs immediately jumped at the opportunity to help. I’m very proud of how our Caesars family has come together in support of our hometown.”

Moving Forward

Las Vegas continues to be a city looking and moving forward, and convention attendance continues to grow. At the end of August, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority statistics showed that the city hosted 4,695,270 convention attendees, up 6.2 percent over the prior year. And those numbers will continue to rise: The completion of The Las Vegas Convention Center District (LVCCD) expansion and renovation project is estimated to attract an additional 600,000 visitors each year. Here’s a project update:

The LVCCD Committee, a subcommittee of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) Board of Directors, recently approved a recommendation to submit TVS Design/Design Las Vegas as the firm to provide design services for the LVCCD phase two expansion project. The $860 million, 1.4-million-sf expansion will include at least 600,000 sf of new exhibition leasable space.

The LVCCD expansion and renovation will be completed in a phased approach with a projected completion date of 2023. Construction of the phase two 1.4-million-sf expansion is projected to be complete by 2021. The next phase will be the complete renovation of the existing 3.2-million-sf facility.

Among other news:

Caesars Palace has completed the renovation of its Palace Tower, the resort’s largest tower, featuring 1,181 stylishly designed guest rooms and suites, and a price tag topping $100 million. Considered the crown jewel of the tower, the 29th floor features 10 luxurious new villas ranging in size from 2,750 sf to 4,085 sf and featuring exquisite finishes, bespoke furnishings and a curated art program. Centrally located, the Palace Tower is a short walk to the resort’s convention center, Appian Way shops and Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis.

MGM Grand is constructing a 250,000-sf, $130 million expansion of its conference center that is scheduled for completion in fall 2018. The new facility will connect to the existing conference center on all three levels and will include two large ballrooms encompassing 49,000 sf and 32,000 sf, three smaller ballrooms and an outdoor event space. Upon completion, the expansion will give MGM Grand a total of 850,000 sf of meeting and convention space. The expansion includes an additional 22,000 sf covering the conference center’s entire second floor for Stay Well Meetings, the industry’s first wellness meeting experience, first introduced at the MGM Grand in 2014.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas recently completed an expansion of its meeting and convention space with the reopening of the 28,000-sf Artist Ballroom. The newly expanded Artist Ballroom can be divided into eight separate and flexible configurations. Ceiling heights in the new space reach up to 22 feet for optimal exhibition use. The property has added nearly 18,000 sf of meeting and convention space, new exterior signage along Paradise Road and the relocation of the fully functional Business Center. Hard Rock Hotel now boasts a total of nearly 110,000 sf of contiguous meeting and convention space.

Wynn Las Vegas plans to keep groups returning with several improvements, including the new $1.5 billion Wynn Paradise Park, which will begin phase-one construction by January 2018 and is scheduled for a 2019 completion. The park will include a 1,000- 2,000-room hotel tower and 260,000 sf of beachfront meeting and ballroom space overlooking a 20-acre lagoon with water sports activities, a 4,000-foot boardwalk and a white sand beach. Additionally, Wynn will offer more upscale shopping outlets with the construction of Wynn Plaza, a 75,000-sf Strip-front expansion scheduled for completion during the first quarter of 2018.

South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, which overlooks the famous Las Vegas Strip and the surrounding mountainscape, features a 52,000-sf conference center and an 80,000-sf exhibit hall. Each of the 2,100 oversized guest rooms features state-of-the-art LED televisions as well as Wi-Fi with high-speed internet connections. There are 11 restaurants, including the award-winning Michael’s Gourmet Room, the world-class Costa Del Sur Spa and Salon, a 400-seat showroom featuring headliner entertainment, a 700-seat Bingo room, a 16-screen Cinemark movie complex and a state-of-the-art 64-lane bowling center. South Point Hotel is also home to the Tournament Bowling Plaza, a multimillion-dollar professional bowling tournament facility. Unique to Las Vegas,  South Point claims one of the top equestrian event facilities in the country. The 240,000 sf of event space features three climate-controlled arenas.

The Strip’s most storied property, the Flamingo Las Vegas, has completed a $6.5 million meeting space renovation, which began in April 2017. A $90 million renovation of 1,270 guest rooms began in August, with completion scheduled for the second quarter of 2018. Caesars describes the new look as “unique, contemporary and retro-chic designs with accents that celebrate Flamingo’s rich history.” The 70-year-old hotel offers a total of more than 3,500 guest rooms and a 73,000-sf Corporate Convention Center and Executive Conference Center.

Bringing ‘Em Back for More

It’s this continued growth and variety that brings planners back to Las Vegas again and again. Messenger and Kirk are among those who point to the city’s variety of offerings for groups of all sizes and budgets as one of its greatest assets.

“Las Vegas is more than just casinos and nightlife,” Messenger says. “The art scene is growing with more options for Broadway shows and galleries popping up. The old Strip is also coming back as a destination area with additional restaurants and entertainment to check out.”

Kirk concurs. “Las Vegas has meeting options for every size group,” she says. “While our meeting is small, groups of 10,000 can be accommodated here. There are numerous shows and concerts, celebrity chef restaurants, old Las Vegas — there’s something for everyone.”

Even in a city famed for its over-the-top everything, that’s not an overstatement. AC&F

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