Two things come up consistently when planners discuss Las Vegas as a meeting destination. First, the city has such extensive airlift it’s a great place to meet regardless of where in the country or the world attendees are located. Second, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is one of the top CVBs in the business.
But Las Vegas isn’t Nevada’s only excellent meeting destination. The Reno-Tahoe area offers an entirely different vibe that meets the needs of many groups.
Christine Pauley, CAE, CMP, CEM, director of Meetings & Conferences at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), is clear on the assets of Las Vegas. Her organization’s Educational Symposium & Annual Governance & House of Delegates Meeting, with 700 in attendance, met at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa for many reasons. “Obviously, Las Vegas has one of the best lifts in the country. It’s easy-in, easy-out from almost anywhere. And, of course, it has that special cachet; it immediately evokes thoughts of fun, entertainment, fine dining and just general excitement. Las Vegas gives the feel of vacation along with business — it’s one of those destinations that a person wants to go to, even though it’s for work,” she says.
Pauley also points to the LVCVA, saying, “In my opinion, Las Vegas has one of the best CVBs in the country. They’re always available and willing to help, no matter the size of the program.”
Naturally, not every group chooses to be on The Strip. Fortunately, Las Vegas provides excellent options for those who want access to The Strip, as well as a little distance from it. Red Rock is one of those options.
“The main reason we chose the Red Rock Resort was because of its quality,” Pauley says. “Sleeping rooms are spacious and beautiful, and the meeting space is up-to-date, flexible and lovely. We were able to house all of our attendees at the resort, which is important to us. We liked the fact that the resort itself is off The Strip, but that The Strip is easily accessible for those who wish to go. We felt that Red Rock Resort gave our attendees an upscale experience that they truly enjoyed.”
From staff to F&B, Pauley says the resort delivers. “The staff is amazing. They’re completely customer-service focused. And the food is outstanding; many of our attendees commented on it.”
In terms of advice to those considering Las Vegas, Pauley says it’s all about communication. “Talk to the CVB. The staff is helpful, available and can provide a lot of resources and ideas. And if you’re going to plan a meeting at a venue off the Strip, such as Red Rock, be sure to be open and communicative with your attendees. We emphasized that it was the best of both worlds — a beautiful resort with hiking trails, jeep tours, horseback riding and beautiful scenery, not to mention great shopping and dining in downtown Summerlin, but also with easy access to The Strip when they wanted that experience.”
Ken Shilson, president and founder of the National Association of Buy Here Pay Here Dealers (NABD), says his alliance has met in Las Vegas for more than 20 consecutive years. Now that NABD has merged with the National Independent Auto Dealers Association, that combined group is still meeting in Las Vegas. One reason it works so well for them, Shilson says, is also the airlift. “It’s a destination with so many direct flight connections. We have members all over the United States and some international locations, and virtually all those destinations offer direct flights to and from Las Vegas,” he says.
He also agrees that the LVCVA is a critical partner. “We utilize their staff and ask them for printing materials. They help us send out RFPs, they connect us to the right people at the hotels and they help us find the right space.”
Because the group is mandated to move hotels every four years, they’ve been based in many Las Vegas properties, including Wynn Las Vegas, Caesars Palace and, later this year, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Shilson has the highest praise for Wynn, where the group has stayed multiple times and, in fact, is currently negotiating to stay there multiple years in the future.
“Wynn is a tremendous facility,” he says. “The people in sales and the convention support services are absolutely outstanding. I think they’re the best in Las Vegas. In particular, we truly value the national sales manager at LVCVA, who has coordinated the relationship between NABD and LVCVA for 10 years or more. He gets us in touch with whomever and whatever we need at LVCVA.”
Wynn’s convention space is another plus for Shilson, who says, “The space is ideal for us because our exhibit hall and education sessions can be right next to each other. We’ve found that when the two are separated, attendees can get lost or distracted.”
With a group of approximately 2,500 attendees, Shilson says the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), while excellent, is just too big for them. That’s why they like convention space at the hotels. Shilson encourages anyone planning a meeting in Las Vegas to contact the LVCVA. “For one thing, the LVCVA works with some of the best meeting planners in the world, bringing them out there to get to know the city and network with other planners, so top planners know Las Vegas.”
Moreover, he says, “No one knows more about events in Las Vegas than people living there, and that makes the LVCVA the experts in the area. We absolutely would not have been as successful without their assistance.”
One challenge for groups less familiar with the city is that there are so many options in terms of hotels and other venues. “Reach out to the LVCVA first and they’ll help you get to the right place and meet the right people for your group,” Shilson advises. “For us, for example, there are only four or so properties that are really right. The LVCVA, along with GES, our exhibit services company, really helped us identify them by doing a comprehensive assessment first.”
Wynn, which already impresses, will do so even more with its two-level expansion of its meeting and convention space. It recently added 300,000 sf, bringing its total to 560,000 sf, including 57 flexible meeting rooms, an outdoor pavilion with adjacent lawn and four pillar-less ballrooms. Just like the existing space, the new space is powered by 100% renewable energy. Wynn also introduced a new Zero Carbon, Zero Waste event service, a newly conceived spa, and the resort’s Tom Fazio golf course reopened last fall after an extensive redesign.
The Anti-Defamation League held its annual Imagine a World Without Hate Gala for more than 500 at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. They chose Paris because Caesars Entertainment is a “dedicated partner.”
Courtney Kravitz, associate director of development with the Anti-Defamation League, held its annual Imagine a World Without Hate Gala for more than 500 at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino last November. This event is always held in Las Vegas, where the organization’s office is based. However, being local doesn’t necessarily guarantee finding exactly the right fit for an event. In this case, it’s no problem.
Paris Las Vegas is part of the Caesars Entertainment portfolio, and Kravitz calls Caesars a “dedicated partner” with which to work. “The Anti-Defamation League is very honored to have developed a relationship with Caesars Entertainment. Caesars’ commitment to diversity and inclusion match ADL’s values and strengthen the partnership. ADL is appreciative of the supportive role they play for nonprofits throughout the state of Nevada,” says Kravitz. “From an event planning perspective, I’ve found them to be extremely responsive, accommodating to our needs and truly go above and beyond what is asked. Their entire staff take ownership and pride in the events they host and it shows.”
Another nice thing about working with Caesars, she says, is
“the connections they have with outside vendors from décor to A/V make it easier to coordinate and make the ‘day of’ go smoothly.”
Kravitz says the layout of Paris Las Vegas is ideal for the group’s event. “We specifically like the Paris Hotel for our gala due to its location once you get into the hotel. The accessibility for our guests truly makes all the difference. All they need to do is come down the escalators, make a left and the room is right there. That’s just not the case with most hotels.”
Association management companies may have multiple clients for which a city might work as a convention destination, and that’s the case with Kellen, which has brought multiple associations to Las Vegas. Phelps Hope, CMP, senior vice president, Meetings & Expositions with Kellen, calls Las Vegas, “as unique a destination as can be found in the USA.” Yet, it’s not for everyone.
“We find that either groups are open to meeting there, very keen to meet there or absolutely will not consider Las Vegas for their conference,” Hope says. “For those groups that will consider Las Vegas, it is a fabulous destination because of the variety of entertainment, restaurants and attractions, people-watching and because of its uniqueness. The city also offers a wide range of group housing, from very affordable to extreme luxury. If the group is somewhat flexible with their desired conference dates, we typically can find a property that fits their budget.”
In addition to utilizing what the hotels and resorts offer, Kellen groups have also held offsite events at Las Vegas restaurants. “We recently held a small group function at Hell’s Kitchen, the restaurant by Gordon Ramsay,” Hope says. “We chose this restaurant not just on the reputation of the food and service, which is exceptional, but because of the added entertainment value the restaurant provides due to the competitive theme of the red team versus blue team with the kitchen staff and service personnel, which provided another benefit of entertainment for our group.”
Like others who meet in Las Vegas, Hope says Kellen meeting organizers always start the meeting process with the LVCVA. “They are the ones that help guide us to the new venues and attractions and help us avoid bookings that perhaps are not actually suitable for our specific group. They’re also very helpful in promoting our meeting if we need additional support, and the LVCVA helps to lend a voice to our overall booking potential, which helps us with negotiations.”
He says groups that met in Las Vegas ranged in size from 150 to 1,200 attendees, and the hotels Kellen-managed associations have used include Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Paris Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, The Mirage Hotel & Casino, The Venetian Las Vegas, Bellagio Resort & Casino, Wynn/Encore Las Vegas and MGM Grand. “We have a checklist we build for each specific group with their priorities listed in order so we can best select the hotel or venue that suits their specific needs. Priorities might include proximity to The Strip or definitely away from The Strip,” Hope says. “Perhaps the variety of restaurants within the hotel or venue is a priority for a group, or the entertainment available in-house matters. Whatever it may be, once we’re clear on that specific group’s priorities, we can then enlist the LVCVA to help guide us to the best-suited properties.”
While it’s true that some organizations consider the distractions of Las Vegas a non-issue, others need to work around them. “The greatest challenge Las Vegas holds for any of our groups is the massive amount of distractions,” Hope notes, “such as late-night entertainment, nightclubs, attractions and so on. This puts more pressure on us as the organizers to clearly highlight the value proposition and messaging of the meeting content, the benefits of attending all the sessions and events of the conference, and guiding the attendees rather than having them venture out on their own during the hours of the conference.”
That leads Hope to his best advice for meeting planners and groups working on a conference in Las Vegas. “Be aware that your overall attendance numbers, registration and room block will be higher than in most other destinations; however, you will likely see a drop off in the sessions due to the variety of competing distractions offered in the city. This simply means you have to work harder in your conference design and messaging to make your conference more important than those distractions.”
Over at Tropicana Las Vegas — a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, a new upscale lounge will be of interest to some groups. The Trago Lounge opened last year with a contemporary, elegant vibe. It offers an extensive selection of fine spirits, as well as talented mixologists who can create inventive cocktails for any palate, pre-dinner or after all the conference events wrap up, and it’s available for buyouts.
ARIA Resort & Casino offers a variety of deluxe guest rooms and suites that provide a choice of mountain views or views of The Strip. For meetings and conventions, there are more than 500,000 sf of versatile event spaces, which includes seven ballrooms ranging from 17,500 to 51,000 sf. Five of the ballrooms have fully functioning theatrical stages. For foodies, ARIA’s culinary offerings include award-winning restaurants CATCH, Carbone, Jean Georges Steakhouse, Bardot Brasserie and Sage.
Reno is aptly nicknamed The Biggest Little City in the World. It offers the ease, convenience and friendliness of a small city but many of the amenities of a much larger urban area. In fact, it offers easy access to one of the country’s most spectacular lakes and mountains to play on, a choice of ski areas and gaming.
There are more than 16,000 hotel rooms, and it goes without saying that the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority is an excellent resource for planners. In fact, the Authority owns four of the area’s top meeting venues — the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, the Reno Events Center, the National Bowling Stadium and the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center.
Reno has two projects on tap that will likely be of interest to groups. One is the revitalization of the old CitiCenter station and surrounding area, including upgrading the Reno Event Center and National Bowling Stadium, and adding a non-gaming hotel and multiuse spaces. City approval is pending. The other project is the revitalization of Reno’s Industrial Center.
Whether your association is looking for a Las Vegas experience or a meeting in Reno close to the natural attractions of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada, the state of Nevada has you covered. | AC&F |