Associations are always looking for new ways to boost attendance at their annual meetings, and once again, Las Vegas has proven that it has the edge in that department. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has reported the results of a 2013 exhibit survey that indicate that attendance increased an average of 13 percent among trade shows surveyed when their shows rotated into Las Vegas.
Lori Marker, director of meeting management for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), has seen the power that Las Vegas has to boost attendance firsthand. The members of her Dallas-based organization are health care professionals who prevent, diagnose, treat and rehab injuries and illnesses. “This year marked our 64th convention and our largest ever with 15,500 total attendees. The appeal of the destination played a significant role in our success this year. Since 2009 (downturn of the economy), our post-convention surveys clearly show the growing importance of a destination’s appeal. Attendees are looking for education and an experience. Las Vegas remains an attractive destination for business and/or pleasure, and its international appeal resulted in a record number of international attendees at our convention.
“We believe Las Vegas also played a significant role in attracting a record 26.5 percent of first-time attendees to our convention,” she continues. “While challenging for show managers, Las Vegas’ abundance of hotels at every price point imaginable makes it an affordable destination, which also increases its appeal. Accurate perceptions of the city and misperceptions about meetings held in Las Vegas have resulted in some controversy. Recognizing this, we focused our promotional efforts on highlighting and delivering excellent education, the best products and services at our AT Expo, and the many other key elements of our convention. We avoided all references to the ‘extravagances’ of the destination.”
NATA held its annual meeting at the 3,211-room Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, an MGM Resorts International property that includes a three-level, 1.7 million-sf convention center. Marker explains why NATA chose this particular property. “Athletic training is a close-knit profession, and the ability of a majority of our attendees to sleep, learn and network under one roof at Mandalay Bay also played a role in our success.” She also appreciated the streamlined overflow hotel contract process she was able to take advantage of with other MGM hotels nearby and the “excellent convention sales and services, and banquet personnel who were invested in our success.” She noted another important distinction: “Mandalay Bay’s philosophy of focusing on meetings and conventions, and delivery of exceptional service to its customers and their attendees. You never feel second fiddle to casino and entertainment operations within the facility.”
Marker also commented on Mandalay Bay’s family-friendly attractions such as the Shark Reef Aquarium and Mandalay Bay Beach. “If there’s such a thing as a family-friendly hotel in Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay is it,” she says. “This was very important for our attendees bringing their families.”
Mandalay Bay recently introduced its Seascape Ballroom, which offers dramatic views of the Shark Reef Aquarium. The 1,675-sf venue can accommodate up to 125 guests.
The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), headquartered in Springfield, VA, held its spring conference for approximately 125 attendees at another MGM Resorts International hotel, the 5,044-room MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. “It was a wonderful experience,” says Cindy Atwood, CVTA’s deputy director, lauding the excellent service she received from the hotel staff.
“We use a lot of meeting space (for the size of our group). It’s always a good challenge with us, but we were lucky that they were able to accommodate us, and they did so quite well. The MGM Grand really rose to the occasion. They were amazing.”
Last year, the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (arvc) held its annual conference and expo for more than 500 attendees at the 2,522-room Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, a Caesars Entertainment property located off The Strip. “It was nice to be a little bit out of the fray,” explains Jennifer Schwartz, arvc’s senior director, marketing communications and partnerships. “Parking was really convenient, and that was important to our members.
“Their onsite staff is very attentive and super friendly,” she continues. “All of them were very empowered to help. And the food was amazing. The VIP suite accommodations are a nice upgrade — very roomy and conducive to having smaller meetings or hosting hospitality suites.” In May, the Rio unveiled 380 redesigned Samba Suites, which are located in the hotel’s Masquerade Tower. The new 600-sf suites feature a vivid teal and orange color scheme, and upgraded bathrooms with granite countertops and walk-in showers.
Schwartz says that the Rio’s meeting space is a “healthy distance” from the main lobby and guest rooms, but that once attendees get there, due to arvc’s full daily agendas, they have little reason to go back to their rooms. “The configuration of the expo and meeting space is nice. We were able to have a centralized registration area, and that was really great.”
She says that one key advantage of meeting in Las Vegas is the good airlift. “It’s very affordable, and there are frequent flights from major locations across the U.S. They’ve made some great upgrades to the airport. I used to think that all you do in Vegas is wait in line, and that’s different now. I didn’t wait in a line once at the airport. It’s easier to get in and out of now. It’s a beautiful new airport.” Just over a year ago, McCarran International Airport opened Terminal 3. The technologically advanced, 1.9-million-sf terminal was designed to improve the travel experience for visitors arriving in Las Vegas as well as to handle the increasing traffic from international visitors.
Greg Nockleby, international marketing and PR manager for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) based in Colorado Springs, CO, says his organization meets frequently in Las Vegas. “Las Vegas is, as we all know, the conference capital of the United States,” he says. “It does offer something for everyone.”
NSCA recently held its annual national conference at the 2,916-room Paris Las Vegas, a Caesars Entertainment hotel. “It’s the most affordable one on The Strip in the center of The Strip,” he explains. “As far as a caliber Strip hotel, it’s a good midway point both in location and price for our members.” The conference draws 2,000-3,000 attendees every year.
He adds that the fact that Las Vegas is a 24-hour city is a distinct advantage. “There are some niceties about having a 24 hour city — everything is so accessible. There’s no waiting for taxis, for example, whereas in other cities, you may have to wait or call for one. Vegas actually offers more of a concierge experience compared to other cities.”
The city’s $2.5 billion development of the new Las Vegas Global Business District will add a new dimension to its identity — as the innovator and leader in delivering 21st century infrastructure that reinforces the value and productivity of face-to-face meetings. To be completed in three phases over the next decade, the project will first focus on the renovation and expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the creation of a convention district campus.
During the past two years, more than $20 million in improvements were completed at the Las Vegas Convention Center: The façade of the center was painted two different shades of gray, and the interior was painted; the green parking lot was expanded, and designs are underway on two more parking lots to allow for more convenience and access; more than 1 million sf of new red carpet was installed inside; lighting was upgraded in the Central and North Halls and delivers up to 20 percent more light with 42 percent less energy; Starbucks added a double-sided counter inside its recently expanded store, resulting in faster service; and American Express opened its Open Business Lounge inside the main entrance of the center.
Designated in 2011 as an official World Trade Center site through an agreement between the LVCVA and the Consumer Electronics Association, the second phase is the creation of a dedicated World Trade Center facility to attract more meetings and conventions to the destination.
A centralized transportation hub designed to improve connectivity in the resort corridor and improve the overall customer experience is the third and final stage of the project.
Sustainability is a necessity in the nation’s No. 1 trade show destination: In 2012, the LVCVA set a record by recycling 68 percent of the 3,288 tons of materials discarded at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Cashman Center. According to the LVCVA, this represents the equivalent of 14.5 Statues of Liberty or 651 school buses in terms of the amount of material that has been diverted from the landfill.
And in another recent development, Malaysia-based Genting Group announced the acquisition of the partially completed Echelon project from Boyd Gaming. The once highly touted project, on the former site of the Stardust Hotel, fell apart during the recession after construction had begun. Genting, which operates casinos in Singapore and New York, bought the project for less than $500 million and will invest an additional $1.5 billion to develop an 87-acre, Asian-themed casino hotel complex — complete with a replica of the Great Wall of China — under its Resorts World brand. The new 3,500-room property is expected to open in 2016.
MGM Resorts International is partnering with AEG to build a new $350 million, 20,000 seat arena, which will be part of a revitalization project being planned for the area between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts. Groundbreaking is scheduled for the spring of 2014 with a grand opening projected for spring of 2016.
Caesars Entertainment is in the midst of completing the Linq — a $550 million outdoor dining, entertainment and retail district that will be anchored by the High Roller — a 550-foot-high observation wheel fitted with 28 giant glass-enclosed cabins.
Groups with members who just can’t bear to leave Fido at home will be happy to learn that Vdara Hotel & Spa recently launched its V-Dog program, which allows guests to bring a furry friend of 70 pounds or less. The canine-friendly program includes a freshly baked dog treat, a 24-hour dog park and an in-suite doggie dining menu. A select group of suites has been set aside for those with canine companions so as to not disturb other guests. Vdara also recently debuted its new Silk Road meeting/event venue, which features views of Aria Resort & Casino. The 6,400-sf space accommodates up to 200 attendees and is comprised of a 3,700-sf ballroom and 900-sf breakout room.
South Point Hotel & Spa, the United States Bowling Congress (USBC), Las Vegas Events, and the LVCVA announced a 12-year deal to host several annual USBC events, both citywide and inside a new, $30 million bowling tournament facility with more than 60 lanes at South Point, which is expected to be completed by fall 2015. The property’s current bowling center annually hosts top events such as the World Series of Bowling.
Caesars Palace has unveiled its new Nobu Hotel Suites. Ideal for VIPs or private events for five to 45 guests, the 18 luxurious suites offer a special menu featuring the cuisine of celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
Another new hotel-within-a-hotel, set to debut in early 2014, is the 1,100-room, all-suite Delano, the newest addition to Mandalay Bay, taking the place of THEhotel.
The completely renovated Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton is one of the few remaining landmark properties from the 1950s golden age of Las Vegas. After a $200 million transformation, the Tropicana recently announced plans to significantly expand its meeting and convention facilities to more than 100,000 sf. Currently offering more than 60,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space, the conference center at Tropicana Las Vegas can accommodate large events for up to 3,000 delegates. The hotel will build five 650-sf breakout rooms on the second floor of the Club Tower, adding to its three ballrooms, which comprise 19 breakout rooms in the conference center. Additionally, the resort will expand the Tropicana Pavilion, which is a wing of Tropicana Las Vegas’ conference center. When combined with existing space in the Tropicana Pavilion, the venue will offer more than 55,000 sf that can be used for large exhibits and general sessions.
Las Vegas Sands Corp., the parent company of The Venetian and The Palazzo five-diamond luxury resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, is expanding its green meetings offerings as part of its Sands ECO360 Meetings program that was launched in 2011. New additions to the program include the services of a “Green Meeting Concierge” and the availability of a “Sands ECO360 Event Impact Statement,” a report that documents a meeting’s sustainability performance. It also offers groups the option to participate in volunteer projects where they engage with the local community.
Ground has been broken for a new attraction called Dinner in the Sky Las Vegas. Definitely not for acrophobics, the new venue will serve meals to up to 22 diners suspended 180 feet in the air on each of two open-air tables weighing nearly seven tons.
Remember those massive neon marquees that used to light up the city’s original iconic hotels on the Vegas Strip back in the day? Well, they’ve been retired to the city’s Neon Museum. Evening tours are now being offered at the “Neon Boneyard,” where the signs are uplit for dramatic effect. The venue also offers a 3,500-sf outdoor space for private events.
A popular venue that is also available to host private events, The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, is now offering guided 90-minute tours during regular business hours. The museum offers a fascinating look at organized crime through the lives and artifacts of famous figures such as Al Capone, “Lucky” Luciano, John Gotti, “Bugsy” Siegle and Sam Giancana, as well as the famous undercover agents who made a career of fighting the Mob.
With so many properties in Las Vegas to choose from, where do you begin? “Be strategic in selecting your host property,” Marker advises. “Understand its location on the Las Vegas strip and proximity to other hotels, entertainment and attractions that can lure your attendees away. Most importantly, find a property that’s willing to work with you to meet your group’s unique needs. Talk to other meeting planners and also vendors like GSCs, AV service providers, etc., about their experiences in Las Vegas. The more insights you have, the better positioned you’ll be to make the best decisions.
“Knowing your attendees and their demographics is crucial,” she continues. “Will Las Vegas be an appealing destination? Can you develop an affordable and attractive convention package for your attendees? If they are a social and close-knit group, can you offer a convention package that keeps everyone close together with entertainment and restaurant options onsite or very close by? And, if they are social, consider adjusting your meeting schedule to provide time outside of your event to explore the city.”
Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, which offers 2,000 guest rooms and the largest casino in northern Nevada, is under new ownership and undergoing a $25 million renovation. As a nod to nostalgia, the resort displays the chandelier from the original MGM Hotel and Casino. The renovation project includes upgrades to the lobby and guest rooms, a new ultra lounge and restaurant, a nightclub, luxury concierge level and racquetball court. Grand Sierra’s 200,000 sf of meeting space also will be included in the renovation.
The south end of the 500,000-sf Reno-Sparks Convention Center is being repurposed into Film Reno Tahoe, a new division of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA). The new facility will contain three huge, clear-span stages designed for building film sets as well as production offices in an effort to attract its share of the billions of dollars of movie and TV productions that are currently going to other states.
To encourage planners to experience the meetings and entertainment facilities the Reno Tahoe area has to offer, the RSCVA is offering a “Come See. Fly Free.” promotion. They’ll even make a charitable donation in the planner’s name, just for making a site visit.
Marker shared a few suggestions for association planners considering booking Las Vegas for the first time. “First and foremost, you have to know your convention, and perhaps most importantly, know your attendees. There’s a plethora of hotel/facility options to choose from. Educate yourself about the city (not many people realize the Las Vegas strip is 4+ miles long!) and hotel/facility options. Understand that it is not easy to hop from one hotel or destination to another due to underestimated distances and cost.” Given the destination’s track record of boosting attendance, she offered another piece of very valuable advice. “Look for flexible space as you may have to adjust your plan in response to record numbers.” AC&F