Las Vegas continues to be one of the hottest meeting destinations around. Last year it hosted nearly 22,000 meetings with 6.3 million delegates, a new record. In March, Trade Show News Network named it America’s No. 1 trade show destination for the 23rd year in a row. Planners pick Las Vegas not only for its plethora of venues, but its easy access to the entertainment, restaurants, shopping and, increasingly, sports. Easy access to air transportation and warm weather only add to the community’s appeal.
But Las Vegas isn’t Nevada’s only outstanding destination. The Reno/Sparks/Lake Tahoe region is holding its own as a great place to host meetings. Associations nervous about the distractions of Sin City, or interested in entertainment options centered on outdoor recreation and the West’s colorful history, would be wise to look north for their meeting needs.
“The level of service at Wynn is just unmatched. With convention services, I was lucky to have the same person for all four years, and he was amazing.
— Barbara Rapp
One of the biggest things that draws planners to Las Vegas is the sheer availability of meeting space and sleeping rooms. It already has more venues and bigger venues than most other U.S. cities, and it seems a new destination is always on the horizon. “In the next few years we’re going to see about half a million square feet of new meeting space come online,” says Chris Meyer, CEM, CMP, vice president of global business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Aria Resort & Casino is adding 200,000 sf of meeting space with many high-tech features. Wynn Resorts is adding 1,000–2,000 hotel rooms and 260,000 sf of conference facilities as part of their new Paradise Park development. In addition, the Las Vegas Convention Center plans to add 600,000 sf of new exhibit space and 100,000 sf of meeting space in the future.
Given Las Vegas’ dependence on the hospitality industry — tourism is the No. 1 economic driver, generating an estimated $59 billion a year and supporting 407,000 jobs — locals know how to treat visitors right. Planners repeatedly tout the exceptional customer service and quality of local hotels and convention centers.
Barbara Rapp is the assistant vice president for housing and leadership events at the National Association of Home Builders. The association has hosted its annual International Builders’ Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the last four years, most recently in 2016. The Wynn has served as the headquarters hotel and hosted VIP sleeping rooms and receptions, dinners and pre-show events. The association also has booked about 1,500 to 1,600 rooms at the Encore and Wynn.
“The level of service there is just unmatched,” Rapp says of the Wynn. “With convention services, I was lucky to have the same person for all four years, and he was amazing. It was the same in the housing area for reservations — we had the same person over the years. That was great for me, because when you have the same people every year, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and you develop professional relationships with these individuals, which is key when something comes up where one side or the other needs assistance or to resolve an issue.”
Both hotels had an attention to detail that Rapp appreciated. “Even if you go into the public restrooms, nothing is out of place,” she says. “Everything is clean and nothing is out of place. It’s a level that’s above anything else I’ve seen. It’s one of the nicest hotels I’ve visited in all my travels. The fact that this hotel has so many rooms and keeps that level of service and quality is just amazing.”
The Wynn and Encore are on The Strip, which made accessing entertainment and shopping easy, Rapp says. For people who didn’t want to venture too far from their rooms, the hotels had excellent and diverse dining options. Even though the property felt quite luxurious, the rates were in line with many other hotels in the area.
William Piché, marketing and events manager for the Novi, Michigan-based Chain Drug Marketing Association, also had high praise for his event property. The association hosted its 92nd annual trade exposition, a three-day event that draws approximately 350 people, at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa for the second year in 2017. They plan to return in 2018.
“I like the size and cleanliness of the facility,” he adds. “The ballroom that we hold our events in is always top-notch. The other biggest pull for me is the rooms. The hotel rooms are double the size you usually get. The amenities are great. The spa is nice, and the pool area is really nice in the summer.
“All of our attendees complimented the hotel on how good guest relations were,” he adds. “Vegas is such a tourist town, so a lot of the people you deal with from when you get to the airport to when you leave — there’s a different mentality. There’s a more hospitable, welcoming feeling.” He also had the experience of dealing with the same staff for multiple years, which says something about the way the hotel treats its employees, he notes.
South Point isn’t on The Strip, but some attendees appreciate that. “It offers Vegas without being Vegas,” Piché says. “It’s such a relaxed atmosphere away from all the hustle and bustle and craziness.” Those who were looking forward to experiencing the town’s energy and entertainment could catch a shuttle bus to The Strip.
For associations that lack the budget to hire musicians or other performers, those entertainment options provide a real advantage. “If your guests want offsite entertainment, it’s Las Vegas, so there’s a wide selection,” says Sylvia Done, events and sales development manager for the Receivables Management Association (formerly known as DBA International). Their three-day annual meeting, which draws 900 to 1,200 attendees and 100 trade show exhibitors, was at the Aria Resort & Casino in 2016 and is booked at the facility through 2019. “Your meeting can be small in size but you still get a big bang just by being in Las Vegas itself.”
Las Vegas will welcome the Oakland Raiders NFL franchise beginning as early as 2019. “For meetings it works out well, because it gives us another opportunity for businesses to entertain their customers,” Meyer says. The Vegas Golden Knights, a new National Hockey League franchise, will begin playing in Las Vegas in the coming season. And NASCAR recently announced it’s bringing a second tripleheader weekend to Las Vegas, making it the only city to host two such races every year.
Non-sports fans can see Bruno Mars, Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys and many other acts this year. Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey are doing joint standup shows at the SLS Las Vegas.
The ease of travel to and from Southern Nevada is another attractive feature. “The reason we’re in Las Vegas is it’s got a good airport, which is important because our attendees come from all over the U.S.,” says Done. “We never have weather-related issues in Las Vegas. It’s a good hub.”
“We’ve almost finished the expansion to the international gates at the airport,” Meyer says. “We’ve been so successful at attracting new international service that the airport is upgrading and adding seven new gates.” A nonstop flight from Beijing is performing so well that it soon will be available daily. On the domestic side, Frontier Airlines recently announced that they’re adding four new flights to Las Vegas, including service from Washington, DC, and Indianapolis.
Ground transportation inside the region also has improved in recent years, says Rapp with the National Association of Home Builders. “Years ago you’d be standing in long taxi lines. Now those long lines go quickly, and they’ve put in areas for Uber and Lyft.” The Clark County commission recently approved an expansion of the monorail, which will allow passengers to ride it to the city’s soon-to-be-built football stadium.
Las Vegas is such a draw that planners sometimes forget Nevada’s other prime destination. Reno, Sparks and the nearby Lake Tahoe region offer many of the same advantages as Las Vegas, but with a different feel and setting. “Nevada is now the second-fastest growing state economically in the U.S.,” says Phil DeLone, president and CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. “In Northern Nevada we’ve had 400 to 500 new companies move here in just the last several years.”
That growth means good things for the community’s infrastructure. Reno’s airport and air service have grown significantly in recent years. There are now nonstop flights from New York and Atlanta, and nonstop service to Chicago is coming soon. There are more good restaurants and shopping venues than in years past.
“Our hotel products are all either fresh or new,” says DeLone. “The Grand Sierra Resort just spent millions renovating its 2,000-room property. The Nugget in Sparks is undergoing a $25 million top-to-bottom renovation with all new guest rooms and suites and a completely remodeled convention facility. The convention center itself was recently upgraded. We spent over $1 million just upgrading the Wi-Fi so it has state-of-the-art 10G capability.”
Like Las Vegas, Reno has casinos, big-name music acts and good nightlife. One of the areas where it differs is its access to outdoor recreation. Lake Tahoe, which is 40 minutes from downtown Reno, has the highest concentration of ski resorts in North America. The lake can be used for boating, fishing, swimming, standup paddleboarding and more. The region has 30 golf courses and places for hiking, biking and other activities.
The lure of the outdoors drew the National Watermelon Association to Lake Tahoe. It hosted its 103rd annual convention at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino in Incline Village. The 400+ members who typically attend the conference often bring their extended families, so the association tries to hold its meetings in places where everyone can enjoy themselves, says executive director Bob Morrissey. Nearly all of the association’s members live in the southern United States, so meetings tend to stay south of the Mason-Dixon line. However, once in a while they travel farther north to give people an excuse to do some snow sports.
Their experience in Lake Tahoe was an excellent one. “We couldn’t have asked for a better property,” Morrissey says. “The Hyatt Regency is a beautiful hotel. We try to get into a property where we have our own floor if it’s a large property, or are the major or only group in-house,” he continues. “That worked extremely well. We were the only event on property.”
That may be part of the reason the onsite staff was so responsive. Morrissey says they saw the director of sales and general manager every day. Both gave out their personal cell phone numbers in case the group needed anything. “They’ve got a great staff,” he says. “One of the best — if not the best property staff — that we’ve ever worked with.”
Entertainment was never a problem. Members had ample opportunities for snowboarding and skiing at the nearby resorts. The local CVB set up a snowboarding adventure, which quickly sold out. “The casino did a good job,” says Morrissey of the onsite gambling venue. “People went down in the evenings and really enjoyed themselves. It was clean and comfortable. The spa is incredible. The Lone Eagle Grill across the street was exceptional.” Thanks to these and other amenities, the Reno meeting had the highest attendance of any Watermelon Board meeting held west of Texas.
A different set of qualities drew the Western States Sheriffs Association (WSSA) to Reno for their 2015 and 2016 annual training conference and vendor exhibition. The association was chartered in Nevada and is required to host one meeting per year there. They moved from Reno to Las Vegas several years ago because of ease of travel, says executive director Jim Pond, but chose to come back to Reno in 2015.
“Las Vegas was starting to get a stigma, particularly in public service, as a party town,” he says. “It’s difficult for some of our sheriffs to justify going to a conference there. Reno doesn’t have that stigma of a destination where it’s all entertainment and not business.” Cost was another factor in the decision; the association found that destinations in Reno were more affordable.
WSSA selected the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino as the site for their meeting after looking at several venues. “It was a difficult choice for us because all properties were very nice,” Pond says. “They all offered what we needed. The Peppermill offered the best service for our needs, and it’s a very nice destination. The amenities are great. We had a lot of good comments from our attendees as well as our business partners that attended. They liked the property and were very pleased with the service they got there.”
In 2015, WSSA planned a shooting event at a local gun club that went very well. “They were outstanding in their support of our association and helped put on that event,” Pond says. In 2016 the association organized a bus trip to Virginia City, a historic gold and silver mining town, which also was quite successful.
Other attendees enjoyed shopping at The Outlets at Sparks, a local outlet mall, or visiting local restaurants, nightclubs and other entertainment venues. “Their whole experience was very positive,” Pond says.
According to Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn in a late April earnings call, the Wynn board of directors has approved phase one construction of the new Wynn Paradise Park that will begin in December 2017 or January 2018. The master-planned park will replace the Wynn Golf Club with a 1,000- 2,000-room hotel tower and 260,000 sf of beachfront meeting and ballroom space overlooking a 20-acre lagoon — offering water sports activities — and a white sand beach and 4,000-foot boardwalk. Cabanas, attractions and food service also are planned. The phased $1.5 billion project is slated for a 2019 completion. And this fall, Wynn Plaza — a 75,000-sf luxury retail hub bordering Las Vegas Boulevard — will debut.
Just 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip in Henderson, Nevada is a more serene, lakeside destination — The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa. The resort, which was purchased in late 2015 by Pacifica Host Hotels, is currently undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation. The hotel is updating and renovating all guest rooms, as well as adding new carpeting and wall sconces in the common areas outside of the guest rooms. Work is expected to wrap up in late summer or early fall. The 493-room Westin offers more than 100,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting and event space, which includes a 20,000-sf ballroom and 30 flexible spaces, as well as gardens and lawns, terraces, poolside decks and lakeside beaches. Golf is a big draw for the resort, which offers access to three courses including the Jack Nicklaus-designed, 18-hole, Reflection Bay golf course.
The 1,003-room Plaza Hotel & Casino, which has the largest ballroom in downtown Las Vegas at 19,000 sf, is currently conducting a multimillion-dollar renovation to the 30,000 sf of ballroom and convention space located on its third floor. This renovation is on track to be completed this June and will include numerous upgrades including partitioning, lighting, projection capabilities and a new portable stage, new carpeting, new readerboards with smartphone download technology, and new banquet facilities and menus.
The Plaza also plans to expand its convention space with 12,000 sf of additional breakout rooms and a new business center to open fall 2017.
Earlier this year, the Plaza opened the Plaza Event Center, a nearly 5,000-sf special event space located adjacent to the casino floor with 18 large screen HD televisions, two projectors and a state-of-the-art sound system. The multipurpose space can accommodate approximately 200 guests in a variety of flexible seating options. With two stages, the Plaza Event Center also can host live entertainment for audiences of up to 300 people. Available for private parties, such as conferences and corporate events, the space complements the Plaza’s existing ballroom and convention space.
The Plaza also added furnishing upgrades to its rooftop pool and recreation deck, which were renovated last summer. In addition, five hotel suites that open directly onto the pool deck were completely upgraded to conform with the hotel’s “retro Palm Springs meets classic downtown Las Vegas” feel.
Caesars Entertainment has added newly renovated suites to its luxury accommodations collection across its portfolio of Las Vegas resorts. As part of Caesars Suites, formerly Anthology Suites, more than 2,000 suites and villas are available to view and book online via one comprehensive new website, www.CaesarsSuites.com. And Caesars Entertainment recently launched Las Vegas’ first interactive video gaming experience. Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino is the first property to receive the machine from Gamblit Gaming. Others will be added soon. Players can choose from two games: Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure, which is similar to blackjack but with a pirate-themed twist.
To meet the needs of their growing clientele, Mandalay Bay’s Convention Center recently expanded by 350,000 sf to a total of more than 2 million sf, enabling Mandalay Bay to accommodate existing customer growth needs as well as to attract new corporate and association business. The expansion added new exhibit space, ballrooms and underground parking, and the project creates one of the most flexible, customer-focused convention facilities in North America.
At a cost of $70 million, the expansion also included a bandwidth increase to accommodate more attendees and allow for the most advanced presentations, while allowing seamless connectivity from convention space to public spaces to guest rooms. In spring 2016, the final phase of a resort-wide remodel of more than 3,000 guest rooms and suites was completed.
Aria Resort & Casino is in the midst of a $154 million expansion of its convention center that will add 200,000 sf of technologically advanced, flexible meeting space across four stories, highlighted by stunning indoor/open-air spaces and a glass-enclosed venue with dramatic views of The Park and new T-Mobile Arena. With the completion of the expansion, Aria will feature more than 500,000 sf of meeting space. Construction began in May 2016 with anticipated completion in February 2018.
Owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and Harveys Lake Tahoe Resort Casino are located on the south shore of America’s largest alpine lake and surrounded by America’s largest concentration of ski resorts. The hotels are just a few minutes’ walk from the high-speed gondola at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
Harrah’s 18-story, 512-room hotel features a recently added floor of luxury suites, and a renovated lobby, casino and showroom/nightclub. A remodel of every guest room was completed in spring 2016. The Special Events Center was completely remodeled just last year, including all new furniture, fixtures and equipment, plus a new, state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. The 17,500-sf facility can be divided into multiple meeting and convention spaces and can accommodate more than 850 attendees in a banquet setting; 1,200 theater style; or 600 classroom style.
Located right across the highway and connected to Harrah’s by tunnel, Harveys Resort Casino has 742 guest rooms in two towers — the Lake and newly remodeled Mountain Tower. Founded in 1944 as a small café and gas station with three slot machines, Harvey is the oldest ongoing — and now the largest — casino operation at Lake Tahoe. The resort has 17,000 sf of convention and meeting space that accommodates up to 1,100 people; and 650 in a banquet setting.
Eldorado Resorts, which owns Silver Legacy, Eldorado Reno and Circus Circus Reno, is investing more than $50 million in the three properties. Silver Legacy is opening Canter’s Delicatessen, a branch of the popular Los Angeles deli, and upgrading guest bathrooms. Eldorado is remodeling its guest rooms, redesigning the luxury spa and adding a new Hidden Pizza restaurant. Circus Circus plans to revamp guest rooms and public spaces, remodel its buffet and café, and add Kokopelli’s Cantina, which will serve Japanese and Mexican fusion cuisine.
Last year Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno celebrated 45 years in operation, serving meeting attendees and other guests. For the occasion, the resort redesigned some of its spaces and venues, including Edge, providing an intimate but vibrant nightlife experience. Lighting, soft goods and LED panels were among the changes. Six video walls also were installed throughout the property to bring the world into the resort via technology, giving guests the feeling of globetrotting while never leaving Reno. Peppermill also continues its emphasis on sustainability via a variety of dedicated practices and programs that cut energy costs and water use.
In January the Nugget Casino Resort in Reno began a $25 million upgrade to its conference facilities and guest rooms. Renovations to the 110,000-sf convention center will include new carpet, paint, wall treatments, lighting and fixtures. The nearly 800 overnight rooms in the West Tower will receive a complete overhaul to modernize them and give them more of a “modern lodge” feel. This round of renovations will conclude in June 2017. The Nugget is planning additional renovations in late 2017 and 2018. AC&F