Glamorous, 24-hour excitement used to be the only image associated with the Nevada cities of Las Vegas and Reno. That image attracted conventions, trade shows, meetings and other events — and certainly planners recognized that hyperactive fun and glitz are undeniable attendee enticements. But the meetings industry — and the associations and other organizations planner professionals serve — are in a place that is now much more austere than in the past. One might even assume that the shine is off the apple. But it turns out the opposite is true, and not by accident.
In just a few short years, Las Vegas and Reno have successfully reinvented themselves, adapting to new economic realities. They’ve augmented what works in their destinations by implementing policies more relevant to the budgetary constraints and other considerations defining the current meeting planning environment. With competitive pricing, reinvestment in destination-wide meetings infrastructure, and providing planner-centric contracting, Reno and Las Vegas saw a significant rebound in the meetings business. Their strategy of adding value to glitz paid off in 2012 and indicates further growth in the near-term.
When the Great Recession began, and political debates over bailout funds and stimulus spending filled the headlines, the meeting industry suffered setbacks, but few destinations were as directly impacted as Reno and Las Vegas.
The AIG scandal — when executives of a leading financial firm that received government bailout funds, were seen gathered at a high-profile, Las Vegas luxury resort — negatively affected the entire meeting industry, but the damage to Nevada events was particularly acute, making many question the value of any event held in a city known mainly for fun.
“Beginning in ’08, we saw some cancellations,” says Danielle Babilino, senior vice president of hotel sales, Wynn/Encore. “The AIG effect was real for Las Vegas.”
The second blow — this time to government meetings — came when reports surfaced last spring about excessive spending during GSA’s 2010 Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas.
But the impact of the nation’s financial crisis overshadowed the ramifications of these sensationalized news stories. “The economy had a more far-reaching impact on meetings of all sizes,” says Chris Meyer, CEM, CMP, vice president of sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCA).
In 2012, the destination has seen a turnaround in the meetings business. Myer points out, “We are happy to see those impacts subsiding and business returning. We continue to see improvement in the travel and tourism market in Las Vegas, including the meeting and convention industry. In 2012, we welcomed more than 21,000 events and nearly 5 million business travelers.”
In 2012, Las Vegas welcomed a record 39.7 million visitors and a 2.1 percent increase over 2011 — approximately a half-million more visitors than the previous high of 39.2 million set in 2007. Las Vegas hosted 21,615 meetings, trade shows or conventions in 2012, up 13.6 percent from the 2011 total of 19,029. The 2012 total is the highest number of meetings and conventions held in Las Vegas since 2008.
In other words, Las Vegas meetings — both booking and attendance levels — seem to be nearly back to pre-recession levels. The resurgence in conventions, trade shows, meetings and other events — a notable feat considering the anemic (so far) economic recovery — also appears to be spread across industry sectors.
“We continue to book a mix of all business,” says Babilino. “The industries we have seen that are strong are tech and automotive, education and medical. We are seeing a big return of finance and banking, which has been a major change, because they were the hardest hit by the recession and by the AIG effect.”
“We have seen a tremendous rebound in meetings involving technology, financial and insurance segments,” says Mike Dominguez, senior vice president of sales for MGM Resorts International. “This makes sense as these segments had fallen off significantly during the great recession. Associations are recognizing an increase in attendance, which again correlates with the improved economic environment.”
Across the state, Reno may not be experiencing the same level of post-AIG resurgence, but according to John Leinen, vice president of sales, Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA)/Reno-Sparks Convention Center, while the AIG effect still seems to be impeding the return of government meetings, other sectors have revived. “The government segment has suffered as a result of misconceptions. Reno-Tahoe has always been a popular destination with the environmental, outdoor recreation, education and engineering segments. We are seeing more interest from medical, health care and corporate planners, while our sports segment is showing exponential growth.”
Both Las Vegas and Reno have made recent, significant investments in their meetings and hospitality infrastructure. “With more than $2 billion of reinvestment in the destination, Las Vegas is well positioned for continued growth in 2013,” says Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA.
Adds Leinen, “Our hotel and tourism partners have invested more than $1 billion into the community over the last five years. This includes hotel rooms, restaurants, resort meeting facilities, the triple-A baseball’s Reno Aces Stadium, the Midtown restaurant and boutique shopping district and so much more. Reno-Tahoe resorts offer a high-quality product to rival any of the traditional first-tier cities, but at a much greater value.”
This value is often more apparent to stakeholders than meeting planners or convention attendees. “Planners who bring business here understand very clearly why it’s a good value, and how we can help them execute better conferences and meetings,” says Amy Allen, director of marketing at Caesars Entertainment. “The issue really is making sure that decision-makers outside of the industry understand why Las Vegas is a legitimate place for business. It is the misperceptions by many of those individuals — and perpetuated by the news media — that have made it difficult sometimes for a planner to get approval for destinations like Las Vegas.”
Affordability for attendees — defined as low cost and evident value for the price paid — tops the list for association planners utilizing Las Vegas. Joe Miller, chairman of the PowerSchool User Group (PSUG) of Michigan, is the acting planner for the annual National PowerSchool User Group Conference. A nonprofit association of teachers, administrators and other education professionals whose use PowerSchool software, the conference attendees are under significant out-of-pocket and/or school system budgetary restrictions. “It is the least expensive place I could find that has this amount of meeting space and hotel rooms,” says Miller. “Schools are on tight budgets, and I had to find a way to provide our attendees with a great event at the lowest possible price. I can’t justify moving our event to another city that might cause me to double my registration rates for my attendees.”
Compared with other first-tier cities, Las Vegas has “amazing value for the product in comparison,” says Veronica Kistner, vice president of sales, Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa. “What makes it more affordable? Flight availability and hotel supply. Today’s planners want value, service and facilities for their meeting.”
“There is an abundance of daily flights in and out of the city from all major metropolitan areas,” adds Allen. “The proximity of the airport to the heart of the city — just a mile or so — along with the concentration of hotels along The Strip keeps ground transportation costs very low. The city’s large number of hotel rooms makes room rates very competitive.”
According to Leinen, “Reno-Tahoe provides one of the greatest value-to-quality ratios in the country. Hotel room rates average roughly 30 percent less than other major markets, and you won’t sacrifice any luxury while realizing those savings. Food and beverage expenses will cost you between 40 percent and 60 percent less here as well. One example is catered coffee at less than $40 per gallon. You’d be hard-pressed to find that value anywhere else in the country. There are a couple of priorities we consistently see planners striving for — return on investment and creating positive memories for their attendees. Reno-Tahoe has made the necessary investment in creating a positive, successful experience for any group.”
Janice Prestwood, general manager/director of operations, Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO), who organized the ophthalmic technician continuing education seminar in August 2012, says, “The city itself is a huge draw for potential attendees. As someone who works for a nonprofit and never has a large meeting budget, I appreciate the budget-friendly catering options and low-cost hotel rooms.”
In contrast to other destinations, Prestwood insists that Las Vegas “is much more affordable.” A key savings has to do with how well attuned Nevada has become to current convention budgetary restraints. “Many large cities like Chicago, San Francisco or New York tend to charge large meeting-room rental fees and typically have a high F&B minimum,” Prestwood continues. “In Vegas, I can typically have the rental fees waived and can negotiate a more acceptable F&B minimum, while also getting comped items, such as a one-hour, wine-and-cheese reception, door prizes, etc.”
Nevada’s hospitality industry was built on gambling, and casinos often can offer more competitive rates on lodging or catering because the tables, slots and other games of chance generated so much revenue. But gaming is no longer unique to Las Vegas and Reno, nor by itself an adequate attraction for 21st century meeting attendees. Nevada has repositioned gaming, making it one aspect of the destination experience, but not the entirety of that experience. Simultaneously, Reno and Las Vegas significantly bolstered their entertainment, dining and other activities, greatly expanding the options for meeting attendees.
Today, when planners talk about the attraction of Las Vegas to attendees, they claim gaming as just another line-item on a long list of enticements. Jan J. Ross, director of meetings and education, Physician Insurers Association of America, books her annual event every other year in Las Vegas, because the city always generates “high attendance,” adding that the biggest misconception about Las Vegas “is that if you don’t gamble, there’s nothing to do.”
“We have been operating for some time on the suspicion that the draw of gaming will never again be the motivating factor it was decades ago,” says Leinen, who points out “there are only two states in the whole country that don’t offer some level of legalized gambling. The proliferation of gaming has decreased the stigma associated with the activity. The gaming expansion has created an environment where going to a gaming destination has for the most part become a nonfactor.”
Nevada destinations now emphasize the total meeting experience, a marketing strategy that has succeeded with meeting attendees as well as leisure travelers. “Gaming is an amenity that Las Vegas offers,” explains Babilino. “The proliferation of gaming around the country means gaming is no longer unique to Las Vegas. Las Vegas offers the best in a range of amenities, from nightlife and entertainment to spas and golf. We look at gaming as one of the factors that brings people to Las Vegas, but not the only factor.”
Miller agrees: “Vegas is about more than gambling. Yes that does go on out there, but it also is a great destination. From our conference evaluations, people love us having it in Las Vegas.”
For planners, organizing events in Nevada can be a more seamless contracting experience than in other destinations. That’s because, unlike other destinations where other industries can be more prominent, in Reno and Las Vegas, leisure tourism, business travel and group meetings and conventions dominate. This focus means a degree of attentiveness to planner needs. “The facilities are top-notch, and hotels have vendors that take care of all of my Internet demands for my training,” says Miller. “In other cities, we have issues getting our bandwidth needs met. We usually have a reception sponsored by some of our vendors that we like to provide entertainment for. Where else could I find a selection of great local talent to perform for us outside of Las Vegas?” He adds, “We had Kevin Lepine perform a PG-13 version of his Hypnosis Unleashed show from Hooters Casino Hotel Las Vegas; the Mac King Comedy Magic Show from Harrahs; and we also had Last Comic Standing winner John Heffron perform for us. Only in Las Vegas could we get shows like this at prices that fit in our budget.”
Nevada offers a dynamic variety of meeting spaces, so that receptions, parties and ancillary sessions can be organized in a range of nearby settings, infusing a distinct energy to all event components of a convention or trade show. “We gave away prizes that included tickets to shows and attractions that were going on while we were there,” says Miller. “We had Vegas entertainers perform for us at our evening networking receptions. Attendees just loved all the wonderful resorts that they could tour and spend time in.”
Says Babilino, “In Las Vegas, you are dealing with a team of professionals that deliver all the needs to planners. We have been handling meetings of all sizes longer than other cities, and that makes a huge difference. Time is money, and we save the planner time. We have the widest range of options that will fit a budget’s needs, of both the overall event and for the individual attendees.”
“The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority holds a unique owner-operator role at numerous facilities throughout the destination as well,” says Leinen. “This gives the RSCVA more flexibility regarding negotiations and allows for relaxed labor policies, which directly translate to cost savings for meeting planners. An added benefit more for attendees than planners is free parking, free valet parking and free airport shuttles to every major resort in the city.”
Prestwood points out that the biggest misconception is not that Las Vegas is too glitzy, but that the glitz will impede an event. She dismisses the notion that attendees will come to Las Vegas, but not the classes, that they will be “out playing.” Instead, with so much going on after hours, “We actually have better attendance in Vegas during the day than a lot of cities, because attendees know they aren’t going to miss anything,” she continues. “Sure, there is glitz and excess in Vegas, but that’s a win-win for us and the attendees. When planning any meeting, we see our largest attendance when in Las Vegas hands down. “
Fun and unforgettable experiences are a critical reason why attendees attend meetings and conventions, but planners also have to provide verifiable value to stakeholders. Nevada has situated itself at the forefront of the meeting industry resurgence, giving meeting planners tangible assurance that Las Vegas and Reno are places where business can get done, where cost-effective meetings will succeed.
“I think if you ask our regular clients, they will tell you that what is appealing to them about holding their functions in Las Vegas is the success rather than the excess”, says Meyer. “Our research has shown that events that move to Las Vegas from another destination regularly see an increase in attendance of approximately 15 percent. Trade show attendees are more likely to be the decision-maker for their company with the power to write business there on the show floor. So, anyone who still is hung up on the perception of excess in Las Vegas has not taken the time to experience a business function here.”
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority recently unveiled an ambitious plan for the Las Vegas Global Business District, a dynamic reimagining of the Las Vegas Convention Center neighborhood. To be completed in phases, the Las Vegas Global Business District creates an international business destination by incorporating major renovations of the Las Vegas Convention Center, creating a World Trade Center facility and developing transportation connectivity through a centralized hub. “Las Vegas is known for defining moments that change the hospitality industry, and this project will be the next defining moment,” predicts Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA. “This is more than a project, this is a vision that will launch Las Vegas forward ahead of the competition for decades to come.” The project includes a Las Vegas Convention Center renovation, creating a convention district campus, building 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 public and gathering spaces and various design elements to further enhance the neighborhood. This will be the first major expansion of the 54-year-old Las Vegas Convention Center in more than a decade.
The Genting Group has announced plans to develop Resorts World Las Vegas on the 87-acre site of Boyd Gaming’s abandoned Echelon project. The first phase of the project will build 3,500 guest rooms, 500,000 sf of convention space, 175,000 sf of gaming space and several luxury dining and retail amenities. A replica of the Great Wall of China and more than 300,000 feet of pool and water features also are planned. It is expected to open in 2016.
Throughout 2013, Mandalay Bay will introduce new amenities including restaurants, a visionary nightclub experience, a dynamic day club, a new show from Cirque du Soleil revolving around the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and Delano Las Vegas, a new all-suite boutique hotel within the resort.
Wynn Las Vegas has unveiled a new collection of resort experiences including The Spa at Wynn Las Vegas, a 45,000-sf, renovated retreat that features 45 updated treatments, fitness center, a full-service salon and barbershop, steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools and relaxation lounges; the new Andrea’s, an Asian fusion restaurant that combines dining and nightlife; Alegro (classic Italian-American favorites); Mizumi (sushi and sashimi, robatayaki selections and teppanyaki); and The Supper Club at Botero, a hip and trendy nightlife dining experience, offers light bites, small plates and cocktails set to music by guest deejays. Wynn Las Vegas features 2,716 luxurious guest rooms and suites, a 111,000-sf casino, 15 restaurants, a nightclub, spa and salon, an onsite 18-hole golf course, 223,000 sf of meeting space and approximately 74,000 sf of retail space. Encore, adjacent to Wynn, features a 2,034 all-suite hotel, 72,000-sf casino, six restaurants, two nightclubs, a spa and salon, approximately 60,000 sf of meeting space and approximately 27,000 sf of upscale retail outlets.
Aria Resort & Casino located at the heart of CityCenter — the 67-acre city-within-a-city located between Bellagio and Monte Carlo — has added several state-of-the-art capabilities, including: built-in videoconferencing capabilities that allow meeting organizers to stream video and simultaneously broadcast their events to up to four locales; plug-and-go live shots for newsworthy events, featuring 7,500 strands of fiber-optic cable in the convention space alone; built-in plasma televisions and HD projection screens; concert-quality sound system; control panels that simplify the management of technology within a meeting space; and fast wired and wireless Internet. Aria is the largest and tallest structure at CityCenter and features 4,004 guest rooms and suites, 16 restaurants, 10 bars and nightclubs, and a casino with 150,000 sf of gaming space, a 300,000-sf convention center and an 1,800-seat theater.
The Sands Expo and Convention Center will complete a facility-wide renovation and “refresh,” a construction project that upgrades the facility’s exterior and interior. The 2.25+ million sf of show floor and meeting space features “no-freight” aisles ensuring easy access to the show floor and an onsite Specialized Event Services department and a personal Event Services Coordinator assigned to planners. The facility is connected to The Venetian and The Palazzo, which together offer more than 7,000 guest rooms and suites all under one roof – there are 40,000+ hotel rooms within a 10-minute walk.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. has recently expanded its custom Sands ECO360° Meetings program. New offerings include “Green Meeting Concierges” to guide the entire sustainable meeting-planning process, “Sands ECO360° Event Impact Statement” — a report to track a meeting’s sustainability performance, and the option to add community engagement events to the meeting experience. Meeting organizers may work with a Sands Green Meeting Concierge who also uses the new Sands ECO360° Event Planning Tool to work closely with clients to customize their programs, often innovating and implementing new practices to help them meet individual sustainability goals.
MGM Grand is debuting a spectacular new venue overlooking The Strip: Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub includes approximately 75,000 sf of space over five levels. The nightclub debuted April 18 and the restaurant opens May 3. The new project follows on the heels of the resort’s recently completed $160 million “Grand Renovation” project that included a remodel of all of the resort’s 3,570 Grand King and Queen guest rooms and 642 suites.
MGM Resorts International has partnered with Cisco Systems to create what they describe as “the highest-performing wireless LAN in the industry” to allow guests to enjoy quality Wi-Fi on multiple wireless devices. The rollout of the new service in low-rise public spaces was completed at the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage late last year, and the Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor and Excalibur will receive the new service this year. The rollout of the new service in guest rooms also has begun.
The 2,163-room South Point Hotel & Spa is located just off The Strip, offering a self-contained meetings and entertainment destination with 165,000 sf of exhibit, meeting and banquet space, as well as a 4,400-seat arena, 64-lane bowling center, 16-screen movie complex and Costa del Sur Spa, which recently completed a total makeover of its facilities and services. The hotel also offers shuttle service to The Strip.
Caesars Entertainment is continuing work on its more than $500 million dining, shopping and entertainment district The Linq, which will feature the world’s largest observation wheel — the 550-foot Las Vegas High Roller. The company also is undergoing major projects at its other properties, including the opening of the Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace and unveiling renovations at The Quad Resort & Casino, formerly the Imperial Palace.
Reno is the place where your inner dude can abide. The first, and only, satellite to the International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame, based in Arlington, TX, opened at the National Bowling Stadium in April of 2012. The museum features displays of bowling artifacts, history, technology and more. The National Bowling Stadium also is undergoing a $15 million renovation, which has recently completed the new Kingpin Club by Brunswick featuring a full bar, as well as 10 new competition and training lanes. These improvements are part of an agreement which will bring United States Bowling Congress Tournaments back to Reno from 2018–2030.
Silver Legacy Resort Casino is undergoing $6 million in additions, upgrades and renovations, including a new Starbucks on the main casino floor, and a new, old-style Mexican hot spot — Hussong’s Cantina-Taqueria. The resort has added the Aura Ultra Lounge, featuring the only Blender Bar in Reno.
Under new ownership, Grand Sierra Resort & Casino is completing a $25 million renovation, which includes a new lobby, upgraded to a contemporary design with rubbed bronze and brushed aluminum; chic redesign of the property’s Summit Suites; and a new, premier ultra-lounge, Wet, featuring flair bartenders, live music and exclusive design features. The new Mexican restaurant Cantina, offers 115 different tequilas. To open in 2013: an indoor pool, nightclub, sports book and racquetball court. The facility’s 200,000+ sf of meeting space also is undergoing extensive renovation this year.
In September 2011, Peppermill Resort Spa Casino said goodbye to its natural gas boilers when it completed a two-year project to harness the power of a geothermal well more than a mile beneath the resort. The $9.7 million project started in 2009, and was completed shortly after engineers found a sufficiently heated water source more than 4,400 feet underground. Geothermal energy now heats all 2.1 million sf of the Peppermill as well as all of the property’s water, including the 43,000-sf Spa Toscana, and two outdoor swimming pools and spas. This environmentally friendly project will save the Peppermill millions of dollars in heating costs, while greatly reducing the property’s carbon footprint. The geothermal well is said to be the deepest in the City of Reno, and the Peppermill is said to be the only resort property in the U.S. whose heating source is totally provided from geothermal energy produced on the immediate property. AC&F