Some planners may think Nevada has just one meetings destination. But there’s more to the state than its most famous city. Reno is also an excellent meetings destination, and like Las Vegas, Reno has more to offer groups and associations than gaming alone.
Whether you want the glitz, options and accessibility of Las Vegas or the stunning setting of Reno with its Sierra backdrop, Nevada delivers business opportunity.
No matter how often you meet in Las Vegas, it’s almost certain that something will have changed. It’s a destination that reinvents itself over and over, a destination that arguably more than any other moves in rapid pace with the times. And in spite of its somewhat naughty reputation, the city possesses a formidable ability to drive meeting success.
Case in point is the new $375 million Caesars Forum, set to break ground on The Strip in the second quarter of 2018. The 550,000-sf, LEED Silver-certified conference center, scheduled to open in 2020, features 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, with two 108,000-sf ballrooms, two 40,000-sf ballrooms and four boardrooms. The 100,000-sf outdoor Forum Plaza will be connected to the Linq Promenade, offering world-class dining, live entertainment and shopping, and is anchored by the High Roller observation wheel. The Forum Sky Bridge directly connects Caesars Forum to the Linq and Harrah’s hotels, as well as to the monorail for easy access to all that the Las Vegas Strip has to offer.
And speaking of easy access, among Las Vegas’ many impressive attributes is its airlift. In December, the city celebrated its one-year anniversary of nonstop flights from mainland China, and announced the first nonstop flight from Brazil beginning June 2018, which will be seasonal service. All told, the city welcomes more than see200 weekly nonstop flights from 21 foreign cities in 11 countries. That’s a definite boon to association groups with global membership.
No wonder Las Vegas was named the World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination for 2017 in the World Travel Awards, the fifth consecutive year it has been recognized as such by the London-based organization.
And it’s not just industry organizations that heap praise on Las Vegas. Plenty of planners see it that way, too.
“The Las Vegas area has always been a positive venue for our organization’s annual training conference,” says David R. Sneed, chair, seminar site selection and planning committee, the International Association of Arson Investigators. “The city is easily accessible by both air and ground. The Vegas area offers multiple competitive venues from large to small, from The Strip to off-Strip, and easy access to all areas with good transportation options.”
The group of 725 met in Las Vegas in April 2017, based at Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, part of the Caesars collection of hotels.
Sneed says all meeting functions were held at the Rio and calls the hotel a good choice for his group because of its location, rates and history. “The Rio Hotel is a good fit as it provides us with sufficient conference space and affordable, competitive rates with a good staff. The Rio has hosted our conference for a number of years now, and each year it gets better.”
Standouts for Sneed include the conference management staff and catering. “We utilized approximately 20 percent of the conference space for our week-long conference. We used extensive AV throughout the week and had no problems with Wi-Fi. The Rio staff continually met or exceeded our expectations and were always open to negotiation.”
Sneed says he faced no real challenges in planning or executing the 2017 meeting. He advises planners to do their homework and compare venues. “Vegas hotels are competitive. Contact the hotel with sufficient lead time to facilitate site visits, evaluation and comparisons. Be prepared to negotiate all items of a contract.”
Jennifer Mamer-Bohn, manager, meetings and events for CHS Inc., a cooperative owned by farmers, ranchers and co-ops across the United States, also booked a Caesars property, Caesars Palace, for her group’s February 2017 Cooperative Leadership Conference. It had 600 in attendance.
She offers a long list of reasons that the city and hotel meet this group’s needs. First, she says, “There’s ease of air access from 40 states, and airfares are a bit cheaper to Las Vegas. Entertainment is also readily accessible. You don’t have to fly in entertainers or bands, and you can take your group to a great show, buy out a nightclub or just set attendees loose to find their own entertainment. The weather is also a factor for our group. Our meeting is in February and about 75 percent of our attendees are from the Northern states. They want a destination with warm, nice weather at this time of year.”
In terms of the hotel, Mamer-Bohn notes that, “Cost was definitely a consideration. Caesars sales staff worked with me to come up with the best arrival/departure pattern for the lowest room rates. Caesars Palace was very generous, adding concessions into a contract. We were able to choose in which tower our hotel rooms would be located, and we were placed close to our meeting space. Since Caesars Palace is such a large facility, this is very important. Finally, Caesars Palace is constantly updating its facilities. The tower where our sleeping rooms were located was newly renovated, so the rooms were very nice.”
Mamer-Bohn says that her group loves to dance and that drove the decision to buy out Drai’s Nightclub, owned by Caesars Entertainment. “It’s located right across the street from Caesars Palace, so our attendees walked over, no busing required. In my 30+ years of planning, this was one of the most fun events to plan and was a true hit with our group.”
She calls the venue “spectacular,” adding that it offers a lot more than a dance floor. “The nightclub has delicious food, and the event staff will help you pick the food menu that’s best suited to your group. They listen and work with planners. The staff also gets excellent training and knows how to treat a large group.”
Staff also suggested a DJ for Mamer-Bohn to book, another success. “He really got the party going. We met with him prior to the event and discussed the type of music our group likes and he asked for song suggestions. Everyone was dancing, even the older attendees.”
Mamer-Bohn says that a percentage of the F&B for that event was applied to her contract F&B minimum, which was a positive, and all of the attendees also received complimentary admission tickets to ride the High Roller observation wheel. All in all, she adds, the group received great service from the initial planning down to the staff that worked the event.
All meeting functions were held at Caesars Palace; however, Mamer-Bohn notes that there are so many venues to choose from that planners need to do research and contact other planners for recommendations because venue location is important. She took her own advice.
“I asked for the names of other planners who have had meetings there so I could contact them to see what was good and what was bad. I received all positive comments for Caesars Palace. The meeting space is state-of-the-art and well maintained. The location on the Las Vegas Strip is perfect for walking to other destinations.”
The group’s planning team and the Caesars Palace sales team worked well together. Mamer-Bohn liked that she had a dedicated reservation staffer. “There is a reservation staff person assigned to your meeting, so you are working with one person who oversees the rooming list and makes any changes needed. If I needed a certain room for an executive or some other request, this person could manipulate the room assignments to accommodate all of our needs.”
In addition, there were two conference coordinators for the group. “During the planning process, they responded to emails and phone calls immediately. Onsite, they were with us constantly, always checking to see if we needed anything and taking care of all of our requests. They communicated with each other so either one could take care of us. We had some pop-up meetings and the staff would get a room set up for us very fast. Wi-Fi was fast and reliable.”
She also gives kudos to the catering staff for flexibility. “The food was excellent and always ready on time. If our meeting was going to adjourn earlier than expected, I could call catering and they would move our meal start time up. Breaks were always set up well in advance and replenished as needed.”
For those who worry about meeting in Las Vegas because of the gambling aspect, Mamer-Bohn has an answer. “Some of our management staff were not keen on taking a group to Las Vegas because of the distraction of being in a gambling destination. But the elevators from our guest rooms came right to the meeting room floors, so attendees did not have to walk through the casino to get to meetings.”
Her advice to other planners? “Make sure your meeting space is close to your sleeping rooms. Take advantage of the venues owned by Caesars Entertainment so you can leverage your F&B minimum. Look at all of the properties owned by Caesars Entertainment. Each one is unique and has many options to offer groups.”
Beyond that, she says, “You will receive excellent service from the initial contract signing to receiving your invoice at the end of your meeting. We received all positive comments from our attendees.”
One thing is for certain, Las Vegas is always upgrading and expanding properties, so it’s a good bet that any inconsistencies or issues will soon be addressed. The start of the city’s most ambitious project came in November with the announcement that a design team has been decided upon for phase two of the Las Vegas Convention Center District expansion project, which will see $860 million put toward an additional 1.4 million sf of convention center space, including 600,000 sf of new exhibit space.
In April 2018, South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa will kick off a $40 million remodel of its guest rooms throughout the property’s three towers, which includes 2,049 rooms and 84 suites. The first phase begins in Tower 1 in April, with a completion date of September 2018. Upgrades include new furniture, luxury flooring, crown molding, mini-refrigerator and bathroom upgrades. The three-year project will refurbish one hotel tower each year and is scheduled to be completed by September 2020. By the end of 2018, more than 630 newly designed rooms will be available. Other property-wide improvements that have taken place over the past five years include major upgrades to the Costa del Sur Spa; a new multimillion-dollar professional bowling tournament plaza; and the Priefert Pavilion expansion project, featuring two new indoor equestrian arenas. South Point offers 75,000 sf of conference space with ballroom and 80,000 sf of column-free exhibit space.
The planned $1.5 billion Wynn Paradise Park has begun phase one construction. The project will encompass 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. The project is expected to take two years to complete.
In 2016, Caesars Entertainment upgraded more than 4,800 rooms at four of its Las Vegas resorts, including Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Paris Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas. Last year, Caesars invested more than $100 million in renovating its 1,181-room Palace Tower, including the exclusive 29th floor with its luxurious villas. Through the second quarter of this year, the company continues its $90 million renovation of 1,270 rooms at the 3,460-room Flamingo Las Vegas, a project that began in August. The property’s 70-year history is being celebrated in the “retro-chic” redesign.
By the end of 2018, MGM Resorts will complete a $450 million project to transform the 21-year-old Monte Carlo Resort and Casino into Park MGM, replete with a brand new 77,000-sf conference facility. Offering both non-traditional spaces and flexible design, Park MGM is designed to fill an unmet need in Las Vegas for small groups, while also offering beautiful spaces for groups of up to 5,000 attendees.
Aria Resort & Casino recently opened an additional 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space across four stories, and now boasts a total of 500,000 sf of convention space. The $170 million expansion is highlighted by stunning indoor/open-air verandas with retractable windows and dramatic views of The Park and T-Mobile Arena. There’s an exclusive loading dock with megavator for events requiring sizable displays, versatile indoor-outdoor breakout rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and ample prefunction spaces. A top-floor ballroom with open-air verandas accommodates up to 2,000 for receptions.
MGM Resorts announced in November that it has invested significantly in new technology across its properties, giving planners access to an in-house system that not only provides exceptional service but should also save groups money. The convention Wi-Fi network can support more than 350,000 devices and offers up to 40 times more guaranteed bandwidth per user, almost 50 percent faster download, upload time up to 40 percent faster and upgraded, high-performance equipment with more than 2,600 next-generation Cisco Aironet Access Points, nearly doubling the previous amount.
MGM Grand will debut a 250,000-sf conference center expansion this fall that will connect to the existing conference center on all three levels. Featured will be two expansive ballrooms of 49,000 sf and 32,000 sf as well as three smaller ballrooms and an outdoor event space. The expansion brings the total convention space to 850,000 sf.
MGM also announced the start of renovations of Luxor’s guest rooms, which will continue to roll out throughout Q1 2018. It includes a reimagining of more than 1,700 hotel rooms.
Caesars, owner of The Linq Promenade, announced the addition of the $20 million Fly Linq, 10 side-by-side zip lines that can launch simultaneously. The ride should be ready for adventure seekers by spring of 2018.
And in case you were wondering how far off the future is, in Las Vegas it’s here as of November 2017: A partnership between AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah; the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada; and Keolis North America is bringing the first self-driving shuttle to be fully integrated with a city’s traffic infrastructure to residents and visitors of Las Vegas. A limited version of the shuttle launched in downtown earlier in the year.
Located more than 400 miles north of Las Vegas, Reno offers a very different side of Nevada, one wrapped up in the stunning beauty of the Sierra and nearby Lake Tahoe. There’s still gaming action for those who want it, but many attendees appreciate this area for the outdoor activities and scenic backdrop.
Reno’s public convention facility is the 500,000-sf Reno-Sparks Convention Center, which features 380,000 sf of exhibit space and 120,000 sf of meeting space. Plans are now underway, subject to approval by Nevada state legislature, to add another 300,000 sf of space.
The destination also features a trio of unique offsite venues: the Reno Event Center, located downtown with 60,000 sf of event space and a seating capacity of 6,500; the National Bowling Stadium, which features 72 lanes and onsite catering; and the Reno Livestock Event Center, which hosts equestrian events such as the Reno Rodeo.
Several Reno hotels offer excellent meeting facilities for groups, including family-owned Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, which celebrated 45 years in 2016. The hotel features 1,623 guest rooms, a 33,000-sf spa, 15 bars and lounges, 10 restaurants and 106,000 sf of meeting and function space.
Best of all for ecoconscious meeting-goers, in 2010 Peppermill invested in and committed to geothermal energy. Today, 100 percent of its mechanical and domestic heat is supplied by geothermal wells. The resort also cut its water use by nearly 4.7 million gallons per year and replaced all of its 1,000-watt metal halide lighting fixtures with 183-watt LED fixtures that provide the same amount of light while reducing energy costs by $131,000 per year.
Keith A. Reed, executive director of the Air Force Sergeants Association, brought more than 500 attendees with the AFSA International Convention and Professional Airmen’s Conference to the resort in July 2017.
Reed says that airlift, ease of access, cost, quality of lodging, city attractions and increased attendance based on the conference location all played into the choice to meet at Peppermill. In addition, he says, “The Peppermill‘s willingness to provide concessions such as suites, discounts, donations and rebates to the master account stood out the most.”
Noting that his group “loves a great experience,” Reed also points to the city’s flair and Peppermill’s quality of food and prices as positives. “The food and prices at the Peppermill were awesome,” he says. And because of the multiple venues available within Peppermill, Reed says there was no need for the group to go outside of the resort for any functions.
But just in case some attendees chose to — and some did — “the biggest little city was equally prepared for each and every one of them.”
The service and the staff were also a plus. “Unlike at many gaming properties, the Peppermill convention services are excellent,” Reed says. “Attention to detail was tops. Sales staff wanted to do business and it showed. Service after the sale was outstanding. The Peppermill proved to be a true mission partner.”
Reed adds that flexibility also made a difference. “The hotel and staff showed a willingness to do whatever was needed to help the make the event a success. The hotel staff treated our event as if they were the meeting planner — they were all in.” And the hotel was flexible in terms of the pattern of the conference, which Reed says was Saturday to Wednesday.
The one challenge came because multiple groups were meeting at the same time, with attendees from all groups navigating and sharing some of the same space. That said, it was a very positive experience.
To planners considering Reno and Peppermill Resort, he says, “Establish a partnership with the city’s CVB and the hotel’s sales and convention services. They are willing to provide a win-win. And get to know the area. The hotel is close to many outside restaurants and the mall, and it’s close to downtown Reno as well. Spend time to get to know the city.”
After all, Reed says, “As meeting planners we plan and present an experience — good or bad—and it’s the experience that our attendees will remember the most. One thing I found out very quickly over 17 years of executing this for and with the Air Force Sergeants Association: Success is a Team Sport!”
Choose Reno or choose Las Vegas. Both cities are big on entertainment and value, but perhaps more than anything, both are also big on providing the infrastructure, venues, services, flexibility, expertise, activities and ambience that facilitate business successes and goals. What more could a meeting planner want? AC&F