Las Vegas has long been among the top U.S. cities for meetings. In 2016, Cvent ranked it the No. 3 meeting city in the country, behind Orlando and Chicago. According to Cvent’s analysis, Las Vegas is home to three of the 10 largest convention centers in the country and its applicable stats are impressive: 168 hotels, 140,000 total sleeping rooms and 3,200,000 sf of convention center space. The city’s largest exhibit space is 2,182,167 sf, and its largest ballroom 100,014 sf — plenty of space for the largest association conventions and exhibitions.
While Reno and Lake Tahoe did not make that list, they hold enormous appeal for associations, including the fact that this area offers costs averaging 30 percent less than competing destinations. Additionally, there are some 20,000 hotel rooms available, and the Reno-Sparks Convention Center provides over half a million sf of meeting space, not to mention a location just 15 minutes from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. And there are complimentary shuttles to many area properties, saving budget-conscious planners even more.
“Our attendees love Las Vegas. We rotate the conference every year, and just about every three years we land in Las Vegas. It’s easy to get to with lots of flight options, and the hotels are fun and interesting.”
— Julie Dunn
For Julie Dunn, owner/founder of San Francisco-based JBD Events, who organized the May conference of the Marketing Association of Credit Unions, Las Vegas was an excellent fit. “Our attendees love Las Vegas. We rotate the conference every year, and just about every three years we land in Las Vegas. It’s easy to get to with lots of flight options, and the hotels are fun and interesting.”
Dunn says that one key to making a Las Vegas meeting work for a group is to plan early and strategically. “We are a small conference, about 150 attendees, that needs lots of space so our room-to-space ratio is high,” she says. “However, we tend to find a week during the year (after Memorial Day) where we can fill a void for some hotels. This is key for our organization.”
Aria Resort & Casino is a perfect base hotel for this group and Dunn has no hesitation recommending it to others. “I loved the openness of the Aria hotel,” she says. “It has the space and the right flow of meeting rooms. I especially appreciated the short distance from the guest room elevators to the meeting rooms. In Las Vegas, this can be miles! And I like that the meeting rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, which allows for fabulous natural light, a bonus in Las Vegas.
“I also loved the free Wi-Fi in the meeting space, and I appreciated the upgraded setup of the meeting rooms with built-in projectors and screens,” she adds. “It felt modern and techy.”
Dunn also notes that the food at Aria was top-notch. “Many people don’t expect much from hotel food, but all of our attendees raved about it,” she says. “The dining outlets in the hotel are amazing, one restaurant is better than the last. We hosted an outdoor poolside reception the first night and it was a hit, too — no one wanted to leave!”
Aria was the setting for the meeting rooms, exhibit hall and guest rooms, and the staff definitely added to the positive experience. “Our attendees loved the hotel rooms and the high touch/tech feel of the touch screens and the amenities in the room. The business center was amazing with our group,” Dunn adds. “We had 35 vendors, many shipments and nothing was lost or misplaced. The Aria staff was top of the line. They were available always, even on a holiday weekend. They are attentive with high attention to detail and so kind and patient.”
Equally impressive was the staff with MGM Productions, which Dunn used to help transform the ballroom for the awards dinner. “Everyone loved how it felt totally different than the room they were in all week,” she says. “It was a two-hour transformation and it was amazing — and I have photos to prove it!”
The group also went out into the city’s downtown for a tour at Zappos, the online shoe and clothing company. “We did a Zappos tour for our attendees, and they loved it. It was a huge hit, and then we did a workshop afterwards at the hotel to debrief. I highly recommend it,” Dunn says.
All in all, the meeting went very well. Las Vegas and Aria provided exactly what the group needed with ease. Challenges? “None,” says Dunn, and what planner doesn’t want that scenario?
Kay Granath, CMP, CAE, with Chicago-based Association Management Center, brought the international expo for the Awards and Personalization Association to Las Vegas in March, a group of 2,500. “The group has held this expo in Las Vegas for many years. Many of the members and attendees are located in the Southwest and welcome this opportunity to make their annual trip to Las Vegas to see new products and renew acquaintances,” Granath says. “While in Las Vegas, they take advantage of all the new attractions and visit ones that they have discovered on past trips. While we have offered other site options for this meeting, the group feels they are best served by Las Vegas and all it has to offer.”
From Granath’s perspective, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association also is integral to the success of the meeting. “The Las Vegas CVA is always a tremendous help to us with this meeting. They have a local office here in Chicago, and we work with them frequently as well as the Las Vegas office,” she says. “They know where to find anything in the city and make a concentrated effort to keep on top of all the new things coming into and going on in the city. They are very responsive, and we have a great relationship with them. No question is too obscure.
“For many years, we have worked with the LVCVA to find the appropriate space and price point for this group,” Granath adds. “The group’s attendance has fluctuated at times due to economic factors, but with the great variety of space available in the city, we have been able to consider different options based on the size of the show. For several years we were able to utilize space in the Las Vegas Convention Center, but with the postponement of the expansion several years back, we needed to find alternative space. Through the efforts of the LVCVA we were able to find space at the Rio. By being flexible and signing for multiple years, we have found a venue that works for this event.”
The group has been based at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino, a Caesars property, since 2013. “The Rio has all the meeting space that we need for this program, and the group can be contained in one location. The meeting space isn’t so large that attendees feel lost and lose the interactions with others,” Granath says. “The price point of this location and services that the hotel has to offer work very nicely for this program. The hotel offers free parking, for example, which is a huge benefit for those attending the trade show only. Many members attend for one day only and the free parking, conveniently located just outside the meeting space, is a huge asset. Some of the attendees travel with larger vehicles and are able to do so with little inconvenience because of this amenity.”
Granath likes that the meeting space is contained on one floor, and that there are several large spaces adjacent to one another, which makes for ideal traffic flow. She says the meeting and exhibit space is exactly right for this group, and she says the group appreciates the spacious sleeping rooms as well. And the off-Strip location is an advantage, not a problem.
“This property offered cost-effective rates, which is important to this group. With all the newer hotels located closer to the Strip, we were able to secure a location for the group that is a short distance from the main area but still convenient to the many attractions they can utilize in their free time,” she notes. “While the hotel is large and the distance between sleeping rooms and meeting space might be a concern, once attendees arrive at the meeting space, they are happy to see that they are on one level and close to all they need.”
Granath also appreciates that one of the ballrooms she uses for the awards evening and a membership breakfast already has a built-in stage. “This saves the organization the cost of building a stage for these events,” she says.
The biggest challenge, notes Granath, is related to audio-visual. “AV costs are always a concern, and this has been one of the major challenges for several years,” she says. “Turnover of staff in the AV area has also been a challenge since we have confirmed this hotel for several years for this group. We have seen an increase in personnel turnover in the larger, in-house AV companies, and that affects those of us who return to the same venue year after year. It requires more time for us in monitoring an unknown vendor and making sure that they are meeting our needs. We have a preferred AV provider that we have partnered with for many years and their personnel turnover is minimal. They know what we have done in the past and what we are trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, we cannot always use them due to location and local regulations that make it cost prohibitive.”
Granath has these tips for planners who are facing the same situation with AV personnel and costs. “Start early in your negotiation process,” she says. “Make sure that you are not paying for any extraneous labor or equipment. Understand every charge in the AV quote and ensure that these are necessary for the needs of your organization. Don’t be afraid to challenge charges or practices that you don’t understand. Negotiate as much as you can upfront and don’t accept any hidden charges. Try to address some of these fees and practices when negotiating the contract with the hotel.”
Las Vegas has long been a draw for the International SPA Association (ISPA) annual conference and expo, which has alternated between the Venetian Las Vegas and Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. For 2016, the conference, with 2,600 attendees, is set at the Venetian, with the hotel and Sands Expo providing the primary meeting venues.
“Las Vegas is a good fit for our organization for a number of reasons,” says Lynne McNees, ISPA president. “One of the main points of focus when selecting a destination for our annual conference and expo is ease of access and the number of direct flight options into the host city as the conference attracts both domestic and international attendees. Another key objective is to find a venue that can (accommodate) the entire room block and required expo space under one roof, and Las Vegas has several options to choose from.”
This year, the Venetian delivered what was needed. “We chose the host hotel based on several factors,” McNees says. “Our annual conference and expo takes place in September or October each year and must avoid overlapping any major international holidays. This can present challenges in finding availability as the demand throughout the city in these peak time frames continues to grow. Coupled with finding the right dates/pattern, we must also find a venue that can accommodate the room block, large expo space required, general session and several breakout rooms, all within close proximity to one another and under one roof. Additionally, room rates, food and beverage pricing and onsite evening venue options also play a role in the decision-making process. The Venetian provided solutions to each of these key areas of focus and aligned with our vision for the conference.”
There are other factors as well. McNees notes that Canyon Ranch SpaClub, a longtime member of ISPA, is located within the property. And she says Venetian’s sales and catering team has played a major role throughout the planning process, “forging a partnership and supporting the ever-evolving needs of our conference. The team’s responsiveness,” she adds, “as well as flexibility and desire to ensure the conference is a success for everyone has showcased their level of dedication to our partnership.”
ISPA hosts a Farewell Party on the final night, which this year is located at the Venetian’s popular nightclub Tao. “It’s important to host this event at a venue located on property,” McNees says, “as it makes the planning easier and saves on logistical costs.”
McNees notes that Las Vegas has always drawn strong attendance for ISPA’s annual event thanks to ease of access and all that the city offers. “However,” she says, “it’s always important to fully understand all the costs associated with planning an event in Las Vegas. Costs can vary significantly from one venue to another in terms of labor rates, exclusive service contracts the venue may have in place and F&B pricing.”
If there is one thing she might do differently in the future, it’s call on the Las Vegas CVA. “The LVCVA is a resource we have underutilized,” she says, “and something we should explore in the future.”
When the National Association of Subrogation Professionals (NASP) met last November, they chose Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno. Leslie Wiernik, CSRP, executive director of the association, says Peppermill was a new venue for the group, which was one draw. She also points to “Peppermill’s willingness to work with us on needed concessions.” The resort was, in fact, one of three possible venues for the event, but Peppermill’s staff, owners and features made it a winner for the conference, which drew 950 attendees.
Wiernik says the entire sales staff was wonderful but Carrie Ann Sattler and Chris Alex, “who remained involved throughout the entire program,” stood out. There also were Convention Services Manager Travis O’Donnell, Corporate Communications Manager Katie Silva and Peppermill owner Nat Carasali, “who personally met with NASP leadership, interacted with attendees and participated in a conference education session to highlight the hotel’s green initiatives.”
Because of the above-mentioned reasons, Wiernik says, “NASP made the decision to contract with the Peppermill. Overall it was a great event. The hotel was easy to work with and passionate about making the experience positive for attendees. Most of our guests had rooms in Tuscany Tower, which were beautifully and recently renovated. Guest room elevators were across the foyer from the large ballroom used for the exhibit hall, and the resort was very easy to navigate.”
Wiernik appreciated that the casino is separate so as not to be a distraction to the conference.
Wiernik says Reno “is not necessarily an easy city to get to but Peppermill worked with us on room rates, transportation, etc., to offset any additional expense that attendees might incur by coming to Reno.”
And the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, notes Wiernik, “was very helpful. They met with NASP staff on several occasions and created a microsite to help market the city and the conference.”
In the end, Wiernik says, one thing that really stood out for her and the attendees was the “rebirth of downtown Reno.”
Still awaiting board approval is Steve Wynn’s plan for the Paradise Park expansion at Wynn Las Vegas, slated to stand on approximately 130 acres currently occupied by Wynn Golf Club. If it goes through, Paradise Park will add 260,000 sf of meeting space. In February, Wynn Las Vegas announced a major expansion with development of Wynn Plaza, more than 75,000 sf of luxury retail space. It’s inspired by elegant Avenue Matignon in the Right Bank of Paris and scheduled to debut fall 2017. W Las Vegas is slated to open on the Las Vegas Strip in December, replacing the 289-room SLS Lux property. As a W it will become part of Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio, which was launched in 2015.
Aria Resort & Casino announced a major expansion of its award-winning LEED Gold-certified convention center. The $154 million project will deliver an additional 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 spectacular new T-Mobile Arena. With the completion of the expansion, in 2018, Aria will feature more than 500,000 sf of meeting space for its luxury clientele.
At Caesars Palace, the renovated Julius Tower welcomed its first guests last January. By the end of 2016, the Caesars group will have renovated and upgraded more than 4,800 rooms at four properties, including Planet Hollywood, Paris Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas. Rio, another Caesars property, celebrated the opening of Guy Fieri’s El Burro Burracho this year, and in June, Caesars started offering personal yoga sessions inside a cabin on High Roller, the world’s largest observation wheel. Later this year, The Linq promenade will see new dining options including In-N-Out Burger, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips, Canter’s Deli, Virgil’s Real Barbecue and Amorino.
In Reno, owners of the Siena announced that the property would be rebranded and newly opened as a non-gaming Renaissance Hotel in early 2017. Siena’s casino, which closed in 2015, has been replaced with a recreation area featuring indoor and outdoor bocce ball courts.
In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park system, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has developed a website, findyourpark.vegas, to encourage visitors to use the city as a base from which to explore many of the recreation and conservation areas, state and national parks close to Las Vegas. AC&F