The Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, MD has a 4,000-seat arena for concerts. It’s where the Cordish Art Collection, which includes pieces by Andy Warhol, makes its home.
Labels can sometimes be misleading in the lodging industry: While a property with a significant amount of well-appointed meeting space relative to its guest room total may be labeled a “meeting hotel,” the same property with a casino added may become known as a “gaming resort.” The latter tag suggests the hotel primarily caters to casino-goers, when in fact it is extremely adept at servicing meeting groups. Beyond simply having great function rooms, the hotel staff knows how to bolster the ROI for a group client. A case in point comes from the staff at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. The Biloxi, Mississippi resort recently hosted Bad Boy Mowers’ annual dealer meeting, and did it with flair.
“We had mowers throughout Beau Rivage,” noted Sherrise Stephens, director, global accounts with HelmsBriscoe Performance Group, who once worked as a sales manager for the Batesville, AR-based mower manufacturer. “They put our mowers in their gardens, so when our dealers were walking through the parking garage into the lobby, they saw mowers all along the way.”
Pumpkins and orange flowers complemented the orange-colored mowers, making the display aesthetically appealing. Beau Rivage’s commitment to convention service was also evident in how the staff handled challenges that arose.
“We had packages shipped to the hotel and couldn’t find one. Not only was my sales manager and CSM in there on a Saturday looking for it, but the director of sales came to look for it as well,” Stephens observes. “I was very impressed with a team that would put that much care into it. And then the booth would not fit in the big ballroom, which was our fault not theirs, and so we had to move the group to another room. It was completely seamless, which hardly ever happens in my world. Something like that generally is a disaster, and they handled it beautifully.”
The resourceful service complements Beau Rivage’s 50,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including the 17,000-sf Magnolia Ballroom. And its 1,740 guestrooms nicely accommodated Bad Boy Mowers’ approximately 1,200 attendees. The dealers were able to try out mowers at the nearby MGM Park, enjoyed shows at the nearly 1,600-seat Beau Rivage Theatre, teed off at the Tom Fazio-designed Fallen Oak Golf Course, went deep-sea fishing on the Mississippi Sound, and of course, tried their luck in the casino.
“They hadn’t been to a gaming property before; it was a new thing for us. But we’ll go back. Our owner was so happy with how happy his dealers were that he opened the bar for anybody who wanted to drink for about two hours,” Stephens says.
Another prime example of a gaming property proving its meetings savvy comes from Ridgefield, WA, home of ilani. Located within the Portland metro region, the casino resort houses a 30,000-sf Meeting & Entertainment Center equipped with advanced AV and featuring the 2,500-capacity Cowlitz Ballroom. Waste Connections of Washington, Inc. recently brought about 150 attendees to ilani for the Columbia River Division’s annual Truck Rodeo, and the ballroom became the hub of activity for the program.
As Cyndi Holloway, community affairs director for Waste Connections of Washington, Inc. and organizer for the event relates, the staff at ilani was very attuned to her group.
“They really took the time to get to know us and the event itself, which was really refreshing,” she says. “They didn’t stereotype us as a bunch of truck drivers. They really wanted to know why we were doing this kind of event for our company; what did it mean to us. This event is very important for my president and vice president every year.”
The result was a multifaceted event in the ballroom that ensured guests weren’t entirely enthralled by the casino, which was a concern since this was the first time the rodeo was held at a gaming property. Attendees enjoyed an Eddie Money concert, buffet dinner, mechanical bull rides, a photo booth and other highlights captured by an on-site camera crew. The cuisine was also a standout.
“The trays were displayed beautifully; very inviting,” Holloway says. “The food was very Pacific Northwest; they brought in some local flavors.” And the staff was “really clever in [providing] recommendations for how to set up the room and how the décor would look for the rodeo,” according to Holloway. “They even said, ‘Hey, if you want to drive one of your trucks into our ballroom, you can.’”
That go-the-extra-mile service is a major reason why the Waste Connections group will be returning to ilani again this year.
One of the perks of meeting at a gaming resort is the live entertainment and state-of-the-art concert venues often found on-site. A prime example is Live! Casino & Hotel, in Hanover, MD. The property’s Event Center includes a 4,000 seat concert venue along with 20,000 sf of function space (set to double in size this year). The 310-room hotel tower also includes a 6,000-sf spa, fitness center, top-rated steakhouse and The Cordish Art Collection. Curated exclusively for Live! Hotel by Suzi and David Cordish, the collection includes more than 40 works by world-renowned artists, including Andy Warhol, Jennifer Steinkamp, Charlie Ahn, Robert Indiana, and Not Vital.
Complementing Live! Casino & Hotel is Live! Lofts, an elegant, 250-room boutique hotel with its own 3,400 sf of renovated function space.
Another advantage of meeting in many gaming resorts is the connection to Native American tribal cultures, which can be fascinating for guests.
ilani, for example, is a project of the Cowlitz Tribe and Salishan-Mohegan. In Scottsdale, AZ, Talking Stick Resort is accessible to Salt River, home of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Attendees can immerse themselves in the heritage of two Native American tribes: the “Akimel O’Odham” (River People) and the “Xalychidom Piipaash” (people who live toward the water).
Both Talking Stick Resort and Salt River are approximately 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and thus very convenient for corporate groups flying in from disparate parts of the United States and internationally.
The 496-room resort is well stocked in meeting venues, including the 24,556-sf Salt River Grand Ballroom; a Conference Center that can be divided into 12 meeting rooms; and a 650-capacity showroom.
For many attendees, Talking Stick Golf Club, offering two courses and views of the Sonoran Desert and Camelback Mountain, will create the ideal backdrop for informal networking and bonding.
When it comes to gaming resorts in the Western United States, MGM Resorts International’s properties are among the most progressive in offerings to groups. Park MGM is exemplary in this regard. In July, the hotel debuted the Madison Meeting Center, Las Vegas’ first executive meeting center. And in November, Park MGM added the 7,000 sf Ideation Studio. Now a member of IACC, the Ideation Studio makes Park MGM the first hotel to offer groups Cisco Webex Boards and Cisco Webex Teams. Park MGM has also installed the brand’s Stay Well Rooms and Stay Well Meetings, arguably the most comprehensive wellness room and meeting experiences in the industry.
The Stay Well Meetings offerings at The Mirage, another MGM Las Vegas property, are expanding with the recent conversion of Calypso Court to the Stay Well concept. Calypso Court includes seven meeting rooms totaling 15,000 sf. Last year, 121 Stay Well guest rooms were also launched at The Mirage. When lodging in these guest rooms and convening in Stay Well meeting rooms, attendees can expect increased energy, focus and productivity.
Conserving electrical energy was the goal at MGM’s Mandalay Bay last year when it collaborated with business-to-business events organizer UBM plc to develop a new LED lighting system in Mandalay Bay Convention Center’s exhibit halls. The multimillion-dollar investment has resulted in less energy usage and a reduced carbon footprint.
Mandalay Bay is welcoming more meetings business following the 2016 expansion that added 350,000 sf of new exhibit space, the 70,000-sf Oceanside Ballroom and a 20,000-sf foyer. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center now has more than two million total sf of flexible exhibit and meeting space.
Last December, MGM further enhanced its Las Vegas meeting space offerings when it debuted the expanded conference center at MGM Grand. With an additional 250,000 sf of meeting space, the facility now offers 850,000 sf. In addition, ARIA Resort & Casino recently added the Ironwood Terrace, completing its 200,000-sf expansion. The 8,000-sf outdoor space connects ARIA’s East and West Convention Centers, and overlooks the pool complex and mountains.
Caesars Entertainment has also been investing heavily in its Las Vegas gaming resorts, focusing on its guest room product. By mid 2018, the company renovated 11,348 rooms — more than half of its room inventory in the city. Highlights of the initiative include a $125 million redesign of 2,052 guest rooms and suites in the new Resort Tower at Bally’s Las Vegas; a $140 million transformation at Harrah’s Las Vegas, which includes 1,622 modernized guest rooms and suites in its Valley Tower; a $90 million renovation of 1,270 rooms at Flamingo Las Vegas; and a complete renovation of all rooms at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
One of the earliest renovations took place at the Palace Tower in Caesars Palace. In October of 2017, the refurbishment of all 1,181 guest rooms was completed, and 10 luxurious new villas were added to the 29th floor.
This year, Caesars Palace plans to debut the Vanderpump Cocktail Garden, bringing Lisa Vanderpump’s Los Angeles-based brand of restaurants and lounges to Las Vegas. The fresco-style garden can serve as a tranquil, informal gathering spot for groups.
In nearby Henderson, NV, the 390-room M Resort Spa Casino also offers its share of distinctive event spaces. For example, the Villaggio Del Sole Pool and Entertainment Piazza spans 100,000 sf and is an ideal setting for scenic outdoor functions. Large-scale corporate events can also be held in the 25,000-sf M Pavilion, which accommodates up to 2,300 guests. M Resort’s 92,000-sf conference center is distinguished by its use of natural light and views of the Las Vegas skyline. After meeting sessions, guests will find many diversions beyond the casino, such as a 23,000-sf spa and salon.
Speaking of great spas, one of New Mexico’s finest gaming resorts debuted a luxury spa last fall. Inn of the Mountain Gods’ new oasis for guests offers an array of signature treatments and services within a facility designed to reflect the native culture of the Mescalero tribe. Last summer, the 273-room resort earned the AAA Four Diamond Rating for the second consecutive year and is the only resort in southern New Mexico to receive this designation.
From a planner’s perspective, the resort is sound choice for intense business meetings, given its 40,000 sf of space comprised of 15 highly configurable meeting rooms. And a memorable teambuilding adventure is close at hand with the Apache Eagle ZipRider over Lake Mescalero.
Still the Northeast’s undisputed hub of gaming action, Atlantic City continues to improve and its dynamic properties do not rest on their laurels. One example is Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. This summer, the resort will introduce an $11 million new bar and sports wagering experience.
Last summer, Borgata became the first Atlantic City casino to accept a legal sports wager under New Jersey’s new sports betting regulations. Meetings at the 2,000-room Borgata are certainly no gamble: The property houses 106,000 sf of varied function space, ensuring every group will find an ideal meeting venue. Possibilities include the 30,000 sf of ballroom event space, complete with a variety of small meeting rooms; the 18,000-sf Central Conference Center; and a 1,000-capacity theater.
Hard Rock Hotels has been investing in major portfolio enhancements that present new options for corporate groups. Last June saw the debut of Hard Rock Hotel Atlantic City, yet another symbol of the city’s revival. The 2,000-room hotel offers more than 150,000 sf of function space, making it a great option for large corporate groups. In fact, Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena can accommodate a general session of 7,000 attendees or a trade show of over 300 booths. Another option is the 29,000-sf Seminole Ballroom, which is divisible into six sections.
In the Sunshine State, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, FL is preparing for the opening of its $1.5 billion expansion this fall. The project will add a 638-room, guitar-shaped hotel; 168 guest rooms in an adjacent tower; 120,000 sf of function space; a 41,000-sf Rock Spa; 13.5 acres of water activities; 30 restaurants and more. Currently, the Seminole Hard Rock houses 469 rock ‘n’ roll-themed guest rooms, complemented by 40,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space.
For some attendees, gaming can be an escape from the pressures of the business world. But when a planner selects a gaming resort in the Caribbean, the entire meeting can feel like an escape. Still a fairly new option in that destination is the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, which opened in April 2017 on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas. The 1,800-room oceanfront resort is home to the Baha Mar Convention, Art and Entertainment Center, and offers 200,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space. Other property highlights include the 30,000-sf ESPA Spa, Jack Nicklaus Signature Design golf course, and a multicultural selection of cuisine at more than 20 restaurants, bars and lounges. Attendees can easily get into the Bahamian spirit by relaxing at the nearby Beach Sanctuary or simply taking in the resort’s Bahamian art, courtesy of local artists.
Paradise Island in the Bahamas is home to another top-tier gaming resort that also features formidable meeting facilities. The Conference Center at Atlantis, Paradise Island includes the 50,000-sf Imperial Ballroom, over 40,000 sf of pre-function space, 30 breakout rooms and three boardrooms. Ballrooms of 25,000 sf and 13,000 sf are also available.
Connected to the Conference Center is Coral Tower, where the attendees of Audubon, PA-based Globus Medical, Inc. lodged during their annual Global Sales Meeting in January.
Dianna Leigh, director of meetings, exhibits, and travel for Globus Medical, Inc. appreciated the logistical convenience within such a large property.
“We utilize breakout rooms and typically our agenda is so packed that we give them little time to get from one session to another. And we were really lucky that all the breakout space was connected to the general session area,” she notes.
An exceptional event during the program was a product fair held at the Café at the Great Hall of Waters. The marine habitat backdrop created a striking ambiance for the approximately 400 attendees as they explored product displays, networked and enjoyed food and cocktails.
In arranging this event and working on the program as a whole “the CSM was top notch,” Leigh says. “He was with us the entire time from morning until our events were over. With a large property like this, planners may fear that attendees are going to get lost in the shuffle trying to get from point A to B. Their team did a really good job of being there to navigate for attendees in case they should take a wrong turn. And there was one time when our general session had unexpectedly ended early and we were transitioning to another location, but we weren’t setup and ready. Convention services pulled everybody they had on the floor and put them at different points through the resort, so they made sure all of our members got where they needed to be. It was a last-minute rush with all hands on deck, but it worked out really well.”
The remarkable service quality helped to justify the three-year contract Globus Medical had signed with Atlantis.
“It was a little risky because we hadn’t been to the property before,” Leigh says. “But we are so excited because there are so many opportunities for us moving forward in the next three years; we have only begun to scratch the surface of what they have to offer. So every year is going to be something different for the attendees.”
To call properties like Atlantis “gaming resorts,” while technically accurate, the fact that they are home to diverse forms of leisure and entertainment can make each meeting a unique experience. Even more significantly, their convention staffers can be as proficient as those in any “meeting hotel.” C&IT