When it comes to deciding where to set a meeting, gaming resorts are often an excellent choice. For some groups, gaming properties — and often the larger destinations in which they’re located — are a big draw that boosts attendance. In addition to casinos, many gaming properties also feature high-profile, in-house entertainment and exceptional restaurants helmed by acclaimed chefs, decreasing the need to go off-property, which saves on transportation costs. And many feature additional amenities such as spas and golf courses.
While conventional thinking may be that casinos are a distraction enticing attendees away from the business at hand, most planners don’t find that to be true. And though gaming destinations sometimes get a bad rap as more about extravagance and indulgence than business, that’s not generally true, either. Las Vegas, for example, is famed for casinos but is also a huge draw for conventions and meetings because it has the infrastructure and support to make meetings productive and successful, and a wealth of opportunities to provide the much sought-after ‘wow’ factor.
“The entertainment options that this location brings to any group are amazing.” Lee Bentley Macleod, CMP
Lee Bentley MacLeod, CMP, president and owner, Sterling Event Planning of Williamsburg Inc., brought a group from a national food company to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas with great success.
“We chose the hotel because of location, price, sales group, meeting capacities and the fact that we were able to have exclusive use of all meeting and venue space. It was a perfect fit for this national sales meeting as we were able to control all meeting space for our specific needs,” MacLeod says. “The meeting space was isolated so that all focus was on the goals of the meeting. The venue locations, both outside and inside, were very convenient for the attendees and the outdoor space was much appreciated after long hours in meetings.”
The accommodations also worked well. “We were able to handle our VIPs with a private check-in and upgraded accommodations very efficiently and effectively in one tower. The two additional towers housed our attendees and special guests. These towers were closer to the meeting space so that was also a great benefit.”
As for Las Vegas itself, MacLeod sees it as a positive. “We really enjoyed being very close to the airport and off the main Strip,” she says. “Our attendees were focused on the meeting but were able to move onto the Strip in the evenings after our schedule was concluded. Flights were easy and economical from both coasts and ground transportation was uncomplicated. The entertainment options that this location brings to any group are amazing.”
Las Vegas hosts many conferences far larger than MacLeod’s group of 700, but that didn’t make MacLeod feel any less important. “The hotel management and employees made us feel very much the center of attention,” she says.
While gaming didn’t factor into the decision to meet in Las Vegas, MacLeod notes that it was viewed as an additional amenity. In addition to providing the right meeting space and range of accommodations, MacLeod says the hotel supported the meeting in multiple other ways, not the least of which was with an incredible staff. “Michael Catalano, our sales manager, was outstanding and responded to all of our needs. The entire service team was outstanding and truly unbelievable. And the entire hotel staff — including the setup team, culinary group and top management — all went beyond their normal duties to insure the program’s success.” Moreover, she adds, “The hotel helped us to connect to the right people for our décor and entertainment needs. Although we brought our own A/V team, the hotel’s A/V team became a part of our family and we all worked together toward the success of this program.”
As with any meeting, there were occasional challenges, but none without solutions. “Problems always arise when working with this many people as change is constant,” MacLeod says. “When these instances occurred, we worked together to resolve any issues and come up with a solution that worked for everyone.”
Her advice to planners considering Las Vegas, “Analyze the goals of the meeting and size of the meeting before looking at any particular hotel. Once this is established, find the location that will best service your needs and respond to your changes as they come.”
In this case, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas was the perfect choice. And it will no doubt continue to be a perfect choice for many groups — but under a new flag with a new design. In February, construction begins on a project to develop the property as the new Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. Slated to open at the end of next year, the design will include 1,504 ‘chambers’ with considerable in-room technology, an ‘immersive’ 60,000-sf casino, more than 5 acres of poolside spaces, multiple dining venues from some of the nation’s hottest restaurateurs and 110,000-plus sf of ‘re-inspired’ meeting, event and convention space.
With an office in Temecula, California, choosing Pechanga Resort Casino for an annual trade show was an obvious choice for Rosalinda Orozco, HR manager and event planner with Southwest Traders Inc., a product distribution company with centers throughout the west. This year’s trade show drew about 500 attendees.
“We chose Pechanga as a venue not only because of the convenience that it’s in the same town as our warehouse, but also because it’s the halfway point to our customers in San Diego and Los Angeles,” Orozco says.
But it was more than just location. “Pechanga Resort Casino has something for everyone to enjoy,” she adds. “Pechanga will have whatever you need. And if not, they will do their best to make it happen.”
While the casino was not part of the meeting, Orozco says, “The casino itself and the new pools were an added bonus to attract our customers.”
She did have some concerns that not all customers would like meeting in a casino venue. “We made sure that everyone knew that Pechanga is not just a casino and that it has many other things to offer. And we did offer our best customers a free night to enjoy the resort.”
Orozco’s group didn’t have any need to go off-property. “We didn’t have to use another venue. Pechanga has everything you could possibly need. We used hotel functions for our vendors and guests. Rooms were very nice, and I heard everyone loved the new pools,” Orozco says, noting that the resort had recently been renovated. “The proximity to the rooms from the conference hall was very close, and our conference space was exactly everything we needed and more.”
The group made use of the resort’s A/V and Wi-Fi, which Orozco describes as “great.” She also has high praise for Pechanga’s A/V staff. “The A/V manager was always checking to see how things were going. There were no issues.”
In fact, she notes, “Every staff member at the hotel was super friendly. You couldn’t ask to work with anyone better than our sales manager and our catering and conference managers. They are always one step ahead.”
Some of the Southwest Traders Inc. attendees took part in a tournament at the resort’s golf facility. “We had a golf tournament the day before our product show,” Orozco says. “It was amazing. The golf course is beautiful and our guests really appreciated the venue.”
As for meals, the group used a couple of different options for dinners: Journey’s End, one of the resorts many dining venues, as well as one of the conference halls. “The food was absolutely amazing,” Orozco says. “Everything was superb and we received a lot of compliments on the quality of the food.”
If there’s any downside, it’s that Pechanga is increasingly growing in popularity. “Plan ahead,” Orozco advises, “because the word is getting out about how great Pechanga is for an event. It is a go-to destination for sure.” Orozco and Southwest Traders Inc. were so pleased with the meeting this year that they’ve already selected Pechanga Resort Casino for next year’s show.
Far to the east, the Bahamas also offer resorts featuring casinos along with a slew of other amenities, not the least of which is the balmy, blue ocean teeming with marine life. Atlantis, Paradise Island is one of them. The luxurious complex boasts: 3,400 rooms across five distinct properties; the largest casino in the Bahamas; a 30,000-sf spa; a 141-acre water park; the world’s largest, open-air marine habitat with more than 50,000 aquatic animals representing more than 250 marine species; and more than 100 marine biologists ready to guide guests into the wonder of ocean life with hands-on experiences at Dolphin Cay. Atlantis’ Conference Center encompasses 200,000 sf of indoor meeting spaces, including the Imperial Ballroom, which has the capacity for groups of up to 4,000. Additionally, there are 300,000 sf of outdoor event space with multiple meeting facilities. While Atlantis has made its mark, it continues to evolve. Most recently, the all-suite accommodations at The Reef property were refreshed.
Across the bridge in Nassau proper, Baha Mar is another increasingly popular choice for meetings and conventions. Norma Baumann, senior account manager with Business Incentives Worldwide, brought a group of executives there this past summer.
“We loved that the destination is one-of-a-kind, and that its relaxing atmosphere allows guests to take a step back and take it all in,” she says. The group used the Baha Mar Convention, Arts & Entertainment Center for meetings and Grand Hyatt Baha Mar as the base hotel.
“As we were planning the event, the quality of lodging had to be suitable for our attendees,” Baumann says. “Grand Hyatt Baha Mar’s high-end resort feel was aligned with what we were looking for. The convention center’s meeting space is incredible as there’s a lot to work with, and we appreciated how central it was to other venues and resort amenities.”
With nearly 1,800 in attendance, the group required a large hotel and the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is exactly that. “Grand Hyatt Baha Mar had the inventory to keep our entire group together. We also knew that we wanted to embrace local culture and we appreciated that the Hyatt rooms have a Bahamian touch to them, in addition to being spacious and elegant.”
The Convention, Arts & Entertainment Center creates a strong sense of place, not only in its island style, but also because it prominently features the artwork of Bahamian artists. “For our events, we used the convention center and conference space, which was an eight-minute walk from our guests’ rooms. The convention center provided adequate A/V, and Wi-Fi throughout the property was strong and reliable,” Baumann notes. “We were also pleased with the catering capabilities — the presentation, timing and taste were fantastic. While we did not use the hotel for décor, we were satisfied with all elements of the convention center and planning process. We were so impressed with how the staff worked to help deliver an outstanding President’s Club event.”
Baumann especially appreciated the high level of service. “The sales office provided excellent support throughout the planning process,” she says, “specifically the director of group sales and the senior sales manager. We understand that the process takes a village and their willingness to listen helped quell our worries for the event. While on property, we always had one direct, on-site contact, who proved to be absolutely great. He was incredibly responsive, and truly understood our program and what we were trying to achieve.”
Like other planners who set meetings in casino resorts, Baumann didn’t necessarily consider the casino a factor in choosing the hotel and destination. “But the gaming aspect was an added value to our guests’ stay as our attendees skewed younger,” she says.
There were some potential challenges to work through in terms of island infrastructure. “Over the course of several site inspections, we realized that the power goes out from time to time and could impact our group events and awards nights,” Baumann says. ”The team decided to bring in two additional generators to ensure that the elaborate evenings would run seamlessly.”
For Baumann, it really is all about teamwork. To planners thinking about meeting at Baha Mar — or anywhere for that matter — she advises, “Communicate your expectations immediately. As we are all working toward the same goal, it’s imperative to work side-by-side as a team to accomplish our joint vision.”
Planners should also know this about Grand Hyatt Baha Mar: It may be the only property where you can introduce your attendees to ‘flamingo yoga.’ Yes, real flamingos practicing yoga with attendees.
According to a representative for the property, “The flamingos are actually ‘participating’ in the class — as best as they can. The flow is led by an instructor who is very comfortable with the flamingos and understands that the birds are very ‘hands on.’ The birds will get on the towels, mats, hair and anything else they can find. Their beaks are like fingertips and whenever there’s something new, their curiosity takes over. They especially love the mats, because they play into all of their senses. They love the sound from their feet on the mat, and the texture seems to be fun to them.”
Alas, there may not be many destinations offering ‘flamingo yoga,’ however, there are a ton of destinations and resorts that provide excellent meeting options in addition to top-level gaming opportunities. The two are definitely not mutually exclusive.
Planners who have not visited MGM Resorts lately will find much that’s new. Last year, ARIA Resort & Casino Convention Center underwent a $165 million expansion resulting in an additional 200,000 sf of technologically advanced, flexible space within four stories. Highlights include a dramatic glass-enclosed venue and striking indoor/open-air spaces.
The MGM Grand Conference center underwent a $130 million expansion late last year that added 250,000 sf and included an expansion of the resorts’ Stay Well Meetings. Of interest to association executive boards is the new, 77,000-sf conference space at Park MGM, which includes Madison Meeting Center and Ideation Studio, the first executive meeting center in Las Vegas specifically designed to meet the needs of small groups. Large groups have the Park Theater, which accommodates up to 5,200. The expansion was completed late last year.
When the much-anticipated CAESARS FORUM opens next spring, it will already have significant bookings. Caesars Entertainment says it has now secured more than $300 million in business for the new 550,000-sf facility. Industry powerhouses MPI, Cvent, Conference Direct and HelmsBriscoe all have selected the space for upcoming annual meetings.
Of course, Las Vegas doesn’t have a lock on desirable gaming resorts. Atlantic City is the gaming go-to on the East Coast, and plenty has been happening there as well. Last year, Revel re-opened as Ocean Casino Resort with 1,299 guest rooms, an expansive spa, 160,000 sf of event space and a Topgolf Swing Suite. After a $500 million investment, Hard Rock International completely transformed the former Taj Mahal Casino, reopening it last year as a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
Resorts Casino Hotel has expanded the Margaritaville LandShark Bar & Grill on the boardwalk with Fins Bar, a year-round beach bar experience. Live entertainment, an expanded bar and a 2,300-sf boardwalk deck are among its highlights. Tropicana purchased The Chelsea Hotel, bringing its room total to 2,730. The new Chelsea Tower at Tropicana Atlantic City includes the newly reopened Sea Spa, and for groups holding rooms in both properties, they’re conveniently linked via skybridge.
Finally, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City’s Coastal Tower is in the midst a $56 million upgrade, various infrastructure projects continue, the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall underwent a $10 million renovation and the city has approved a micro-brewery/axe-throwing facility scheduled to debut later this year.
In Scottsdale, Arizona, Talking Stick Resort offers 113,000 sf of flexible meeting space and gets high marks for its casino and luxurious accommodations. The casino has more than 50 table games, 800 slot machines and hosts daily poker tournaments. Attendees can visit Topgolf at Riverwalk right across the street, or play a few rounds at Talking Stick Golf Club’s two courses.
Groups that love meeting in Florida in the winter months are in luck as two properties should be on planners’ radars. A combined $2.2 billion project includes expansions of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood. In Hollywood, the expansion includes a 638-room guitar tower. There’s also a new, 13.5-acre pool experience, expanded casino and spa and a new Hard Rock Live. In Tampa, the expansion features a 14-story tower with 562 guest rooms, three new pools and an expanded casino, plus the Hard Rock Event Center with its 17,000-sf ballroom among other spaces. C&IT