T he numbers don’t lie. With 950 flights arriving daily at McCarren International Airport, and more than 150,000 hotel rooms on offer — most of them dedicated to the meetings and conventions market — it’s not hard to understand the appeal of Las Vegas as one of the world’s top conference and incentive destinations.
“Las Vegas offers an amazing opportunity to hit our clients’ experiential and financial targets for their customer audiences,” says Colleen Hardy, vice president, sales and marketing for RT Travel & Incentives (RTTI), a San Juan Capistrano, California-based meeting planner. “We steered our client Golden Harvest toward Las Vegas, because of the tremendous value in luxury accommodations, airlift and entertainment it affords.”
For a rewards trip offered by Golden Harvest to its seed advisors, RTTI selected The Mirage to host the 350 attendees last February.
“RTTI has shared a successful partnership with The Mirage in Las Vegas for over 10 years,” adds Hardy. “We have confidence their team will work seamlessly with ours. Together, we have provided exceptional value, executed top-notch experiences and delivered huge ROI for clients again and again.”
The MGM Resorts-owned casino, which cost a record-breaking $620 million (in 1989 dollars) for Steve Wynn to build, was a game-changer for The Strip, replete with an erupting volcano that stopped traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard. It broadened the gaming-focused revenue base for hotels to encompass dining and entertainment, and Wynn lured illusionists Siegfried and Roy with a $50 million contract. The success of The Mirage launched a two-decade building boom for the city, as one hotel after another was built, each aiming to cash in on or eclipse Wynn’s winning streak.
“Las Vegas offers an amazing opportunity to hit our clients’ experiential and financial targets for their customer audiences.”
— Colleen Hardy
Some of them did, but three decades later The Mirage still occupies a prime position near the center of The Strip action, and continues to shine as one of the leading “second-tier” properties on The Strip, maximizing bling for buck.
“Our group didn’t have especially unique requirements,” says Hardy. “But we do feel The Mirage offered opportunities for enhancing the audience experience, such as an exclusive buyout at 1 Oak nightclub for the welcome party, and access to The Beatles Love by Cirque Du Soleil for the final night. For both, the hotel offered ways to customize with group signage and dedicated desks for greeting attendees. These were unique touches to truly set the audience apart from other guests at the hotel and make them feel special, which both the client and the attendees just loved.”
The 3,044-room Mirage has ample meeting space for all but the largest groups, including an 89,400-sf Events Center and the 40,000-sf Grand Ballroom, along with a variety of breakout rooms.
RT Travel & Incentives did schedule one offsite activity at Topgolf. “It elicited a huge response from both the client and their attendees,” recalls Hardy. “Given the venue’s beautiful layout and exposure to the outdoors, fabulous weather helped with this event’s success, but not enough could be said about the outstanding service and overall quality of experience that was received.
“Hello Las Vegas was also key to the success of this event, especially as it relates to transportation,” she continues. “Their team made the logistics of group movement a breeze with excellent service and knowledgeable staff. They provided a breadth of unique, offsite activity options, such as Red Rock excursions and helicopter tours for small group experiences, which received rave reviews from attendees.”
Hardy also praised The Mirage sales, convention and catering crews. “They were all by our side every step of the way and truly served as an extension of our team,” adds Hardy. “Their specialized expertise and tenure at The Mirage confirm the hotel’s commitment and dedication to the meeting, conference and incentive industry. The Mirage offers a solution for clients looking for uncommon value, quality and consistency of experience wrapped in a casually elegant package. It really hits the mark for clients, who might ordinarily have concerns about bringing their audiences to Las Vegas.”
Other news from MGM Resorts International includes a lighting of the new marquee and signage for Park MGM, the new hotel concept stepping into the shell of the former Monte Carlo. The building is receiving a head-to-toe makeover that introduces a boutique feel to guest rooms, along with the intimate, customizable Madison Meeting Center. When the project is completed later this year, two products will emerge — Park MGM and a distinctly Las Vegas version of NoMad, a 292-room property on the tower’s top four floors.
In April, MGM Resorts and subsidiary CityCenter Holdings sold the 392-room Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas to an undisclosed buyer, and recently announced that the 47-story property will be rebranded to Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria label in August. The location is one of only two on The Strip without gaming, but the Aria Resort & Casino is immediately next door. The hotel will receive a renovation, with Waldorf Astoria brand touches and improvements in mind.
New York developer Witkoff and Marriott International announced that the languishing, blue-tinted Fontainebleau tower, opposite Circus Circus, is finally getting a new lease on life. The 60-story high-rise has remained unfinished since the 2008–2009 recession hit Las Vegas, but a decade later the Fontainebleau structure will be recast as The Drew Las Vegas — with almost 4,000 hotel rooms along with more than 500,000 sf of convention and meeting space. The Drew will be Marriott’s first Edition brand hotel in Las Vegas and the tower also will include The Strip’s first JW Marriott.
Other projects planned for the north end of The Strip include an $860 million expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (taking over the former Riviera land); the Chinese-owned Resorts World project, slated to open in 2020; Wynn West, a 2,000- to 3,000-room project penciled for the land opposite the current Wynn hotels; and $1.5 billion Paradise Park, a 47-story hotel tower that began construction in January behind Wynn-Encore.
The Cashman Center, an exhibition space near downtown Las Vegas, was shuttered at the end of 2017. However, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that plans are afoot to build another expo center downtown — this time, next door to the existing World Market Center, the large building immediately next to the I-15 freeway, heading north into downtown. The expo center will spread 350,000 sf and represents the largest construction project downtown for several years.
In May, Caesars Entertainment revealed completion of a $125 million redesign of the 2,052 guest rooms at Bally’s Las Vegas. Nearly every guest room at the 2,800-unit property has been renovated within the last four years. Measuring more than 440 sf, Bally’s guest rooms are already slightly larger than is standard on The Strip. And, as part of Caesars’ Code Green initiative, which aims to reduce landfill waste, the company donated a majority of the furniture from the renovation — more than 2,000 rooms’ worth — to charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas and the hurricane relief efforts in Houston, Texas.
New residency acts have been announced by Caesars Entertainment, including multi-platinum recording artist Gwen Stefani at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theater. The new show, “Gwen Stefani — Just a Girl,” opened June 27 and is currently scheduled to run through March, 2019. And Mariah Carey is winging into Vegas with her all-new show, “The Butterfly Returns,” opening July 5 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Also at Caesars Palace, the adults-only, tented show “Absinthe” has extended its run, with a long-term deal in place through 2028.
Just down the road, Caesars Entertainment also revealed plans for a new, Southeast Asian-themed entertainment zone called Kind Heaven, a partnership between Caesars, Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell, and the team behind Hollywood franchises such as “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones.” Set to open in 2019, the $100 million project will be located across the street from Caesars, between Harrah’s and the Flamingo and connected to the Linq Promenade. Guests will wear devices to track food and drink purchases and the multiple themed areas will include virtual games, a faux forest and stages where bands will perform. The venue will be open to all during the day, but segues to adults-only after 8 p.m.
Located immediately behind (east) Linq, a groundbreaking for Caesars Forum is taking place this month. The $375 million project will build a LEED Silver-certified conference center featuring 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including two 108,000-sf ballrooms. A 100,000-sf outdoor plaza will connect directly to the Linq Promenade and to the Las Vegas Monorail. Caesars Forum is set to open in 2020.
Later this year, the 3,027-room Cosmopolitan will complete its year-long project to renovate most of its guest rooms, emphasizing modern design and comfort. Wraparound terrace suites and city rooms emulate the feel of an urban penthouse, with neutral colors and splashes of bright accents. All rooms will have a virtual concierge to book dining reservations, purchase show tickets or automate the lighting and temperature, and groups will be able to utilize iPads to alert guests to plans and events.
The Cosmopolitan is also getting a refresh on dining and entertainment, including this summer’s debut of Red Plate, featuring a sophisticated, modern take on Cantonese cuisine. And this fall, Block 16 Urban Eatery & Bar is set to open and will offer six distinct food experiences, including District: Donuts Sliders Brew, a New Orleans-based chain renowned for its breakfast sandwiches; the Southern chicken joint Hattie B’s Hot Chicken; and Tekka Bar, a Japanese handroll and sake concept that originated in Las Vegas. Other recently opened dining options at Cosmopolitan include the first West Coast outpost for noodle bar Momofuku; the New York dining destination Blue Ribbon; and the Southern California hot spot Eggslut.
Meeting costs can add up, but many planners find that some expenses — airfare, entertainment, transfers — allow Las Vegas to stay competitive with other destinations. Such was the case for Lauren Andrews, director of site selection and contract services for Atlanta-based event management firm Meeting Expectations. Andrews booked a 600-person event for Encore at the Wynn Las Vegas for a Bay Area software company.
“Typically, this event is hosted near the client’s headquarters in San Francisco, however, we found there was a cost savings by hosting the event in Las Vegas,” Andrews explains. The software company chose Encore for its January 2018 gathering in part due to the availability of the resort’s theater for a general session. The 2,034-room Encore also has a 20,650-sf ballroom, along with the usual breakout rooms, totaling 60,000 sf overall.
“Generally, we spend a good portion of our budget on general session production.
Fortunately, Encore has a built-in theater for high-end entertainment, equipped with the lighting and staging necessary for this part of the program. There was a rental fee per day for the theater but it was a significant cost savings compared to what we spent in previous years, which included the buildout of the stage and lighting within a hotel ballroom.
“Encore is considered one of the top resorts in Las Vegas,” Andrews adds. “Keep in mind, we were coming from a city where it was a cost savings to move the event to Las Vegas and Encore. However, if you are coming from another first-tier city where the prices are not as high, be prepared to think through your AV, food and beverage, and other major line items.
“The Encore Theater was the base for our general session and it elevated the event to the next level. It felt like a true production. While most would think, ‘Wow, this cost a lot of extra money,’ in fact, we saved on budget by hosting the event outside the company’s headquarters city.
“From the quality of sleeping rooms and meeting space, to the food and beverage provided by the banquet staff and in-house restaurants and the entertainment — everything was under one roof with a consistent, well-maintained feel. We did not need to pay to transport our team offsite — everything our client needed was under one roof.
“We liked having the option of having an offsite venue onsite,” says Andrews. “There are two nightclubs at Wynn Encore that we had the option of using for breakfast, lunch or reception-dinner-after party. We did use one of them for an evening function and our attendees appreciated not having to take transportation to and from the locale — instead they could walk up to their room whenever they desired. In addition, the venue was already themed so no additional décor was needed. Our evening event was a big success.”
Andrews did note there were some challenges during the contract negotiations, that the resort did not have much flexibility with the terms. But otherwise Encore delivered the needed components at a price the company could afford.
“The purpose of the Revenue Kick-Off Meeting is to motivate and educate the sales team, and Encore was a great fit to host this event,” she explains. “The associates were excited to come to train on new techniques while also feeling rewarded by staying at one of the nicest properties in Las Vegas. In the end, the quality of the experience was that of a first-class event.”
While Las Vegas is the drawing card for corporate and incentive groups looking to set a meeting in a city with all the bells and whistles, planners with small and medium-sized events also should consider looking 400 miles north, to Reno and nearby Lake Tahoe. Sure, you’ll trade a desert backdrop for one defined by the Sierra Nevada mountain range, but costs are usually less, and there are still gaming tables for those who want them.
“Reno has many options for team events, food venues and entertainment,” suggests Kelli Cavallaro, marketing operations manager for Reno-based Hamilton Robotics. In April, the company held its 75-person Operations Meeting in Reno, hosting the event at the new Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel.
The Renaissance is the year-old reincarnation of the former Siena Hotel. Set alongside the Truckee River, the 214-room Renaissance is the first non-gaming, branded, full-service luxury hotel in the city’s history. Following an extensive renovation inside and out, the hotel now features upscale restaurants showcasing local flavors and offers 13,198 sf of event space, composed of eight rooms (the largest has a capacity of 650). The hotel also has a full-service spa, fitness center and pool, targeting both business and leisure guests.
“I wanted a non-casino hotel in Reno, and the location in the heart of downtown and the lodging was excellent,” Cavallaro explains. “The Renaissance is for small to medium groups, making the experience more intimate. It offers state-of-the-art features and the guest rooms are beautiful — the décor is a nod to Reno history.
“The meeting rooms are all located on the same level, and they provided an excellent room layout with natural lighting. Catering was very good and the food was always on time, with a nice selection — they also customized menus for us.” Cavallaro says the hotel’s AV department was very responsive and that signage was adequate throughout the property. The hotel needed to accommodate several breakout groups, and Hamilton Robotics organized offsite events.
The hotel also has an unusual facility for receptions or teambuilding: an event space dedicated to Bundox Bocce, with seven indoor and two outdoor courts. The indoor space features a sports bar with dining and large screen TVs, shuffleboard and skeeball, while the outdoor courts are regulation size, 90 feet. The outdoor space also includes seating for dining and drinking, as well as fire pits with seating, darts and ping pong tables.
“They helped us plan a great teambuilding event here, including setting up a video gaming room,” says Cavallaro. “All of the event staff went above and beyond to provide an excellent meeting experience and they were extremely responsive to any special requests and needs we had before and during the meeting.
“This hotel wants everyone to appreciate all that Reno has to offer and helped us plan and coordinate offsite events,” she adds.
Planners who want to impress stakeholders with budget-friendly site selection and still give attendees something to write home about know Las Vegas and Reno will hit the mark every time. C&IT