It’s no secret that Las Vegas has a reputation for indulgence and excess. Yet as one of the most popular U.S. destinations for meetings and corporate events, Las Vegas also solidly, even ingeniously, supports business. How these two seemingly mutually exclusive aspects of the city come together is not just another confounding Las Vegas illusion. It’s reality.
“Las Vegas is the world’s premier meetings and events destination with an energy and excitement no other city can match,” says Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “We host more than 22,000 meetings, trade shows and conventions a year, and the attendance of countless top executives and key decision-makers from around the world demonstrates that Las Vegas is a place where decisions are made and business happens.”
Kim Campbell, executive director and owner of Drive Production, a California-based event management company that oversees four to six events annually in Las Vegas for major corporations including Levi Strauss and Co., also points to the city’s multiple pro-business assets.
“Aside from the standard search criteria such as great air lift, low room rates, and convention and meeting space, the overall draw of Las Vegas and the city’s status as a mecca for amazing food and top-class entertainment make choosing Las Vegas an easy decision. There’s no shortage of amazing venues in Las Vegas,” Campbell notes, ”but it is the diversity of venues that draws Drive Production to promote Las Vegas as the destination for venue vetting. From large-scale options such as the Wynn and Bellagio to the outstanding service and boutique feel of the Forbes Four Star M Resort, you can offer your clients a plethora of options in one city.”
Planners certainly agree. For example, a meeting planner for a publisher in Florida recently described the benefits that made Las Vegas a good choice for his company’s conference and expo. He says that Las Vegas is a place where people want to go. Among the attributes he cites are the convenience of getting to the destination, the huge variety of stunning hotels and more than sufficient meeting spaces. Also, he specifically points out how professional the convention staff is in Las Vegas. He notes how the staff can anticipate a meeting planner’s needs even before the planner may realize it himself — a big plus when staging huge, complex meetings and events.
The 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino fit the bill for this planner who was more than pleased with the results as were his attendees. Even though this was their first time at Aria, he says the participants were charmed by the hotel, its staff and the meeting spaces, which resulted in greater attendance at the expo.
In fact, the hotel conference staff worked closely to provide the most efficient way to use the space. The planner especially liked Aria’s natural light from its three-story wall of windows, which he says brought a dynamic and vigorous vibe to his event. He says their faces brightened at the prospect of meeting in a sunny space instead of a dark and dreary ballroom.
Campbell depends on strong relationships with hotels to create extraordinary events for her clients, and M Resort has been an excellent business partner for her.
“While working with Levi Strauss and Co.,” she says, “we were searching for the right venue to excite and rejuvenate the retail staff, managers and regional managers. The M Resort offered the perfect combination of an upscale resort nestled a few miles away from The Strip. It was paramount to our client to create a first-class event for attendees while staying within the confines of an internal event budget, meaning no outside registration fees or revenue coming in to offset cost.“
When Intacct Advantage, a cloud financial management users conference, brought 1,200 attendees to M Resort last October, the hotel helped Campbell transform the pool deck into a Moroccan Bazaar ablaze with oranges and reds against the turquoise water, to say nothing of a live elephant on hand as an unusual photo op. Executive chef Michael Demers even created a custom Moroccan menu. That same pool deck became a full-on fashion show, complete with a catwalk, when Levi Strauss attendees gathered there.
When Levi Strauss’ Field Leadership Conference comes to Las Vegas this fall, it will be Drive Production’s fifth event at M Resort, a hotel Campbell recommends to planners without hesitation. Well, almost. “It’s such a special place, I want to keep it all for myself,” she says, “but of course I would recommend it. The main reason the M stands out really comes down to outstanding customer service.”
She offers an example: “During a recent event at the M Resort we had a C-level attendee with severe food allergies,” Campbell says. “The hotel briefed one of its senior banquet servers, and he shadowed this VIP for the entire event — breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days — personally serving him each meal to ensure utmost caution. During another event we had BEOs for a four-hour open bar. However, the client had a presentation that kept attendees in their seats for 90 minutes of that time. The M proactively adjusted our bar tab based on the program and our attendees’ inability to have drinks during the event presentations. This, you can imagine, saved the client a great deal of money and is a great example of outstanding customer service.”
For Tami Hance, senior vice president of Destinations by Design, a Las Vegas destination management and event services company, partnering with a great team is critical to success. She has a long relationship with Caesars, for example, where she set the “unexpected” pharmaceutical event. “This isn’t your parents’ Caesars Palace anymore,” she says. “It’s relevant, hip and a ‘must do’ on any visit.” And she says that because the convention team is empowered to make decisions, things happen.
“Caesars Palace has long been associated with making dreams come true. Need a pool party at the Garden of the Gods for several thousand with 90 minutes of setup time? They do it every day. One of my favorite events to execute,” she says, “is the Taste of Caesars event where their catering team works with the hotel’s restaurants and celebrity chefs to create a restaurant-style event. Using the Mesa Grill, Gordon Ramsay and Nobu brands, the catering team creates a unique menu, and Destinations by Design creates themed food-station décor and signage to match the menu. Where else can you enjoy three celebrity chefs all in one venue at a corporate event?”
Hance praises Caesars Palace as a hotel that understands a meeting and its needs. “The meeting space is bright and easy to get to, and some hotel towers have elevator access right into the convention area so guests can go from their room to their meeting in a few minutes.”
For Hance, the city’s reputation as the epicenter of high-energy entertainment where absolutely anything can happen helps make meetings here successful — and easier to market.
“Las Vegas is a brand that evokes emotion, excitement and the thrill of something unexpected,” Hance says. “When corporate executives select Las Vegas as their meeting destination, the majority of the marketing and brand awareness is already created for them. Participants are immediately intrigued, whether it’s their first time or their 10th time. Every Las Vegas experience is a different one because the city continues to evolve — there is always something new to do.”
And the city’s Vegas Means Business campaign is more than a few well-chosen words. It’s backed by action and infrastructure. “The city’s first-class service, state-of-the-art meeting space and ‘whatever it takes’ attitude create a recipe for a successful meeting over and over again,” Hance says. “We get things done, and we do them efficiently and professionally.”
Precisely because anything can and does happen in Las Vegas, not all of it is conducive to business, says Tom Hillmer, senior vice president and account executive with Creative Group Inc., a Buffalo Grove, Illinois, firm, which manages 500-plus programs per year for more than 90 corporate clients. Yet meeting professionals know how to downplay that and how to take the anything-goes vibe and tweak it into something that works brilliantly for corporate and incentive clients.
“That’s the beauty of Las Vegas,” Hillmer says. “You can play off the decadence of the destination or completely downplay it, especially within the professional environment of most hotel meeting facilities. In fact, while convention space in the hotels might be finished to reflect a property’s individual architectural themes, function space throughout the city is generally quite conservative. This makes these facilities the perfect backdrop for getting down to business.”
For those who want to take it up a few notches, there are unlimited opportunities to do that, too. Hillmer points to such only-in-Las-Vegas experiences as the new High Roller, the 550-foot tall observation wheel — the world’s largest — that gives business and incentive groups a thrill and a place to hold a catered reception for 40 high above the city.
Playing on Las Vegas’ anything-can-happen reputation, Hance and her team created a deceptively simple theme around “expect the unexpected” for a pharmaceutical event at Caesars. “We started the evening with dessert first. During cocktails, the guests enjoyed passed chocolate-covered strawberries, truffles and other sweet treats. They then moved to their sit-down dinner of salad, a surf-and-turf entrée and a fruit-and-cheese plate as the last course. That fun detail didn’t cost anything extra, and it was the talk of the conference.
“Décor also matched the theme with rectangular dining tables with cloud graphics and ceiling décor consisting of wheat grass chandeliers and hanging floral. Entertainment was a female, electric violist quartet positioned around the room on wireless in-ear monitors. Throughout the evening they would move from their locations, playing their unique strings to track music from Elton John to Aerosmith; these girls were certainly unexpected!”
One easy way to downplay the city’s racy vibe, Hillmer says, is to meet off The Strip. “Properties such as Red Rock Resort, M Resort and Green Valley Ranch provide outstanding settings for successful business meetings, especially for that client who wants to take advantage of what the destination offers but prefers a more secluded, intimate, upscale resort setting. All three hotels have excellent meeting space and accommodations, and clients whose programs are in the 100- to 500-person range can be the primary focus of these resorts vs. the larger convention settings of many Strip hotels where numerous groups may be happening at one time.”
Little tweaking is needed for incentive programs, something Las Vegas is especially suited for. “Incentives are a reward and need to reflect a sense of being worth the effort it took to earn them,” Hillmer says. “The goal is to design a program that gives participants an opportunity to experience a destination in a way they could never experience it on their own. For instance, we picked up one group at their Strip hotel and took them off-Strip to a beautiful location for dinner with the Red Rock formations as backdrop. After dinner, we had the group come to the top of the parking garage where one by one, helicopters landed, picked up six participants at a time and took them back to The Strip via a nighttime helicopter tour of the city. It was an experience many of those folks are still talking about a number of years later.”
Hillmer adds, “Las Vegas is a place most people enjoy visiting, largely because of the dynamic, always-changing atmosphere of the city. When your destination can be a significant factor in driving your attendance, it follows that you will be even more successful in achieving your business objectives by having a meeting there.”
At first glance it might seem that incorporating branding into a Las Vegas meeting would be challenging given the city’s propensity for excess, an anathema to corporate bottom lines. But there are many who say it’s precisely this wild side of Las Vegas that makes it easy for convention and catering teams to be so creative. Seriously, they’ll try anything.
At Mandalay Bay, part of the MGM collection of properties, the beach is a super popular venue accommodating up to 6,000 attendees. The resort’s team came up with a “shoe check” at the beach as a way to put an unusual stamp on branding. As corporate guests arrive, they check their shoes and receive a pair of flip-flops with their company’s logo set into the sole. With each step, they boldly imprint that logo into the sand.
The team has also placed logo slicks on the bottom of the wave pool, and covered the pool with a floating Plexiglas dance floor on which logo and brand colors are emblazoned via a state-of-the-art lighting system. That same lighting can be used to project a logo onto the venue’s waterfalls, and on mist walls that guests actually walk through. Additionally, the beach area supports laser shows and fireworks, which can incorporate logos and brand colors to dramatic effect. Items such as beach towels, fans and drinks created to showcase brand colors all can be utilized to extend logo and branding elements.
Minus5 Ice Lounge, another MGM venue, has two locations, one at Monte Carlo and the other at The Shoppes at Mandalay Palace. Both feature ice couches, an ice bar, ice sculptures and other icy architectural elements, all in an environment at a constant minus five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). How can ice showcase branding? There’s no end of cool ways. Mattel froze its 2015 Hot Wheels and Barbie Camper, not yet out in stores. Cisco had logo ice sculptures, as did Dell Computers, which placed its notebook alongside ice sculptures to convey durability. Mini Cooper created a life-size ice Mini in which parka-clad attendees could pose for photos, and Olympus froze its cameras to demonstrate just how tough they are.
Campbell praises M Resort for its willingness to go all out on branding. “They allowed us to take over the entire conference level and incorporate branding in a way no other property has in my 20 years in events,” she says. “From the front entry welcome vinyl on the large glass doors above the main doors to the hotel to branded cocktail napkins in all the outlets and custom-made chocolate displays incorporating sponsor logos, we washed the M with every branding idea we could think of.”
M Resort has plenty of creative branding experience. When Cisco held an event with 8,500 attendees at the Villagio del Sole pool, each arriving guest was given a sequined hat with a round Cisco emblem attached. As darkness descended, the group was asked to pull the tab on their hats. Instantaneously, thousands of Cisco emblems blinked throughout the pool area, lighting up the sequined hats to incredible effect. The emblems continued to sparkle as the band Train took to the pool stage, and senior management and VIP guests saw it all from high above in Ravello Lounge, the group’s VIP viewing area.
To get a competitive edge, many businesses also utilize apps, social media and other aspects of technology to drive engagement among attendees and clients before, during and after meetings.
At Mandalay Bay, companies can integrate technology into real-time events with such spectacular elements as Twitter feeds appearing on huge balloons above the stage. Some companies engage attendees by giving them input into a conference, for example asking them to log into an app and vote for what will be served at the reception. Or they can log in after to vote on the elements of the conference they liked best. When attendees use apps, companies can easily push through schedule changes before or during the conference as well as make announcements about sales initiatives or other business.
In October, a large computer company will bring 12,000 attendees to Mandalay Bay, and the hotel is already working on its part of the app experience, which will come down to a beer vs. wine vote. The hotel’s sommelier and beer Cicerone (certified beer expert) are creating pairings for the reception. Stay tuned to see which libation wins.
Groups meeting in Las Vegas appreciate the endless options for recreation and unique entertainment available on The Strip and beyond. A full-service incentive company based in the South plans several meetings a year in Las Vegas, especially for large groups. Recently, they arranged for a three-day meeting at The Venetian/The Palazzo. The long list of unique entertainment options in Las Vegas was, as usual, a big attraction for the group of nearly 1,000 participants.
As an aside, the planner notes that other destinations require a great deal more planning of activities, especially with large groups that need to be moved from one activity to another. One valuable benefit of meeting in Las Vegas is that attendees can find hundreds of entertainment options to experience on their own. These options usually don’t require special transportation allowing companies to save on those hefty costs.
The plentiful meeting space and entertainment options at the The Venetian/The Palazzo also were a plus. Attendees were wowed by a special performance of The Blue Man Group during their opening session, which prompted many meeting-goers to attend the group’s extraordinary performance during their own time. The group also held a welcome reception at the property’s Lagasse Stadium, a 24,000-sf restaurant and sports bar featuring Chef Emeril Lagasse’s cuisine, more than 100 HDTVs, plush stadium-style seats and luxury boxes.
The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil is still going strong at Mirage Las Vegas as is Terry Fator, one of the most successful headliners on The Strip, who captures the hearts and funny bones of audiences from around the world with Terry Fator: The Voice of Entertainment live at The Mirage. Backed by a live band, Fator wows audiences nightly with singing, comedy and unparalleled celebrity impressions.
Caesars Entertainment’s The Linq, an open-air shopping, dining and entertainment district, offers something new for attendees who regularly meet in Las Vegas. Home to the Las Vegas High Roller observation wheel, the Linq features more than 30 unique retail, dining and entertainment venues and plays host to a variety of special events, festivals and more.
The Keep Memory Alive event center is located in downtown Las Vegas at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The venue was designed by famed architect Frank Geary and features a dramatic, undulating exterior made of stainless steel. The venue can accommodate 400 for a sit-down event or up to 700 guests for a reception.
The Mob Museum, which is located in the old courthouse, is an interactive museum dedicated to the history of organized crime and law enforcement, and offers a variety of spaces for private events. The entire museum also is available for a buyout.
The Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, a Caesars Entertainment property, features Palazzo suites which are suitable for hospitality events. The Palazzo suites are located in their own tower at the Rio and range from 3,900 to 13,950 sf.
The Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio is also an option for a general session, which can be a welcome change from a hotel ballroom. Many of the theater space in Las Vegas would work for this type of event as they are not used during the day and a few nights as well.
The Linq also sports a new 80,000-sf concert and event venue called the Brooklyn Bowl, which includes a rooftop area.
Still fairly new on the nightlife scene is MGM Grand Hotel & Casino’s Hakkasan, a five-level space that offers a variety of environments, including the restaurant, private dining room, Ling Ling level, main nightclub, pavilion and mezzanine.
Hakkasan Group acquired Pure Nightclub inside Caesars Palace. The nightclub will undergo a total remodel that will be completed in early 2015.
Making a splash last June was the debut of the Seascape Ballroom within Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Planners can hold intimate receptions, sit-down dinners and board meetings here, with an animated backdrop of swimming sharks and other marine life in the 1.3-million-gallon exhibit.
The newly renovated Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton added two new event venues: the Havana Room and the outdoor Beach Club.
The very hip 634-room Downtown Grand hotel, which opened its doors in December in a location convenient to the Freemont Street Experience, features a rooftop venue called Picnic, which can host private events for up to 1,500 guests.
In Las Vegas, constant change is the new status quo.
Silk Road at Vdara reopened in October as a reimagined 6,500-sf meeting and event space for cocktail receptions, board meetings, corporate banquets and other intimate gatherings. And Delano Las Vegas, a non-smoking, 1,100-suite boutique hotel, soon opens at the Mandalay Bay Resort complex in the space previously occupied by THEhotel. Reservations are now accepted for Sept. 1 and beyond.
The VooDoo Zip Line is open at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, allowing non-acrophobic revelers to zip at 33 mph from the patio of VooDoo Steakhouse on the 50th floor of the Masquerade Tower to the adjoining 20-story Ipanema Tower. And channeling the nostalgia of a 1950s-era pool oasis, Picnic at Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino is now open, providing a setting for live entertainment and film screenings, among other events.
Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, Nevada, will receive $20 million in upgrades over the next year, including four new restaurant and bar concepts.
When SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino finally opens Labor Day weekend, it will include Foxtail, a lounge-nightclub-pool concept fusing elements of music, art and fashion.
The three-level Mandalay Bay Convention Center currently offers 1.7 million sf of event space, and it recently unveiled plans to expand the facility to more than 2 million sf. Plans call for the addition of more than 350,000 sf of exhibit space, as well as underground parking and additional carpeted ballroom space. Construction on the $66 million project is scheduled to begin in the fall, and the new exhibit space is expected to be available in late summer 2015.
The new 20,000-seat indoor sports and entertainment arena, which is a joint venture between AEG and MGM Resorts International will be located between the New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, is expected to open in 2016. It will be part of an eight-acre dining and entertainment district called The Park, a landscaped area that is being designed to create an interactive neighborhood environment. The project also is scheduled to open in 2016.
Both resorts are undergoing significant transformations of their Strip-facing experiences into plaza environments featuring casual eateries, bars, restaurants and retail destinations that will ultimately lead to The Park. Restaurants at Monte Carlo’s new entryway include the Double Barrel, a 12,000-sf roadhouse restaurant; Yusho, with authentic Japanese street food by celebrated chef Matthias Merges; and 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria.
In response to guests’ growing interest in health and wellness, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino recently expanded its Stay Well collection. Encompassing the hotel’s entire 14th floor, the collection now includes 171 rooms and suites, all offering health and wellness features such as a vitamin C-infused shower, air purifier, dawn-simulating alarm clock and healthy menu options. Guests also have access to the Stay Well lounge, an exclusive area for registration and relaxation.
The Sands Expo and Convention Center, which offers 2.25 million sf of exhibit and meeting space, as well as direct connections to more than 7,000 suites at The Venetian and The Palazzo, recently completed a $37 million renovation that included remodeling the lobby and adding escalators, new carpeting, Wi-Fi hotspots and food outlets. And, the “Panda!” show has made its world premiere at The Venetian and The Palazzo. It features a combination of acrobatics, martial arts, music and dance from the China National Acrobatic Troupe.
Caesars Entertainment announced The Linq Hotel & Casino as the latest addition to its portfolio of Las Vegas resorts. Located at the heart of The Strip at on Las Vegas Boulevard, the Linq Hotel & Casino is a complete re-imagination of the current Quad Resort & Casino. The hotel will feature 2,256 brand new rooms and suites, a completely renovated welcome experience built around a signature lobby bar, all new retail and spa amenities and a dynamic new pool deck. The hotel is scheduled to open October 2014.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) has launched RideTheStrip.com, a website geared specifically to tourists visiting or planning to travel to Las Vegas. The easy-to-use site provides a one-stop online resource for accessing information on the RTC’s transit routes along The Strip and transit services to and from McCarran International Airport and the Las Vegas Convention Center.
A popular tourist attraction for its double-decker views of the Las Vegas Strip, the Deuce on the Strip makes frequent stops along the Resort Corridor, minimizing walking distances. Carrying more than 28,000 passengers each weekday, it travels between the Mandalay Bay to the south and downtown Las Vegas at Fremont Street to the north.
Undoubtedly, Las Vegas will continue to transform itself in its inimitable style, but a gifted ability to successfully mix business and pleasure will always be part of its story.
And the city’s bottom line value will, too.
“Given its extensive inventory of hotel and meeting accommodations, from a cost perspective, Las Vegas is always one of the greatest financial values there is,” asserts Hillmer. “The high quality of the hotels, room product, food-and-beverage experiences and meeting venues, all at the competitive prices at which one can access them, make Las Vegas an outstanding destination choice for ensuring maximum return on investment of hosting a meeting.” C&IT