Las Vegas. What other destination features gondola rides on the Grand Canal, a bird’s-eye view from the top of the world’s largest observations wheel and a stroll alongside a white tiger habitat — all within walking distance of one another? Adhering to its founding principle, “spare no expense,” this is a town where beyond-the-imagination attractions continually exceed the imagination. Add to this mix an ever-present pledge to up the ante with enticement after enticement — from top-of-the-line exhibition enhancements to top-of-their-game entertainment headliners — and the city becomes a magnet for meetings.
“It was a good match. Las Vegas and Adobe have the same synergy. Both have similar goals — to create a great customer experience.”
— Julie Martin
“Las Vegas is a destination that can serve up anything you can dream,” says Cathy Kusuma, senior director of training and strategic partnerships for Coral Springs, Florida-based Cruise Planners (American Express travel representative), a privately owned company of 1,500 home-based travel franchisees. As the nation’s largest corporation of its kind, the success of its annual event Cruise Planners on the Road (a 2½-day boot camp with the dual goal of networking and product knowledge) is key to remaining on top — with its location no small part of the decision-making process. As first-timers to the city, the verdict of its March meeting with more than 100 attending travel agents at Caesars Palace Las Vegas is “mission accomplished.”
Why Vegas? “Because we have franchise owners in all 50 states, we’re always on the lookout for a destination that is easily reached by everyone,” explains Kusuma. Detailing her multifaceted thought process, the planner continues, “Las Vegas is a good drive market for those on the West Coast; our travel agents sell a lot of Vegas, so they get to experience it, and many of those who flew in decided to stay for the weekend. Because who doesn’t love Vegas, right?”
As home to 17 of the nation’s 20 largest hotels, however, the selection of Las Vegas is only one part of the decision. “We did a ton of site inspections, and because of Caesars’ great prices, central location and its other offerings, we were able to tick off all the boxes on our checklist — making Caesars the best fit.”
Of increasing interest to Cruise Planners, as it is to many groups, is a corporate social responsibility component. Caesars addressed this desire with the debut of its “Meetings for Good” program. Offering a “menu” of such CSR opportunities as assisting seniors, promoting environmental sustainability and acknowledging deployed soldiers and veterans, the philanthropic program gives meeting planners their choice of volunteer opportunities.
Cruise Planners’ welcome kick-off was a cocktail reception of agents, destination partners and corporate staff near The Linq’s High Roller, concluding with a sunset ride on the big wheel. “It’s nice to have that face time with our agents and really get to know them,” says Kusuma. “After all, we’ve been on the High Roller with them.”
Acknowledging the reluctance of some to host a meeting here, the Cruise Planners’ meetings specialist gives insight: “Some meeting planners shy away from Las Vegas and I’ve wondered why. Perhaps it’s that in years past the city’s reputation was that it was just for gambling, and for that reason some may have thought it wasn’t a match for their group. But Vegas has done amazing things to change this viewpoint.”
Factors contributing to this meeting planner’s assessment are many — the proximity of the airport, the quantity of meeting space, the number of hotel choices, the amount of entertainment options and the ease of getting from one fun place to another. Kusuma’s assessment: “Today’s Las Vegas is a number-one meetings destination.”
Las Vegas’ ease in accommodating a group of any size, from 100 to 10,000, is considered as big an attraction to meeting planners as Celine Dion is to music lovers. A premier example is this year’s first-time-in-the-city Adobe Summit, Adobe’s Annual Digital Marketing Conference of more than 10,000 attendees, held in March at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo Convention Center.
Julie Martin, senior director of corporate events for San Jose, California-based Adobe Systems Inc., explains her group’s move to Las Vegas. Held for several years in Salt Lake City, it was necessary to make a change in 2016 because of the event’s expansion. “We were maxed out in Salt Lake City because Adobe’s business has grown and Adobe Summit has experienced growth as well — attendance was up 40 percent from last year.”
Martin details that the primary venue draw was its vast number of meeting rooms, sleeping rooms and exhibit space — all under the same roof. Offering more than 2.25 million sf of convention space, The Venetian Palazzo Congress Center has one of the world’s largest pillar-less ballrooms (85,000 sf), plus 298 meeting, conference and boardrooms, in addition to the 1.9 million sf of meeting and show space within the adjacent Sands Expo. Plus, the all-suite 4,028-room Venetian and more than 3,000-room Palazzo are known for the size of their suites (nearly double that of the average hotel room on The Strip). “All of this was a huge factor,” says the meeting planner.
Of additional appeal to Martin is the resorts’ food and beverage portfolio, which serves up such celebrity-chef restaurants as Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse, Wolfgang Puck’s Cutchock, Mario Batali’s B&B Ristorante and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon.
“Our attendees are hungry to learn and to take new tips and tricks back to the office,” explains the Adobe planner. Details of this five-day conference (including two pre-conference days) are impressively comprehensive. Offering three days of more than 200 sessions and 56 hands-on labs (eight computer-outfitted rooms) and 100-plus exhibitors on the show floor premiering the industry’s latest and greatest, the event is designed for the collection of knowledge as well as for networking — presenting the opportunity to meet peers, industry leaders, Adobe staffers and partners.
“The challenge in Las Vegas is how to keep attendees excited about your event because there are so many distractions,” says Martin of the city with 24/7 entertainment. “The key is a tight agenda with lots of activities. We spend a great deal of time surveying what our attendees like, so we know what appeals to them and how to maintain their attention. It is with this knowledge that we make choices regarding content, speakers and the keynote.”
Chock-full of A-listers, Adobe’s conference lineup was electromagnetic. Its Summit Bash party, which always features a headliner, was anchored by the rock band Weezer, and the fun was further enhanced with an assortment of food trucks. Again, as it was held in The Linq lot, the meeting planner considered its walkable distance from the hotels a time-saving and cost-saving bonus.
Without a doubt, the event’s most enticing elements were the keynote speakers. Donny Osmond, one of Las Vegas’ most popular entertainers, kicked it off with song and dance, followed by U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach. However, it was the sit-down interview by Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes with actor George Clooney that was the conference’s off-the-charts hit. Speaking humorously about his career and sharing insight into inspiration and creativity, the popularity of the actor’s appearance enabled Martin to harness most of the summit’s 10,000 attendees to the second-day event.
“It was a good match,” says Martin of the city and her company. “Las Vegas and Adobe have the same synergy. Both have similar goals — to create a great customer experience.” Her final verdict is supported by numbers: “Every year we try to raise the bar. Even though post-convention surveys show that 90 percent of attendees consistently rate the summit from very good to excellent, 2016 measured even better.”
Amid these results, it’s not surprisingly that next year’s Adobe annual conference will again be here. “At this point,” concludes Martin, “it looks like Las Vegas is where we want to stay.”
Corie Rand, CMP, CTSM, senior manager, events marketing for Boston, Massachusetts-based Air Worldwide, has managed events in Las Vegas for more than 15 years, and from observation, she concludes that although the destination continually changes, it continues to be a big draw for conference and event attendees — typically increasing an event’s numbers by 8 percent.
In the business of being a global provider of risk modeling software and consulting services that help organizations prepare for the financial impacts of catastrophes in more than 90 countries, Air Worldwide is intuitively proactive. This characteristic may have factored into its selection of Las Vegas and Encore at Wynn Las Vegas as the site of Envision 2017. Held in April, it’s the annual user conference that brings together 350–400 risk management professionals from around the world to discuss recent trends, emerging challenges and innovative solutions for the company’s software products.
“A few things about Las Vegas are a draw for us,” says Rand. “The first is weather. As we hold our conference in early April, it’s the perfect time to be in Las Vegas — especially after being in Boston in 2015 and Philadelphia in 2016.” Secondly, she hopes to take advantage of that 8 percent upturn and increase Envision’s numbers. “Las Vegas attracts both attendees that are making return visits and first-timers. As our clients like to go to resorts and urban locations, we have achieved both by choosing Encore Las Vegas for 2017.”
A prime perk of the 48-story, 2,034-room Encore at Wynn Las Vegas is that it also offers the many attractions of its connected property, Wynn Las Vegas (example: the two resorts collectively have 260,000 sf of meeting space). Of additional appeal to Rand are its aesthetics. “The property is very tasteful and the perfect mix of a modern five-star hotel in a major city with a refined Las Vegas flare. The resorts’ decor is spectacular. The fine art, floral displays and water elements are world-renowned.” From the time Air’s meeting planner spent at the properties during site inspections, she deems the operation “a well-oiled machine,” with specific kudos to the staff, whom she describes as “friendly and attentive.”
“The meeting space meets our needs — it’s all on one level and a distance from any gaming,” explains the meetings pro. Due to the group’s large percentage of vegetarians, an additional appeal is Wynn’s commitment to flavorful, non-typical food and beverage choices, with gourmet-quality vegan and vegetarian options served in every one of its restaurants.
Though Envision’s off-property excursions are not yet planned, Rand hopes to take advantage of the southern Nevada location with potential outings to the Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon or perhaps Mount Charleston (only 35 miles from Las Vegas, it’s the state’s eighth highest mountain).
Although Rand sought meeting space a distance from the casino, she’s adding a gaming element to the conference through a point system. In explanation: “The more evaluations attendees do, the more points they receive to be entered into a contest for the chance to win great prizes. A live leaderboard will continually update and display the stats.” On the social media front, Twitter is incentivized as well. Envision will have a live Twitter feed running in the prefunction space, and if attendees tweet using its hashtag, they will be entered to win yet another prize.
In summation and in anticipation, Rand is clear: “Encore is the perfect fit for my size group — we will be the ‘big fish’ on property during our stay.”
The popular tagline, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” has inspired the entertainment capital’s limited edition the beer named #WHHSH (“What Happens Here, Stays Here”). Unveiled in Palm Springs during this year’s Coachella Valley Music Festival, this beer is so exclusive it will only be available at select Las Vegas sponsored events.
An event at Speedvegas, a $30 million, 100-acre motorsports complex, is a meeting planner’s fastest way to immerse a group into Las Vegas’ exciting environment. Inspired by Formula One racetracks, it gives participants the opportunity to drive such high-performance vehicles as Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini, among others, and at speeds up to 120 mph.
In December 2016, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas is adding 2,000 sf of prefunction space for registration and possible exhibit use, with an additional 17, 607 sf of pillar-less meeting space added to the existing 10,200 sf for a grand total of 27,807 sf of usable meeting, exhibit, event and/or food and beverage space. The hotel also offers 16 studio breakout rooms that vary in size from 450 sf to 850 sf.
Replacing Aria Resort and Casino’s Haze Nightclub is Jewel. Able to accommodate approximately 2,000 guests, the 24,000-sf, multilevel nightspot venue features a main club, an overlooking mezzanine level and five secluded suites with a private entrance.
Aria’s technology scene is deemed equally as innovative with the unveiling of its collaboration with Crave Interactive (a cutting-edge guest service software company) to create the largest-ever installation of in-room hotel tablets — giving guests the ability for digital in-room dining orders, one-touch spa service requests, access to a news stream in multiple languages and more.
Recent enticements at Caesars Palace range from cigar bars to check-ins. The Montecristo Cigar Bar — an exclusive 4,000-sf lounge environment, including a 400-sf climate-controlled humidor that can store up to 1,000 cigars — is a unique away-from-the-crowd option. Pairing notable cigar choices with fine whiskeys and great food, its most intimate space is The Vault, which seats 10.
The hotel’s self-check-in kiosk program was designed to streamline an attendee’s arrival to a single step, with no lines and no wait time.
Topgolf’s state-of-the-art flagship location opened in May at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Located on an eight-acre, 105,000-sf lot with views of The Strip, the four-level facility features two pools, five bars, 102 hitting bays on three levels and a fourth level dedicated to VIP experiences. Designed to cater to groups from 10 to 2,000, it offers 3,000 sf of private meeting space and a live musical performance venue able to accommodate up to 900.
When the talent of James Beard Award-winning chef Shawn McClain meets the creativity of Modern Mixologist, Tony Abou-Ganim, the result is Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s summer-debuted bar restaurant, Libertine Social. Described as the “next-generation gastropub,” the chef’s promise is a variety of atmospheres that will meet diners’ (and meeting planners’) expectations for a new kind of fun.
Reflective of the recently completed $200 million transformation of the Tropicana Las Vegas and its South Beach flair, the city’s newest pool club, the Sky Beach Club, raises the bar for an only-in-Vegas experience every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. At 37,603 sf of space (2,000 capacity), among the venue’s A-list amenities are two luxury pools, two bars, 29 poolside daybeds and 18 private cabanas, in addition to celebrity hosts, live performances and a DJ booth. For the ultimate VIP experience, the Cabana Party Patio (its prime location is adjacent to the stage and DJ booth) may be reserved.
“The Beatles Love” by Cirque du Soleil at The Mirage Hotel & Casino is evolving to deliver a more dynamic and engaging version of the musical experience that has already captured the hearts of music and theater fans worldwide.
The first wave of new acts, costumes, choreography, technology and music, designed to bring the vibrant and culture-shifting sounds and settings of The Beatles’ musical revolution to renewed life, are in place now. The show will continue to evolve with a culmination tied to its 10th anniversary this summer. C&IT