Las Vegas answers the challenge for groups that return to the same destination time and again but want the experience to be new and different each time.
Properties continually expand, renovate and add more meeting space, dining experiences, attractions, unique venues, upscale shopping sites, entertainment and technology. Las Vegas offers more than 150,000 hotel rooms and more than 11 million sf of meeting and exhibit space with more under development. And Las Vegas continues to develop more non-gaming activities for family-friendly meetings.
It’s no wonder that, for the 23rd consecutive year, Trade Show News Network named Las Vegas the No. 1 trade show destination in the U.S. In addition, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority’s (LVCVA) 2016 Visitor Profile Study, 27 percent of visitors were in Las Vegas for the first time, compared to 11 percent in 2015.
Las Vegas’ expertise in hosting meeting and convention groups means more groups are repeat visitors. For example, Bloomington, Indiana-based Solution Tree, an educational service provider, has held its 1,800-person, 2½-day educational conference at Caesars Palace every year since 2006. The company has signed through 2020, and plans to sign in 2021, says Renee Marshall, CMP, director of events, Solution Tree.
Caesars’ history and familiarity with the group pays dividends. “Our value is tremendous,” says Marshall. “Since we have a long history with Caesars, they give us amazing concessions that help our bottom line. We love everyone we work with from the sales team to the onsite contacts who execute the event.”
Caesars was an ideal property for several reasons. “It met our needs because of the location on The Strip, the restaurants in the hotel and the attached mall,” says Marshall. “It has flexible space to allow breakouts to be larger or smaller, and has a large room for general sessions. We don’t do a lot of entertainment and activities as we are strictly a content-based event. We sometimes do a small dinner with our presenters in the hotel, but nothing for our attendees.”
Planners like it when a property offers concessions without requesting them. That’s what Caesars did. “We increased our room pickup and food and beverage commitment due to our high registrations,” says Marshall. “Our sales manager could have just increased the room and F&B commitment, but instead of doing only that she also gave us additional concessions because our registrations were higher than expected. The concessions saved us thousands of dollars.”
Caesars Palace is one of several Caesars Entertainment properties, and a new addition is coming soon. Caesars’ CEO Mark Frissora recently told Bloomberg TV that, after the company emerges from bankruptcy later this year, he wants to develop 90 acres of land it owns in front of Caesars Palace.
Caesars also is adding newly renovated suites to its most exclusive collection of luxury accommodations at its Las Vegas resorts. By year-end, Caesars will have renovated more than 800 suites, increasing guest options from multiroom suites to elite two-story duplexes and grand villas that encompass more than 11,000 sf. More than 2,000 suites and villas are available for viewing online as part of Caesars Suites (www.CaesarsSuites.com).
Renovations include suites such as the Julius Tower and Augustus Tower at Caesars Palace; 231 newly restyled suites at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino; and 11 newly renovated mini-villas at Caesars Palace available for booking in August 2017. The renovations come after an upgrade in 2016 of 4,800 total rooms at Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Paris Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas.
Las Vegas once had a reputation for not totally embracing small meetings. Not anymore. Small-meeting groups continue to flock to Las Vegas.
One company that recently held a three-day “boot camp” training for employees at the Luxor Las Vegas chose Caesars properties “because of their reputation, location and service,” says the meeting’s planner. “This year, we chose Luxor since it provided a great location and an onsite sales team that highlighted a brand new meeting space with a stellar onsite convention and AV team. We were one of the first groups to hold a meeting in this newly built meeting space. The space was perfect for our size group,” the planner continues. “We utilized the conference space, meeting space and hotel accommodations; having everything conveniently in one place helped us make the best use of everyone’s time.”
The group used two adjacent meeting rooms at the hotel, one for the general session and one for a one-on-one and vendor networking event where employees conducted individual 15-minute appointments with specific. preferred partners of their choice.
For entertainment, the group held a “Welcome to Boot Camp” reception in the Velvet Room. “It was a great opportunity for everyone to network, share experiences and get geared up and ready for the Boot Camp ahead,” says the planner. “The atmosphere was perfect and everyone had a wonderful time.”
Some planners complain that Las Vegas is pricey, especially for small groups. But “the value was great,” says the planner. “The Luxor Las Vegas offers a reasonably priced destination that is easily accessible for people in many markets. The low group room rate and the meeting space fit our needs perfectly.”
MGM Resorts International boasts a plethora of properties on The Strip, including MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, Bellagio, Aria Resort & Casino, Delano Las Vegas, The Mirage Hotel & Casino, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Luxor Hotel & Casino, Circus Circus Las Vegas, Excalibur Hotel & Casino, New York New York Hotel & Casino, Vdara Hotel & Spa and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.
The size, grandeur and service of MGM properties attract groups of all types and sizes. Mandalay Bay, for example, is hosting more and larger conventions and trade shows due to the $70 million expansion last year of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The facility added 350,000 sf of meeting, ballroom and exhibit space, bringing the total to 2.1 million sf. The improvements helped Mandalay Bay recently sign Microsoft to a multiyear contract to hold its annual event of 30,000 technology professionals at Mandalay Bay and several other MGM properties.
The all-suite luxury Delano Las Vegas, one of three distinct hotel experiences at Mandalay Bay, offers 20,000 sf of indoor meeting space encompassing 31 meeting rooms. Dining and eating spaces include the South Beach-inspired Delano Beach Club, which offers group buyouts for receptions. Guests can network at Delano’s Sage Living room with its overstuffed couches, back-support chairs, coffee tables and end tables. Groups can use the room’s two 52-inch, flat-screen TVs for presentations in a relaxed setting.
Another MGM property Aria Resort & Casino is undergoing a $154 million expansion of its convention center that will add 200,000 sf of meeting space with state-of-the-art technology. The project includes indoor and outdoor spaces, and a glass-enclosed venue with panoramic views of the new T-Mobile Arena and The Park. Overall, the project will add 500,000 sf of meeting and event space upon completion in February 2018.
Aria and Vdara both recently added cutting-edge digital tablets to all guest suites. The tablets allow guests to order an array of services including in-suite dining, spa services, show tickets and the latest information about hotel activities. Aria also added check-in via mobile phones.
A constant challenge for planners is keeping groups focused and in attendance at meetings in the city that never sleeps.
“Vegas is high energy,” says Mike May, president and corporate meeting planner for Spear One, a meetings, incentives and event planning firm. “It’s popular for driving attendance and audience anticipation, especially for customer events, user groups, product launches, sales kickoffs, private trade shows and training conferences. But attendees might skip part of the meeting and hit the casino floor. Or, they’re bleary-eyed, exhausted and struggle to be fully mentally engaged.”
That’s why some groups elect to meet off The Strip. “Groups looking to combine networking, relationship-building and educational content might enjoy an off-Strip resort in the Henderson area and have access to The Strip, without having attendees lose focus,” says May.
One choice for groups desiring to be near but off The Strip is Red Rock Resort & Casino, which recently hosted a 21/2-day meeting for 350 clients of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, a Minneapolis-based professional services firm.
“I love the location of the Red Rock,” says Lisa Jeans, project manager, executive team, CliftonLarsonAllen. “It is a 20-minute drive from the airport, and it offers all of the amenities of properties on The Strip, but on a smaller scale and much more private. Whenever I walk into the Red Rock, it feels like they have undergone a renovation. I feel that way because everything always looks new. I think that is very rare to find in a property.”
The Red Rock was perfect for a variety of activities and amenities. “A welcome reception was held in the Crimson Lounge, which is located off the casino floor,” says Jeans. “This is an excellent venue for a reception, as it allows for an indoor/outdoor reception. It has cabanas outside around the pool, which have individual heaters, if needed. They put together an awesome lighting package for us, including our logo, which just added to the ambience.”
In addition, a dinner was held in a portion of the Red Rock Ballroom. “This was not a themed dinner, as our goal was to encourage networking,” says Jeans. “We had food stations and multiple bars throughout the ballroom, and I hired a crooner from the Las Vegas area to provide some evening entertainment.”
Jeans raves about the service, especially from the convention services manager. “Whenever I am onsite at the Red Rock, I feel like I am their only client,” says Jeans. “Their staff truly is an extension of the event staff onsite. My CSM and her staff did an incredible job with the food stations, which allowed for the greatest flow in the space. We received rave reviews from the attendees. We have held events at the Red Rock in the past and will do so again in the future.”
Properties with a worldwide reputation for luxury include Wynn Resorts, which has received more Forbes Five Star Awards than any other independent hotel company in the world. The luxurious and spacious Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas offer a combined 290,000 sf of function space and 4,750 guest rooms.
According to Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn in a late April earnings call, the Wynn board of directors has approved phase-one construction of the new Wynn Paradise Park that will begin in December 2017 or January 2018. The master-planned park will replace the Wynn Golf Club with a 1,000- 2,000-room hotel tower and 260,000 sf of beachfront meeting and ballroom space overlooking a 20-acre lagoon — offering water sports activities — and a white sand beach and 4,000-foot boardwalk. Cabanas, attractions and food service also are planned. The phased $1.5 billion project is slated for a 2019 completion.
In addition, Wynn is expanding its distinctive luxury shopping experiences with the construction of Wynn Plaza, a 75,000-sf retail Strip-front expansion scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2018. The Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas already offer the 7,000-sf Wynn Collection boutique and the 99,000-sf Wynn Esplanade. And Wynn re-opened Parasol Up after its renovation last year that included a new design, updated technology and new bar menu.
Guests sometimes use Wynn’s plentiful space for interactive and teambuilding activities, including a program of workshops that Wynn Las Vegas introduced recently. The workshops are led by Wynn experts including master chefs, mixologists, DJs and sommeliers.
The Wynn’s offerings are examples of how Las Vegas continues to offer new activities to provide fresh experiences for groups that return again and again. But some groups prefer the same activities, according to Elizabeth Hansen, national sales manager, AlliedPRA Las Vegas.
“One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes it is OK to offer an activity again, especially if it was very popular and not every guest was able to participate,” says Hansen. “One easy way to reinvent Las Vegas for repeat visiting groups is to try and chose a theme that we can embrace in décor, entertainment, activities and events.”
Hansen offers an example. “One group, for example, was an incentive trip that came to Las Vegas for several years in a row and hosted a poker tournament each time,” says Hansen. “In order to make it feel exciting and new we changed the theme to it each time — Vintage Vegas one time and James Bond the next time, with entertainers on hand to help set the scene.”
The millennial generation has impacted the ways in which Las Vegas is reinventing itself. “Las Vegas has embraced the experiential state of mind that millennials have pushed forward but other attendees are really on board with at their events,” says Hansen. “This means that the typical four-walled nightclub or restaurant with a pretty view just isn’t enough anymore.”
Hansen says that participants want events that encourage interaction among attendees and with the venue. “You no longer have to bring in those activities to a lot of the venues here in Vegas now because they are already there,” says Hansen. “Venues like Brooklyn Bowl, Topgolf, Gold Spike Downtown, and the Beer Park have made a huge impact on the city.”
Other venues throughout Las Vegas are offering more of everything.
A stand-alone option is Meet Las Vegas on South 4th Street, a high-tech venue with three floors of event and meeting space where groups can take over one floor or all. Because each floor is truly a blank space, the possibilities for creating a one-of-a-kind event are limitless. The first floor offers a total of 5,427 sf, the second 5,131 sf and the third 2,775 sf. In addition, an outdoor pavilion provides an additional 8,412 sf. Sales, event and catering teams can assist with every phase of planning and designing.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas has completed phase one of its $13 million Casino Tower remodeling, which included renovation of 640 guest rooms and suites. In addition, The Hard Rock added about 18,000 sf of meeting and convention space, and the 28,000-sf Artist Ballroom was remodeled. MB Steak debuted earlier this year at the Hard Rock, following the opening of Oyster Bar, a full-service bar and restaurant offering seafood.
After a recent expansion, Tropicana Las Vegas’ all-new conference facility is divisible into as many as 38 breakout rooms and includes a 25,000-sf ballroom, the 55,000-sf Trinidad Pavilion — suitable for large general sessions and exhibits accommodating up to 4,800 attendees — and elaborate venues such as the Havana Room and Sky Beach Club. The newly transformed Tropicana Theater is a modern-yet-classic venue featuring a magnificent crystal chandelier, custom banquette seating areas, dark wood flooring and premium audio-visual technology. Overall, Tropicana Las Vegas offers more than 100,000 sf of flexible meeting and exhibition space in a convenient location on The Strip just minutes from the airport, major convention centers and top entertainment stadiums.
The 3,500-room Flamingo Las Vegas will commence a $90 million renovation of 1,270 rooms in August 2017 and complete the project in the second quarter of 2018. The renovated rooms will keep the property’s signature pink theme and feature retro-chic designs reflecting the hotel’s history as a mainstay of the Las Vegas Strip. New room designs feature hues of gold and flamingo pink, reflecting the Flamingo’s flamboyance.
MGM Grand recently broke ground on a 250,000-sf expansion of its conference center that will connect to the existing conference center on all three levels. Scheduled for completion in fall 2018, the new space will include two large ballrooms spanning 49,000 sf and 32,000 sf, three junior ballrooms and an outdoor event space. When complete, the expansion will give MGM Grand a total of 850,000 sf of meeting and convention space. As part of the expansion, Stay Well Meetings — the industry’s first-ever wellness meetings experience, which launched at the hotel in 2014 — also will expand its footprint by 22,000 sf and encompass the conference center’s entire second floor.
The 1,003-room Plaza Hotel & Casino, which has the largest ballroom in downtown Las Vegas at 19,000 sf, is currently conducting a multimillion-dollar renovation to the 30,000 sf of ballroom and convention space on its third floor. This renovation, to be completed this summer, will include numerous upgrades including partitioning, lighting, projection capabilities, a new portable stage and more. The Plaza also plans to expand its convention space with 12,000 sf of additional breakout rooms and a new business center to open fall 2017. Also recently opened was the Plaza Event Center, a 5,000-sf special event space with two stages, 18 large screen HD televisions, two projectors and a modern sound system. The Plaza Event Center accommodates 200 people in a range of seating options, and hosts live entertainment crowds of up to 300 people. The space is available for private-party buyouts.
The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation that includes all 493 guest rooms and is expected to be completed by fall. Meeting space is plentiful with 100,000 sf of indoor and outdoor space, including a 20,000-sf ballroom and 30 flexible spaces. Other meeting areas include gardens, poolside decks and lakeside beaches. In addition, The Westin provides access to three golf courses including the 18-hole Reflection Bay golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Guests at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, The Palazzo and Sands Expo can network in small groups, get online and relax in a 1,170-sf pop-up lounge. The lounge, created in conjunction with Zappos and staffed by its team members, is located on The Venetian’s second level and includes a six-seat conference room. The Venetian also launched its Facebook Messenger direct booking channel, allowing guests to book directly through social messaging.
The planned Las Vegas Convention Center expansion and renovation will be completed in a phased approach with a projected completion date of 2023. Phase one will be the construction of the new 1.4-million-sf expansion with 600,000 sf of exhibit space and the accompanying meeting rooms and support space. This phase is projected to be complete by 2021. The second phase will be the complete renovation of the existing 3.2-million-sf facility. The phased approach allows for continued use of the facilities without disruption during the construction. Upon completion, the LVCC will have 2 million sf of exhibition space, more than any facility except Chicago’s McCormick Place. The project also includes a major technology upgrade over the next six years that allows companies to illustrate their brands throughout the LVCC. Maps, schedules and information will be added to digital service kiosks
Being the nation’s No. 1 destination isn’t enough for Las Vegas as it relentlessly strives to boost its advantages over competitors. Part of the effort is continuing the transition from the gaming capital of the U.S. to a well-rounded entertainment capital to ensure an even more eclectic menu of options for planners and their groups. C&IT