When it comes to the meetings and convention industry, few destinations can equal Las Vegas as a known quantity. The city caters to almost 22,000 meetings annually that draw anywhere from a few dozen attendees to the more than 182,000 who attended the most recent CES, the consumer electronics show in January.
Home to three of the country’s 10 largest convention venues and almost 150,000 hotel rooms, the city is built to host. In 2017, Las Vegas welcomed more than 6.6 million meeting and convention attendees, and hosted nine of the nation’s top 15 trade shows (by net square footage), according to Trade Show News Network.
Amazingly, all of this is conducted against a backdrop of 24/7 entertainment, gaming and nightlife — the “lost weekend” cliché that the Sin City is also known for. Despite the obvious distractions, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that business actually gets done during meetings and conferences here.
Research released by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (LVCVA) found that meeting attendance increased an average of 9 percent when shows rotated into Las Vegas. Attendance decreased 4 percent when shows rotated out of the city. Further, the LVCVA’s research found that attendees actually spend more time on a show floor in Las Vegas — 11.3 hours versus an average of 8.6 hours in other cities. And with the city’s McCarran International Airport evolving into one of the best-connected in the U.S., with scheduled service from Europe, Asia and South America, the sheer convenience of Las Vegas becomes inescapable when selecting a meeting location.
Accessibility is chief among the reasons why Nicole Dumitrescu, director of client services and events for dental marketing agency Chrisad, brought her company back to Las Vegas for its annual No Limits conference.
“We have clients all across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, so we want a location that is easy for them to get to,” explains Dumitrescu. “Each year we have our conference (in Las Vegas), we have a great turnout.” Following conferences held at Bellagio and The Cosmopolitan, for its March 2018 event Chrisad chose MGM Resorts’ Aria Resort & Casino as the location for No Limits XIV, drawing about 500 attendees.
“Aria provided five-star service and didn’t disappoint with their impeccable rooms, attentive staff and great cuisine. It’s centralized in the heart of The Strip, which is ideal, and Vegas is attractive to our guests since the city has a ton of great restaurants and entertainment.”
— Nicole Dumitrescu
Dumitrescu said Chrisad relied on Aria’s restaurants for dinners, including Jean-Georges Steakhouse, Bardot, Carbone, Herringbone, Javier’s and Sage. But Chrisad also took guests to The Cosmopolitan, next door to Aria, for the opening cocktail party and additional dining venues. “Each year we have a welcome reception at The Cosmopolitan hotel,” explains Dumitrescu. “We rent out the top and middle levels of the Chandelier bar. And at The Cosmopolitan we also had a number of group dinners: at Zuma, STK, Estiatorio Milos, and Beauty & Essex.”
Following a recent expansion, the convention facilities at Aria now sprawl 500,000 sf, consuming the space originally dedicated to a Cirque du Soleil stage show. Much of the original three-story facility is flooded with natural light by day, courtesy of a soaring glass curtain wall opening onto a landscape of native plants and trees. Aria now has seven ballrooms, ranging from the 17,542-sf Orovada Ballroom to Bristlecone, which measures 51,225 sf.
The 200,000-sf expansion at Aria offers versatile indoor-outdoor meeting rooms with retractable windows and dramatic views of The Park and T-Mobile Arena. The top floor offers one of The Strip’s most distinctive meeting venues: a vast ballroom with two open-air verandas that can accommodate receptions for up to 2,000 attendees. Another facet of the approximately $170 million expansion is the discreetly marked Cypress Executive Lounge. The 3,000-sf space features a fully stocked pantry, three private suites for personal workspaces and one-on-one meetings, a conference room with flexible furniture setups for up to 30 and a study for toasting to a successful event. While the expansion was receiving its first groups in February, a Resort Club Lounge will open this fall at Aria, providing dedicated concierge services, an HDTV lounge, food and beverage offerings, including breakfast to evening hors d’oeuvres, wine, sparkling wine and beer — all on the house for Resort Club guests.
“Aria is a beautiful property, with everything you could ask for,” adds Dumitrescu. “The halls and foyers outside the conference rooms offer lots of natural light and modern décor. The location of the conference rooms in proximity to the casino floor and guest elevators is perfect. They aren’t too far away from one another, but allow enough space so you feel like you are separated.”
Dumitrescu called out Taylor McMurtie, Dawn Campbell, Kelly Rivas and Nick Kustudia at Aria for helping to make 2018 Chrisad’s most successful conference to date. “The sales staff went above and beyond, and always exceeded my expectations. If you plan an event with this hotel you can expect five-star service from the planning stage to completion. The staff is very accommodating, will listen to your expectations and will follow through.”
An even bigger project, MGM Resorts International is wrapping up is the $450 million transformation of the erstwhile Monte Carlo Resort and Casino into Park MGM. John Stearns, director of connections for AccuBuild Construction Software, got to take the reconceived resort out for a test drive when he scheduled AccuBuild Connections at Park MGM.
“The space was brand new and really well managed,” says Stearns. But he adds that, ultimately, it’s the people on the sales team he worked with that made his 100-attendee conference in February 2018 come off without a hitch.
“Honestly, the remodel is nice, but to me, the relationship you have with the team that is planning your event trumps the space. Now, all that said, it was really nice to take advantage of the remodeled rooms and convention space.”
— John Stearns
Signage for the 21-year-old Monte Carlo came down in January, as the hotel transforms into a twofer: 2,700 rooms and suites will be part of the Park MGM brand, while 290 rooms will be dedicated to a boutique concept, NoMad (short for North of Madison). The construction, renovation and rebranding of Park MGM is in its final phase, with some elements — including NoMad — set to wrap up later this year. The hotel also includes a brand-new conference facility. Offering both non-traditional spaces and flexible design, Park MGM is designed to fill an unmet need in Las Vegas for small groups, while also offering beautiful spaces for groups up to 5,000 attendees.
A key feature at Park MGM is the new Madison Meeting Center, a 10,000-sf facility that can be customized for groups from 10 to 50 people. Ten flexible rooms accommodate varying layouts designed for uniquely tailored events, including classroom-style training, product seminars and workshops. The facility features two self-service lounges, ergonomic, movable furniture with integrated power and built-in AV equipment, confidence monitors and rolling whiteboards. But Park MGM isn’t limited to smaller groups — the hotel has an additional 67,000 sf of traditional conference space available.
Another draw for the complex is dining. Already open are the light, French bistro-style Primrose, and Bavette’s, a Chicago-bred steakhouse with a speakeasy setting (“Bavette’s might be my favorite new restaurant,” says Stearns). Coming later this year is Roy Choi, the eponymous venue for L.A.’s famed Korea-meets-Mexico food truck chef Kogi BBQ, and a Vegas branch of Eataly, a 40,000-sf marketplace dedicated to the intersection of cuisine and Italy, and sure to be a huge hit.
Stearns says the Park MGM crew was able to adjust to the curve balls that any event with unanticipated elements can present.
“We had a cocktail party for our clients at the Primrose, and the general manager, Joseph, was so great in providing us an alternative space when the weather turned a bit cold. Our original event was supposed to be at the restaurant’s outdoor patio, but Joseph suggested we move indoors and closed off the entire bar for our event. He even helped us accommodate our photo booth and live music.
“And our room block was a bit confusing, but the hotel did a great job at keeping it separate. We had a master account for our employees, and then our clients paid for their own rooms. It was always clear what block was being charged.
“Because accommodations have improved so much in the last 20 years, prices now reflect these upgrades,” Stearns adds. “Especially when it comes to catering. I think the trick is to build a relationship with your catering and services managers (Jamie De Cordova and Reem Ewais at Park MGM) and to be honest with them about your budget. They did a great job helping me stay within our planned budget, and if something was ever an additional cost, they were up front with me about that.”
Stearns continues, “The team at Park MGM was world-class. From my original contact with Jillian Kyde, the executive director of sales, to convention sales managers Jena D’Amico and Gabrielle Wood, all put the client and event first. They all have great communication, so you don’t have to segment your correspondence.”
“I love, love, love Park MGM,” Stearns concludes.
MGM isn’t the only one writing nine-figure checks for renovations, expansions and new-builds.
Located immediately behind (east) of Linq, a groundbreaking for Caesars Forum is set for the second quarter of 2018. 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.
In February, Caesar’s-managed Harrah’s Las Vegas, one of the oldest names in gaming, announced completion of a $140 million refurbishment, including 1,622 modern, refreshed guest rooms and suites in the resort’s Valley Tower. The upgrades started with renovations to the 672 rooms in the South Tower, and the casino floor and lobby bar has also received a makeover. The hotel offers more than 24,000 sf of meeting space — ideal for small- and medium-sized groups — and guests coming from their rooms need not traverse the casino to access the meeting facilities. Harrah’s is located just a few minutes on foot from the Linq Promenade and High Roller observation wheel, providing easy access to round-the-clock dining and entertainment.
Strip stalwart Caesars Palace itself has benefited from an ongoing renovation and upgrade of the property, especially in the guest rooms. The recent renovation of the 1,181-room Palace Tower topped $100 million; the Indigo Tower is currently receiving its makeover and the Forum Tower upgrades are scheduled for completion in 2019. The 3,793-room Caesars has also added new dining venues. The fast-casual, modestly priced Pronto by Giada (De Laurentiis) offers California-Italian fare with a variety of seating options. And Gordon Ramsey has opened his fifth restaurant in Las Vegas in perhaps the most enviable of locations, right in front of Caesars, on the Strip: The high-concept Hell’s Kitchen is presumably the first fine-dining establishment built around a reality show (“Go to Hell” T-shirts are available at the gift shop).
No question: The high-energy Strip isn’t always the right backdrop to a successful meeting, and some planners choose to venture just off Las Vegas Boulevard, where the neon and glitz are a little less constant.
One such option is the 1,504-room Hard Rock Hotel, which sits less than a mile east of The Strip, on Paradise Road, but can seem a world apart. And that made Hard Rock an easy pick for planner Noha Zerka, show production manager for Pravana, the professional hair care brand. The company was bringing a group of just 16 to Las Vegas for a training seminar in March.
“The choice of Hard Rock Hotel was a no-brainer for me,” explained Zerka. “You have the energy of Las Vegas without all the crowds you find on The Strip. This makes Hard Rock great for business meetings, with less distractions. Also, the hotel’s aesthetic works well with our brand. The attendees loved their rooms, and the vibe of the hotel overall.
“I can honestly say there were no challenges. The Hard Rock Hotel team made everything so easy for us. Booking the rooms, arranging transportation to/from the airport was simple — these are usually the things that I find challenging in other cities.”
One thing Zerka loved was the Vanity Lounge, where most of the meeting was conducted. “It didn’t look like a typical meeting space. It was all-glass and looked out into the pool area. It made the long day of meetings much better than sitting in a windowless room. Our attendees left the room only to use the restrooms — it didn’t feel like we needed a break from the space.
“The event manager and catering team were outstanding,” Zerka continues. “I provided breakfast, lunch and snack breaks for my group and each meal was better than the last. I had less than the minimum required for catering, but they were able to work with me and my budget. The catering staff were attentive and helpful — we never had to search for them for anything, because they were always around. We ordered a projector and screen, and the AV team was available to check on the equipment prior to each day and popped in to make sure everything was going well.”
But Zerka did bring her small group to The Strip for an offsite dinner, at the Bellagio’s Lago restaurant. “Although the food and setting was beautiful, there were multiple large groups,” says Zerka. “You could barely hear the person next to you speaking. Overall, it was not a good experience. I would have preferred someplace that was a bit more quiet and spacious.”
By contrast, Zerka’s experience at the Hard Rock team was a winning one. “It took me two years from initial site check to booking the meeting. I feel that with any other property I would have experienced a sense of hostility for not booking sooner. But Drew Varga and Mike Roth kept the lines of communication open and seemed genuinely excited to work with Pravana. I work with several convention centers and hotels around the country, and they always seem to have the attitude of ‘you need us more than we need you.’ But the Hard Rock Hotel was different — they make me feel like I am their No. 1 customer. And as much as I like the location, vibe and aesthetic of the hotel, the people are the real reason I choose to use it.”
In March, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson announced a deal to take over the Hard Rock Hotel and rebrand the property as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas by the end of 2019, following a renovation that will cost “hundreds of millions” of dollars. The hotel’s guest rooms and common areas will receive a facelift, but no word yet what will happen to the Hard Rock’s existing 110,000 sf of meeting and convention space. One thing that’s certain: Although the Hard Rock may not have a Strip address, its location is closer to both the airport and the Las Vegas Convention Center than almost any other hotel, guaranteeing that Virgin Hotels will be a solid player in the years to come.
Katie Goracke, marketing project specialist for Open Systems Inc. also wanted a meeting venue away from The Strip for her annual Connect, an Open Systems Conference. The event is held every September and draws 500 attendees. For the last two years, Goracke used M Resort Spa Casino and is now planning her 2018 meeting at the property again. Although M Resort is located on Las Vegas Boulevard, it’s also nine miles south of the airport, well away from the usual bustle (and traffic) of The Strip.
“We like that the M is off the Strip,” says Goracke. “We don’t lose attendees to other attractions. And they have shuttles running all the time to and from the airport and The Strip.” The 390-room resort is located in the suburb of Henderson, and offers more than 92,000 sf of meeting space, including a pavilion, grand ballroom and multiple reception areas. Goracke says everything about the M Resort is a good fit for her group.
“The size of the event space as well as number of sleeping rooms accommodate our group perfectly. The sleeping rooms are beautiful, as is the aesthetic of the entire resort. In addition to the meeting space, M Resort offers multiple reception areas throughout the property. We have utilized many of these areas including the Milan ballroom and the boardroom. One of our favorite spaces is Lux, set on the 16th floor of the resort, offering beautiful views of the mountains and the city lights. Each year we also host an event at Villaggio Del Sole, the expansive outdoor pool and entertainment piazza, complete with live music and amazing food.
“At some events you can feel trapped in a dark exhibit hall,” Goracke explains. “But because we have access to all areas of the property we never feel that way at the M. All meetings, sessions, meals, evening activities and entertainment are in one place. We serve the large majority of our meals outside, so our guests are also able to enjoy the beautiful Las Vegas weather.
“And the staff are true professionals,” she continues. “From the director of sales, to the catering and conference services planner, to the reservations coordinator and the AV productions team, everyone gives their all to make sure our event runs smoothly. It’s great working with the same people year after year, as they really understand what we’re trying to accomplish with our event.
“Our attendees and staff rave about the catering at the M,” Goracke adds. “We particularly enjoyed The M Clam Bake (lobster!) catered out by their pool. The AV team has been able to handle every request we’ve had — they’re on hand immediately if there are slight issues or changes that need to be made.
“We have held events at other hotels in Las Vegas and found that the long walk from rooms to the event space was an issue. The size of the M is perfect for the number of attendees we have, and the elevators lead directly to the meeting rooms.
“Las Vegas is always a big draw for our attendees and the staff at the M Resort make it very clear that our event and attendees are their No. 1 priority while we are there.”
— Katie Goracke
Whether choosing to base a meeting or conference on the glittery Strip or just off, Las Vegas truly is ready to deliver the environment that works for the style, concept and size of your event. C&IT