In December, for the fifth consecutive year, Las Vegas was named the world’s No. 1 meeting and convention destination by the World Travel Awards.
Despite such accolades, the city never rests on its laurels, notes Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales at the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. Meyer and LVCVA are currently focused on expanding the city’s already vast and solid base of domestic corporate meeting and incentive business. And although awards are flattering, Meyer says, it’s bottom line results that keep LVCVA motivated and on top of its game.
“We’re now seeing group business from virtually every sector of the U.S. economy,” Meyer says. “And we’re also seeing growth in major sectors of the economy, like the agricultural industry. We’re also seeing growth in citywide corporate meetings, which we define as using three or more hotels.”
That growth is being supported by significant and ongoing capital investment in meetings infrastructure. The Las Vegas Convention Center, promoted as the most technologically advanced facility in the country, is adding a new $1.4 billion building that will deliver 1.4 million sf of new space, including 600,000 sf of additional exhibit space, and will serve as the high-profile nerve center of the Las Vegas Convention Center District. The new complex is expected to open by late 2020, in time for the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show.
Meanwhile, a number of major hotels are expanding their meeting space. “Not only do we already have more meeting space than any other city on planet Earth,” Meyer says, “but we’re currently adding 1.2 million sf of meeting room space.”
Among the major projects underway, Meyer says, is approximately a $165 million doubling of the space at MGM Resorts’ Aria Resort & Casino to create more than 500,000 sf; a $130 million expansion of the conference center at the MGM Grand; and expansions of the meeting facilities at the JW Marriott and the new Park MGM, formerly the Monte Carlo, which opened a conference center in December.
Stephanie Arone, president and general manager of Activity Planners Inc., one of the city’s top destination management companies, says that such dedicated evolution of the destination is a major reason for its dominance in the corporate market. “The continuous expansion and improvement of our facilities is a major factor in our success,” Arone says. “That also means that we continuously increase the diversity of what we offer, and that also makes us very attractive to corporate clients. And then there is just the breadth of the meeting infrastructure we offer. It is second to none in terms of options and quality.”
Healthcare technology provider NextGen, based in Horsham, Pennsylvania, typifies the kind of corporate meeting client Las Vegas attracts today, for the very reasons cited by Meyer and Arone. NextGen has been using Las Vegas for its annual five-day, four-night November user conference, which draws an average of 3,300 attendees, since 2005, says director of marketing Lynn Belanger.
“One of the primary things that keeps bringing us back to Las Vegas is the partnerships we have established in the destination, particularly with MGM Resorts International,” Belanger says. “We have used and do use a number of their properties, including Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, MGM Grand and Aria Resort & Casino, for different types and sizes of meetings. When we started looking for a hotel partner in Las Vegas back in 2005, we did an exhaustive search. And we chose MGM Resorts because of the culture of their company and the way it fits the culture of our company.”
NextGen’s fierce loyalty to Las Vegas and MGM Resorts is also related to the fact that in post-event surveys, attendees consistently express their enthusiasm about coming to Las Vegas and their admiration for MGM properties. “The destination and the hotels consistently get high marks,” Belanger says.
For the last four years, she has used the sprawling Mandalay Bay resort complex as the venue.
“We like the easy access from the sleeping rooms to the hotel’s convention center,” she says. “We also like the fact that within the Mandalay Bay complex, we can offer our attendees accommodations at different price points. We use three of the individual properties within the complex — Mandalay Bay, the Delano and Luxor. We also like the variety and quality of the restaurants Mandalay Bay offers under one roof.”
Both Mandalay Bay’s room product, and food and beverage are exceptional, Belanger says. “Another thing we like very much about Mandalay Bay is the quality of its convention services team and the flexibility they can offer us. Because we have been back for four years in a row, it’s very important to us to create something new and exciting each year. And their convention services team has always helped us accomplish that. We work very closely with them to create an entirely new experience each year, including the customization of our menus and the creative use of the different venues within the hotel. And in general, when it comes to service overall, MGM Resorts is second to none. They are a committed partner.”
Although the size of NextGen’s annual conference is typical of many of the corporate meetings Las Vegas attracts, LVCVA’s Meyer stresses that the city also wants, and welcomes, small meetings. For years, the perception has existed among some planners that Las Vegas only gets excited about large meetings. But that is not true, Meyer says. “To the extent that perception exists, I think it comes from two things,” he says. “One is the notoriety we get because of all the big meetings we host. But the other reason people hear that is because some of our competitors like to say that. But it’s simply not true. We welcome small meeting business and we get a lot of it. For example, 78 percent of the meeting business MGM Resorts International gets for its 14 properties is for meetings of less than 200 attendees. That’s a good indicator of how strong we are in the small meetings market.”
Last year, Meyer adds, Las Vegas hosted more than 22,000 meetings, and many of them were small, hosted by organizations that return year after year for some of their most important events.
Regardless of the size of a meeting, one of the key reasons so many companies use Las Vegas regularly is the value it offers. “The strong value proposition is alive and well in Las Vegas, and it’s only going to get better, because we have an explosion of new meeting space coming online over the next year or two,” Meyer says. “And that is going to create more competition, which is going to drive more value. The value we offer is another of the factors that have made us so successful. And in the future, that will be more true than ever. But the other thing corporate planners like is the range of hotel options we offer at different price points.”
Yet another factor in the popularity of Las Vegas is its unparalleled dining and entertainment scene. “The constant evolution of our culinary scene is another thing that has driven our success as a meeting destination,” Meyer says.
And the dining scene continues to be dominated by the largest population of celebrity chefs anywhere in the world, Arone notes. “Every celebrity chef wants to have a flagship restaurant in Las Vegas,” she says.
Among the new restaurants she favors are “Food TV” chef Robert Irving’s Public House at the Tropicana. “It’s a real hidden gem,” Arone says. “It’s his first restaurant, and it basically serves pub fare like pulled pork and tater tots. It offers a very casual environment and it’s available for buyouts.” Another new eatery she likes is the new Las Vegas outpost of red hot Sugar Cane. It’s well known because of its flagship location in Miami.
Meyer also points out that precisely because Las Vegas offers such a sensational culinary scene, a very innovative new dining-related activity provider has popped up. That’s Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which takes groups of up to 100 participants to five of the top restaurants on The Strip or in the newly rejuvenated downtown section of the city, according to the tour’s Founder and President Donald Contursi. Guests enjoy immediate seating (at often very crowded places), tastes of three or four of the signature dishes at each restaurant and a guided walking tour that uses “insider” information to explain the unique stature of Las Vegas as a place.
“We have had tremendous feedback from meeting planners who’ve taken a Lip Smacking tour,” Contursi says. “The evening is often the highlight to their meeting or incentive trip. That’s because we offer a truly unique experience that also means attendees can enjoy an environment that avoids the distractions, such as wrangling for a reservation or jockeying for the best seats in a crowded restaurant. At Lip Smacking Tours, we create a private, customized gourmet dining experience and walking tour that includes VIP treatment.”
Just as it tends to set new trends in fine dining, Las Vegas is also regularly on the cutting edge when it comes to new and different kinds of activities, Arone explains.
Among the cool new things coming online now, she says, is the Esports Arena in the location of the former Lax nightclub at the Luxor Hotel & Casino. Opening in early 2018, the venue “will combine the best of interactive entertainment and Las Vegas nightlife,” according to Allied Esports, the world’s leading developer of “esport” venues. “The venue will be absolutely unique,” Arone says. “It will look and feel like a Las Vegas sports book, but offer interactive video games that are highly engaging and a lot of fun. And instead of betting on games, attendees will compete against one another, in a very cool venue.”
Another fresh and innovative activity that is currently trending with corporate groups are “escape rooms,” Arone says. “Escape rooms are a tremendous innovation. They’re popping up all over the place, and they offer a range of themes and story lines. They’re basically a new form of teambuilding opportunity. Imagine a staged room, where you’re put in with a small group of fellow participants. You’re given a puzzle, and you’re given a certain amount of time to solve the puzzle and escape the room. They’re very engaging and a lot of fun.”
The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Las Enforcement, offers scavenger hunt teambuilding events. Participants scour the museum’s three floors of exhibits to be the first to discover answers to provocative questions about the history of the ongoing battle between organized crime and law enforcement.
Electronic scavenger hunts also are wildly popular at the moment, Arone says. “They allow attendees to get out of the hotel and move around the city, and again, they are highly engaging and interactive. And everything is within walking distance because of the way Las Vegas is laid out around the Strip.” Scavenger hunts, she notes, also are perfect for corporate meetings because they can also be tailored to corporate goals or interests, such as a new product launch or annual business objectives.
Wynn Las Vegas plans to keep groups returning with several improvements, including the new $1.5 billion Wynn Paradise Park, which will begin phase one construction by January 2018 and is scheduled for a 2019 completion. The park will include a 1,000–2,000-room hotel tower and 260,000 sf of beachfront meeting and ballroom space overlooking a 20-acre lagoon with water sports activities, a 4,000-foot boardwalk and a white sand beach. Additionally, Wynn will offer more upscale shopping outlets with the construction of Wynn Plaza, a 75,000-sf Strip-front expansion scheduled for completion during the first quarter of 2018.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas recently completed an expansion of its meeting and convention space with the reopening of the 28,000-sf Artist Ballroom. The newly expanded Artist Ballroom can be divided into eight separate and flexible configurations. Ceiling heights in the new space reach up to 22 feet for optimal exhibition use. The property has added nearly 18,000 sf of meeting and convention space, new exterior signage along Paradise Road and the relocation of the fully functional Business Center. Hard Rock Hotel now boasts a total of nearly 110,000 sf of contiguous meeting and convention space.
The Hard Rock Hotel’s capital expenditure campaign, which began in 2015 and was completed last spring, featured the expansion of the Convention Center, a complete makeover of the 11-story, 640-room Casino Tower; a complete redesign of the famed Center Bar; and the addition of the acclaimed MB Steak, a wholly owned dining experience created by recognized restaurateurs, Michael and David Morton.
Other Hard Rock venues include the upscale 14,000-sf Vanity Nightclub, which can be reserved for private events and can accommodate from five to 5,000 depending on the seating requirements. In addition, Hard Rock has partnered with Hudson Group, the largest travel retailer in North America, to introduce six new retail shops totaling 14,500 sf.
Caesars recently announced plans to develop a 550,000-sf conference center in Las Vegas, named Caesars Forum, featuring the two largest pillarless ballrooms in North America. When completed in 2020, it will feature 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, equivalent to more than five football fields and will be located east of the Las Vegas Strip with bridge connections to Harrah’s, the Linq and the Linq Promenade.
By the end of 2018, MGM Resorts will complete a $450 million project to transform the 21-year-old Monte Carlo Resort and Casino into Park MGM, replete with a brand new 77,000-sf 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 of up to 5,000 attendees. C&IT