Las Vegas is perpetually evolving, but for all its continued shiny newness, there’s an old French saying that perfectly captures a truth about the city: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — the more things change, the more they stay the same. Building goes on, hotels come and go, The Strip changes and new areas emerge, but it’s the things that don’t change — the constants that planners and groups can depend on — that make Las Vegas the place to meet.
Here’s what remains the same no matter how much the city’s physical landscape evolves: Las Vegas offers convenience. Las Vegas is fun. Las Vegas understands business. Las Vegas has entertainment options that excel on every level, and meeting space and accommodations galore. Las Vegas delivers and planners know it.
“Whenever you look at destinations that can support highly complex large-scale meetings, Las Vegas always surfaces to the top of the list,” says Jim Krausen, V.P. of sales at Motivation Excellence Inc., a full-service agency that plans and executes incentive and meeting programs. Krausen brought a group of 1,650 retailers to the city in September.
“Las Vegas has outstanding value, great air service, fantastic venues, great customer service and all the meeting space one needs,” he says. “For this particular client, we needed large amounts of meeting space for general session, large interactive breakouts, and an exposition hall that was flexible enough for us to repurpose the space and create a full retail store to launch the holiday season. When we presented the options to our client, Las Vegas was the hands-down winner, and that’s why for the last 30 years Motivation Excellence business in Las Vegas has grown each and every year.”
Stephanie Hannah, director of strategic marketing for Trace3, an IT solutions provider, sees the same thing. “We have been meeting in Las Vegas for more than eight years, and each year our event gets larger and better!”
Hannah brought a group of nearly 700 to Las Vegas in January for the Trace3 Evolve conference, and they’ll return again in 2016. Hannah points to the convenience factor, which works on several levels. “In terms of hotel rooms, meeting space and entertainment, Las Vegas is a one-stop shop. It’s also a central location for our customers and the accommodations are great for events.” And, she adds, “You can accommodate a large group of people in one space and provide entertainment and great options for food.”
“In terms of hotel rooms, meeting space and entertainment, Las Vegas is a one-stop shop. It’s also a central location for our customers and the accommodations are great for events.” — Stephanie Hannah
Christa K. Salibo, senior national account manager with Experient, part of Maritz Travel, brought 1,000 attendees to the city in April for a client’s multi-unit franchising conference. “This client really feels like Vegas is a great fit because of the convenient opportunity that the group has for walking to and from restaurants and evening entertainment,” she says. “And they feel that Vegas has something for everyone.”
While the city’s expansive facilities and infrastructure meet groups’ physical needs, the staffs at hotels and venues are tasked with meeting needs in a different way. When asked what considerations go into choosing a hotel for a group, Salibo puts good service first. “Service is always at the top of the list, along with the quality and standard levels of the hotel,” she says.
But it was the dedicated customer service of the national sales manager Salibo worked with at Caesars that really made the difference for her meeting. “She not only made it her mission to understand my client’s program and needs, she also made it her mission to understand my needs, my work style and expectations as their representative,” Salibo says. “She made the process seamless and a joy to work through.”
And, Salibo adds, because she did understand the diverse needs in play, she was able to craft a tailored offer that “made it almost impossible for the client to pass up.”
Part of what Caesars offered was access to restaurants and venues at any Caesars hotel, especially important as the group was broken up into multiple small groups that ate at different restaurants. “The client loved the idea of being able to book dinners and special events at other Caesars properties and still receive F&B credit toward their F&B minimum,” Salibo says. “I think that was a huge decision-making factor because it gave them so much more flexibility and options for their evening events.”
And when all was said and done, the attendees provided positive feedback about all the restaurants as well, a win-win situation.
At the core, of course, meetings are about business, and that’s something Las Vegas understands. The city provides a setting in which groups easily balance their solid business goals and objectives with all the entertainment and dining options available in the evenings. “For this particular group,” Salibo notes, “the highlight of the meeting is the overall opportunity to network and conduct business with folks from all over the world in a formal business setting, as well as a fun and exciting evening environment. Las Vegas really embraces the goals of this organization as it relates to meeting their objectives, and I think that is the reason they keep coming back.”
Hannah also chose Caesars, based on availability, pricing and meeting space. “Caesars had great space, service and worked with me to meet my budget,” she says.
In addition to venues at Caesars where, Hannah notes, “Every meal was out in time and the service was great,” the group also used 15 restaurants around town, as well as Drai’s, a nightclub, for the entertainment portion of the meeting. Again, service was notable. “The nightclub was very accommodating and we were able to brand the entire place with our company branding,” Hannah says.
In a city with so many hotels, narrowing the choices can be a complex process. “Choosing the right hotel is sometimes an art and sometimes a science,” says Krausen, whose Fortune 50 retail-services client was based at MGM’s Mirage. “When we source hotels and venues, it becomes the total package that wins the business,” he says. “It has to start with the right fit for our clients, both from a culture and demographic, and then it has to fit the meeting needs and budget.”
Among other things, Krausen says, “The Mirage provided us the flexibility of great meeting space where we could really own and brand the space.” The Mirage team also extended an excellent offer with a great rate and concessions package. But it went well beyond that.
“From the time we originally sourced this business, The Mirage came forward as the hotel that really wanted the business,” Krausen says. “We have an outstanding sales manager, Dara Pierce, who led the team at Mirage to secure this business and win over our client.”
The best part, Krausen notes, is that it did not stop at contract signing. “This is a very complex program with a million moving parts, and throughout the planning process the entire staff at Mirage was right there to support our crazy ideas and make them come to reality. When we got onsite to execute the meeting, the entire staff made us feel that they really wanted us there. From top management through the servers at breakfast and lunch, everyone was engaged with our audience. They interacted with our guests and thanked them for coming to The Mirage. They weren’t just going through the motions. They wanted to please us and please our attendees, and it showed throughout the entire event. It was not so much that we transformed a ballroom into a showcase, but that the service made the entire program.”
The attendees noticed it, too. On the group’s post-program survey, there were consistent comments about how outstanding the service was throughout the entire hotel.
Service outside of The Mirage followed suit. “Motivation Excellence conducts a lot of business in Las Vegas, and we utilize all sorts of venues and entertainment options for our groups, so we are very knowledgeable on what each venue has to offer for our clients,” Krausen says. “With this particular client we needed a venue that was cutting-edge, cool, hip and, bottom line, fun. We selected Hakkasan at MGM Grand to host one of the dinner events. We utilized the branding opportunities that exist within the space to build out the event and have it sponsored, helping to reduce the overall budget for our customer and make it a total win-win for the sponsoring company.
“Hakkasan is a venue that really knows customer service. The food was outstanding. We also utilized the house deejay, who was fantastic and really knew how to play to a corporate audience. The overall experience was just amazing. The venue prides itself as being a ‘club,’ but the team really knows how to host a corporate event.”
In spite of the city’s many attributes and strengths, the fact is that Las Vegas is not for every group, and it’s up to planners to assess the options accurately. Gaming, for example, can be a positive and a negative.
“We deal with both conservative and progressive companies so they trust us to source and select locations and venues that fit within their culture and demographics,” Krausen says. “For this particular meeting, gaming had no impact. The purpose is to excite and engage the attendees so they can bring the message back to their associates to create increased sales and profits. The value we receive in Las Vegas lends itself more to the return-on-investment calculation than a draw of the destination. However, when it comes to Las Vegas, it’s extremely important to know who your customers are and how they would perceive the nightlife and gaming before selecting the city.”
For groups that do select Las Vegas, Salibo points to a potential challenge she refers to as “room pirates,” a growing concern. “Las Vegas seems to be a target for third parties that solicit group attendees to book into their blocks, claiming they are the client’s designated third-party housing company,” she says. “On multiple occasions, my client had to reiterate to its general attendees and exhibitors that they should not book with these erroneous third parties but rather directly with the hotel using the link provided on the client’s website. With the proper communication to attendees, this issue can be minimized, but it’s definitely something to take note of.”
For thousands of groups, there’s no question that Las Vegas is well-endowed in the assets category. “Over the years I have booked dozens of meetings in Vegas,” Salibo says. “I think when planners book Vegas they always see an increase in attendance because it gives attendees an opportunity to attend a meeting and also have great fun enjoying all that Vegas has to offer. Vegas is a great value because attendees and organizers are getting more bang for their buck right off the bat.”
In the end, hotels change, new venues are built, room counts increase and DMCs find surprising new ways to impress clients. But the dynamic of providing solid business infrastructure, concessions and programs along with stellar service and one of the most engaging entertainment districts in the country is the constant that keeps Las Vegas front and center for planners. Things change, but that stays the same.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is in the process of planning its ambitious Las Vegas Global Business District, which includes expansion of the current Las Vegas Convention Center and some of the hotels and neighborhoods around it, with an eye toward increasing the city’s already impressive convention business. With the recent purchase of the Riviera Hotel and Casino, the LVCVA is moving forward with its plans, which will add 750,000 sf of new exhibition space and 187,500 sf of additional meeting space to the Las Vegas Convention Center. The renovation of the existing facility includes adding a 100,000-sf general session space and another 100,000 sf of meeting space.
More than 22,000 conventions were held in Las Vegas last year, 70 of them new business. Housing continues to increase to meet the growing need. At the end of 2014, the city’s room count was 150,544. Based on current and planned construction on the books as of May 2015, the count will increase to 153,383 in 2017 and to 156,769 by 2018.
The New Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton expanded its Trinidad Pavilion and increased the resort’s total meeting and convention facilities to 100,000 sf. Among the features of the meeting space, as well as across the resort, is significantly upgraded bandwidth providing one of the fastest Internet services available at any Las Vegas hotel. The new infrastructure allows for streaming of high-definition video without jitter or latency, downloading large business presentations, using cloud applications and sending/receiving large files or photos and other digital data without delay.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino recently announced the final phase of its resort-wide transformation with the upcoming redesign of more than 3,000 guest rooms and suites. The approximately $100 million remodeling project is expected to be completed by spring 2016. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center is in the midst of a major renovation and expansion that will add 350,000 sf of exhibition space for a total of 2 million sf when completed in 2016.
Ideal for small meetings and incentive groups, the luxury Delano Las Vegas opened last fall adjacent to Mandalay Bay. The non-smoking, all-suite hotel features 1,100 accommodations and 20,000 sf of indoor meeting space with 31 meeting rooms including four boardrooms plus engaging social locations. An additional 16,000 sf of space for breakfast and lunch meetings is located on the top floor with panoramic views of the Las Vegas Strip. Delano debuted a new outdoor events venue this summer — Delano Beach Club — which offers a full buyout for evening receptions on the pool deck.
The Linq Hotel & Casino has just completed a full resort renovation of 2,253 guest rooms. The $223 million makeover marks the completion of Caesars Entertainment’s Linq Complex, which comprises the hotel, the Linq Promenade and the High Roller observation wheel.
South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa opened a new 60-lane, state-of-the-art tournament bowling and event center in late 2014. The $35 million, 90,000-sf facility features a 360-degree viewing area. The United States Bowling Congress in cooperation with Las Vegas Events and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will hold 122 days of tournaments at the facility through 2017. The partnership will bring tournaments, conventions and other events to Las Vegas, including the USBC Masters, USBC Queens, USBC Senior Masters and USBC Team USA Trials.
The Omnia Nightclub — the former Pure Nightclub — opened in March at Caesars Palace after a top-to-bottom makeover. The completely redeveloped 75,000-sf venue houses three distinct nightlife spaces: the Main Club including the Balcony level, Heart of Omnia; the sleek ultra-lounge; and the Terrace offering sweeping views of the Las Vegas Strip. Omnia is available for corporate event buyouts for groups of 200–4,000 people.
In December, a new show debuted on the Encore Theater Stage at Wynn Las Vegas, providing planners with a memorable way to entertain and wow colleagues and clients. ShowStoppers brings to one stage some of the most celebrated and beloved musical numbers from Broadway shows, composers and lyricists. The production includes selections hand-picked by Steve Wynn, who conceived and wrote the production. Attendees searching for the best selfie spot on Wynn property should head to the Wynn Esplanade and the 6-foot-5-inch, $28 million Jeff Koons statue of Popeye, installed in 2014 (bring your own spinach).
Encore is currently updating each room to include larger nightstands, 55-inch 4K televisions and pop-up tech consoles for easy access to plugs and USB ports for charging devices. Furnishings and floor coverings also will be updated. The upgrades will be complete in the fall of 2015.
Aria Resort & Casino was No. 1 on the list of Cvent’s 2014 Top 100 Most Popular Meeting Resorts in North America and the Caribbean. Sky Suites at Aria recently unveiled the upscale Sky Pool — a luxury “secluded hideaway” with its own private entrance for Sky Suites guests only. Other MGM Resorts International properties also on the Cvent’s list include Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage. In April of this year, Bellagio completed the remodeling of all 3,933 rooms and suites — a $165 million project that started in 2011.
Last fall, the Forbes Five Star Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas introduced The Gallery, a meeting and event space. Located in the center of the property’s porte-cochère, the loft-style venue offers 1,900 sf of space accommodating up to 80 guests for a seated dinner or 200 guests for a cocktail reception. C&IT