Catering to almost 22,000 meetings annually that draw anywhere from a few dozen attendees to the more than 165,000 that attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it probably comes as no surprise that Las Vegas was recently named the World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination for 2016 by the World Travel Awards — for the fourth year in a row.
What’s more, for the third consecutive year, Las Vegas continued historic visitation growth, setting a new all-time record of 42.9 million visitors in 2016, surpassing 2015’s record-setting 42.3 million.
“Las Vegas continues to see increased interest in the destination, and we are excited to announce that once again we are celebrating record visitation,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president/CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in a statement. “Together with our resort partners, we look forward to aggressively marketing the destination around the world to continue attracting more visitors and break the record again this year.”
In 2017, the LVCVA is projecting another record, surpassing 43 million visitors for the first time.
Home to three of the country’s 10 largest convention venues, the city is built to host, offering almost 150,000 hotel rooms, and with 236,000 employees dedicated to the resort industry.
But it’s also designed to entertain, and that’s one big reason Cisco Live, an education and training event for IT, networking and communications professionals, hosts its annual event in Las Vegas.
“No one does ‘over the top’ like Vegas — and they do this all the time,” says Heather Henderson Thomas, CSEP, senior manager, strategic operations for Cisco Live. While Las Vegas’ vast hotel inventory at various price points and ease of air travel were important factors for the July 2016 event, Thomas notes that the city is home to an extensive theatrical labor pool, which helps make big show/keynote productions easier to manage.
“Nobody puts on a show quite like Vegas,” explains Thomas. “There are limitless amounts of entertainment and resources in the area, and our partnership with MGM Resorts International allows us to showcase Cisco technology at work — not only in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center but also at the MGM Grand as well as the T-Mobile Arena. Plus, MGM has their own in-house events company with a stellar inventory of props and services. An in-house program can be very self-contained and offers pretty much one-stop shopping for all event services.”
Cisco Live has used Mandalay Bay Convention Center as its host venue since 2010. With 28,000 attending, the event uses six properties to house attendees — Mandalay Bay, Delano, Luxor, MGM Grand, Bellagio and the Cosmopolitan. But the venue is large enough to be able to handle a majority of the program. Thomas says this makes for a different attendee experience than in other cities where Cisco is required to create more of a campus atmosphere.
“The unique thing about Vegas is having large hotel blocks literally under the same roof as the convention space,” explains Thomas. “The upside is ease of access for those staying at the host properties. There’s hotel-caliber food and the efficiency of working with just one or two venues vs. multiple. The downside is you don’t really get to take people outside or be a part of a city takeover. In Vegas, we do take over two mega properties, but not the entire city center as we might in other destinations.
“I love the solution-finding approach that our venue team brings to the table. As I often say to my own internal and supplier partner teams, ‘there are no challenges in what we do, only opportunities to prove how darn good we are at our jobs.’ I think our local Mandalay Bay and MGM team epitomizes that. We’ve had the same POC in the 11-plus years I’ve been on the project. That consistency, dedication to our collective success, and an all-around spirit of hospitality is what sets them apart. Pretty much anything is possible in Vegas — when you need VIP experiences, they are the pros.”
Thomas cites two main hurdles she faces when setting her event in Las Vegas. “The main challenge we experience is in relation to fees. Vegas is a resort town and charges resort pricing. While it’s inexpensive for the attendees to travel there, it’s not the least expensive from a show management perspective due to the caliber of the food, exclusive providers in certain spaces for labor, exclusives on electrical, etc. It varies from venue to venue, but it’s something to be aware of.
“Another challenge is creating a community feeling in such a large environment. Typically, Cisco Live takes over an urban setting in our other host cities. In Vegas, we are one of many things happening at any given time, and there are also multiple entertainment options to distract attendees. It’s a balance.
“But overall Vegas is a preferred destination for our customers and that’s what matters most,” adds Thomas.
Banking on happy clients like Cisco, the city is laying the groundwork for continued tourism growth, particularly for the meetings and convention industry. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) says initial numbers show trade show attendance up 8.7 percent for 2016, and in October the Nevada legislature authorized a $1.4 billion expansion and improvement project for the Las Vegas Convention Center. An early 2018 groundbreaking for the new hall is anticipated, to add 600,000 sf of additional exhibit space.
But this year will see plenty of action as well. In December, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas added almost 18,000 sf of meeting and convention space, bringing the venue to nearly 110,000 sf total. The fully functional Business Center has been relocated, and the Artist Ballroom has been expanded to 28,000 sf with ceiling heights up to 22 feet, allowing for eight separate configurations. The resort has maximized its flexibility for meeting planners to customize events — from large, premium trade shows and corporate gatherings to intimate executive meetings and incentive experiences.
Hard Rock has just finished the first phase of a $13 million refresh inside its 640-room Casino Tower. Standard rooms were first in line for the facelift, while 65 luxury suites will get their due during a second phase of the remodel, which includes sleek new furnishings, quartz countertops, oversized bathrooms with marble flooring, lighted makeup mirrors and USB ports throughout. Standard amenities include a mini bar, 55-inch high-def TVs and exclusive bath products. Each room is also equipped with French doors that open to pool or city views.
Also in December, W Hotels Worldwide launched its first flag in Sin City, taking one tower of the three-year-old SLS Las Vegas to create a hotel-within-a-hotel experience, the W Las Vegas. The brand’s signature Living Room greets visitors with a nod to both the desert setting and the location’s historic original incarnation as the Sahara Hotel and Casino, while the 289 guest rooms received a refresh by Philippe Starck in collaboration with designer Gensler.
Of note for meeting planners, in March 15,000 sf of new, state-of-the-art meeting and event space will open at the W Las Vegas, supplementing the 80,000 sf of flexible meeting space at the adjacent SLS Las Vegas. Guests at the W Las Vegas will enjoy full room charging privileges throughout the SLS property, which includes the casino, three nightclubs, and seven restaurants, including Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, an avant-garde interpretation of the classic Las Vegas steakhouse.
For Mindy Fielman, vice president of trade shows and special events for diamond brand Hearts on Fire, Las Vegas is “all about the energy. Today, there is not another destination that offers the ‘complete’ package we are looking for.”
The package Fielman seeks includes an experienced staff, state-of-the-art meeting space, well-appointed guest rooms with current technology, amazing culinary options and a wide variety of entertainment options. And it was the Wynn/Encore complex that has delivered the sophisticated environment Hearts on Fire University seeks for its biennial corporate educational conference that draws up to 800 attendees. The company used Wynn/Encore for its October 2015 event and is set to return in 2017.
“We chose them because of the facility, staff, previous experience and the on-property options,” Fielman explains. “The ability to keep the group cohesive and on-property is a key factor for selecting a venue for this conference. Wynn/Encore offers a significant number of outstanding options for special events; the food (both banquet and restaurant) quality is top-notch. The property is elegant, well designed for good event flow.”
She has high praise for the sales and conference service team. “They treat you and your business with the utmost importance, and each site, each event or meeting as if they are earning that business every time you’re there. They are very collaborative.”
Fielman also cites the longevity and expertise of the Wynn team. “So many of the staff have been with the hotel since the opening — many have been with Mr. Wynn since the beginning. This commitment, background, training, etc. makes a big difference in the level of service. All of the teams and departments receive the same customer service and property training, and it clearly shows in their work product — they are interconnected and work for your success as an event or meeting planner.”
She provided several examples of management’s attention to detail, including a food issue that was swiftly ironed out. “Our banquet captain noticed that our vegetarian meals looked like they were potentially wrong for an important group of clients from India. By the time I was informed, the issue was already brought to the attention of the catering manager and the chef. Not only was it resolved in a minimal amount of time, but the management team was made aware and they came to follow up.”
Fielman notes that, in Las Vegas, there is competition among high-end properties where she can base a sophisticated meeting.
“But as a meeting planner, the things I consider important and unique to Wynn Las Vegas are how attendees can access the meeting and conference space without meandering through the casino or long shopping promenades. The guest room elevators are closely located to conference access, and the conference space is contiguous and easy for attendees to navigate.
“I love that each meeting room at Wynn has a patio with natural light and fresh air — this is unique for Vegas,” Fielman continues. “The larger meeting rooms have butlers’ pantries to facilitate food service. And the catering menus are unique and fun; food quality and presentation are excellent. Their menus offer quite a bit of flexibility as well as cost-effective pricing options such as Thai Thursdays or Falafel Fridays (certain menus come with a lower price on select days).”
Affectionately called “the biggest little city in the world,” Reno, Nevada, is better known today for the region encompassing the peerless, alpine Lake Tahoe, which straddles the border of Nevada and California. Combined, Reno and Tahoe offer a one-two punch for meetings aiming to incorporate spectacular natural surroundings as a backdrop. Within a one-hour drive of Reno you’ll find 18 ski resorts, fishing and boating, mountain biking and hiking trails, and the Truckee River runs right through downtown Reno.
Plus, with 20,000 hotel rooms competing for your business, meeting costs average 30 percent below that of comparable destinations (one key to savings: complimentary airport shuttles serve many downtown Reno properties).
These were among the reasons Anastasia DeFrancesco, global account executive for ConferenceDirect, set her sights on Reno for a 370-person gathering of Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics in May. The meeting will be held at Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, a 1,623-room hotel that celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2016 with a redesign of its Edge Nightclub; other areas of the hotel also received a facelift, including its convention space.
“Reno is not Las Vegas’ baby sister but its own big brother in Nevada, with lots of Western culture and gold rush history,” says DeFrancesco. “It has a western Nevada feel with unique restaurants — we didn’t notice any chain restaurants, which we loved. Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics is looking for experiences and fun destinations that offer a great hotel but also activities for them to enjoy after each day of meetings. Plus, Lake Tahoe is 45 minutes away, offering a completely different landscape with even more culture and history. It’s a great option for attendee pre or post trips.”
Although DeFrancesco notes that airlift will be more challenging for those on the East Coast, this hassle is mitigated in part by the savings gained by holding the meeting during shoulder season.
“Guest room costs were very attractive. If you can go in an ‘off’ season, which is still warm, you will show tremendous cost savings on the guest room rate, which just allows more to be spent on experiences and food and beverage.”
Some groups head directly to Lake Tahoe, where additional meeting options are found, such as the 422-room Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino. Here, the American Boiler Manufacturer’s Association (ABMA) held their annual meeting for 200 last June. It was a return visit for the group, which held a meeting here in 2012.
“We quickly knew we needed to rebook,” says Cheryl Jamall, director of meetings for the group. “Reno-Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. Our attendees are world travelers, and they are still talking about it. It’s an easy drive from the airport up to the lake and the scenic views will take your breath away.”
Jamall says the Hyatt Regency location — on the lake, with its own beach — is a big part of the attraction, but so is the creativity and teamwork of the staff at the resort. “The convention service staff felt like a part of the ABMA staff, providing flawless execution, and the AV went off without a hitch,” she adds. The conference center encompasses 65,000 sf of meeting space, almost a third of which is indoors, and the resort has a 55-foot catamaran, the Sierra Cloud — perfect for smaller groups.
“The food was just great every day, and they provided us real variety, even in the catered menus,” she adds. “On very short notice, the chef worked with us to design a variety of meal options for our vegan and gluten-free attendees who were last-minute registrants. And the pastry chef and their team did a bang-up job with our annual Dessert Social — so much so that I am full just thinking about it!”
Jamall provided a couple of minor cautions about planning a meeting at Lake Tahoe, starting with the Tahoe’s 6,224-foot elevation (“water is your best friend” for conquering the altitude). She also noted that there was no FedEx/Kinko’s at Tahoe, but Reno was just a 40-minute drive away. Nonetheless, Jamall provided perhaps the best kind of endorsement a meeting planner could ever share.
“If your attendees love being outdoors, Tahoe is the place for you. I’m thinking about vacationing here next summer so that I can fully enjoy it without working.”
Wynn Las Vegas announced plans to equip all 4,748 hotel rooms with Echo, Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled speaker. The resort says installation of the technology, which began with suites in December, is a worldwide industry first, allowing guests to control various hotel room features with a series of voice commands via Alexa, the brain behind Echo. Alexa will be fully operational in all guest rooms by summer 2017, and will initially control room lights, room temperature, drapery and the television. Wynn expects to add features such as personal assistant functions in the future.
Rí Rá Las Vegas, the Irish pub inside The Shoppes at Mandalay Place, has unveiled The Bordello, a new event space located at the back of the pub behind a secluded hallway. The space expands Rí Rá’s overall size to 11,000 sf and provides guests with a new option for private parties and events. The Bordello is suitably decorated with plush velvet curtains, chandeliers, Victorian red and gold interiors, lounge-style furniture and dim lighting. The room spans more than 1,400 sf, allowing seating for up to 64 guests dining or up to 100 reception-style, and catering options such as plated dinners, buffets and cocktail receptions are available.
While Las Vegas does its best to keep things fresh, the city is a return destination for many meeting attendees. Given the abundance of culinary hot spots, why not spice things up with a progressive dinner by Lip Smacking Foodie Tours? Groups of up to 100 are escorted on a custom tour to visit five of the top restaurants along The Strip or downtown. Three or four signature dishes are offered at each, leavened by a guided sightseeing tour on foot. It’s an evening away from the usual distractions of a convention setting, and the mix-and-mingle environment helps foster multiple interactions. Rates start at $125 per person; more information: www.vegasfoodietour.com.
Aria Resort & Casino is in the midst of a major expansion of its LEED Gold-certified convention center. The $154 million project will deliver an additional 200,000 sf of technologically advanced, flexible meeting space across four stories, highlighted by indoor/open-air spaces and a glass-enclosed venue with views of The Park and the new T-Mobile Arena. With the completion of the expansion, Aria will feature more than 500,000 sf of meeting space. Construction began in May 2016 with anticipated completion in February 2018. The resort also opened Burger Lounge, an eco-conscious burger chain from Southern California offering an elevated, fast-casual concept to the resort’s culinary portfolio. Jewel Nightclub, a 24,000-sf nightlife destination by global hospitality company Hakkasan Group, opened in May. The nightclub merges the intimate, exclusive atmosphere of the physical environment with state-of-the-art LED technology to deliver an immersive, dynamic and celebratory experience.
Topgolf International Inc. opened its state-of-the-art flagship location in May at MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip. Topgolf offering competitive golfing games for all ages and skill levels and advanced technology to track the accuracy and distance of players’ shots. The four-level, 105,000-sf Topgolf Las Vegas sits on eight acres and overlooks a 215-yard outfield.
Masaharu Morimoto, renowned Japanese chef and star of Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” recently opened his contemporary Japanese restaurant at MGM Grand in fall 2016. Morimoto Las Vegas is only the second Morimoto in the world to offer Teppanyaki style dining (also known as Hibachi), a style of Japanese cuisine where guests are able to experience the chef create a tantalizing meal before their eyes on a hot iron plate.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino completed in April the final phase of its resort-wide remodel of more than 3,000 guest rooms and suites. Created by the MGM Resorts International Design Group, the redesigned rooms and suites feature refreshing color palettes and modern designs in three distinct collections: the Resort Collection, the Suite Collection and the Luxury Collection. This marks the conclusion of an approximately $100 million remodel that began in 2015.
Mandalay Bay last January expanded its convention center with the addition of more than 350,000 sf of exhibit space to the existing 1.7 million sf of space.
The Venetian, The Palazzo and Sands Expo, in partnership with Zappos, debuted a first-of-its-kind coworking space in the heart of The Venetian/The Palazzo Congress Center. The 1,170-sf pop-up lounge will offer space to recharge, huddle areas for collaboration and a conference room for small meetings. The space is enclosed for noise management, but also is transparent to invite guests to come inside and take advantage of the amenities. Amenities in the pop-up lounge include Wi-Fi, charging stations, four private phone rooms and a private conference room that seats six.
Sir Rod Stewart’s hit Las Vegas residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, added seven more performances scheduled March 15 through April 1, 2017 due to popular demand. Since its debut in 2011, “Rod Stewart: The Hits.” has been experienced by a half million fans and continues to be one of the best reviewed and must-see shows on the Las Vegas Strip.
Speedvegas is the new 100-acre motorsports complex in Las Vegas. Guests at Speedvegas experience the world’s most sought-after muscle cars and exotic supercars from Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, Corvette and more. The $30 million Speedvegas experience features an impressive 1.5 mile (2.4 km) Formula One-inspired racetrack comparable to top circuits in the world and includes 12 sweeping turns, 20-degree banked turns, 60 feet of total elevation change and a half-mile straightaway. In addition, the 20,000-sf, two-story welcome center features indoor and outdoor observation decks, food and beverage selections at a café, meetings and event space, and much more.
The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, will mark its fifth anniversary with a series of celebratory events in February. The Mob Museum welcomed more than 1.3 million visitors from all 50 states and 36 countries, injected more than $20.5 million annually into the downtown economy — all while accumulating numerous awards and accolades. The museum will unveil a new, permanent St. Valentine’s Day massacre exhibit that includes bullets removed from the bodies of the seven victims, bullet fragments and cartridge cases retrieved from the garage floor as well as test bullets fired from the Tommy guns, which later proved to have been used in the massacre. In addition, the display features original coroner’s documents concerning the victims and reports prepared by Dr. Calvin Goddard, a forensic scientist specializing in ballistics, who used pioneering ballistics testing techniques to identify the weapons used in the crime.
MEET Las Vegas, a one-of-a-kind venue for hosting dynamic events, features easy plug-and-work connectivity, color-changing lighting systems and gigabit-speed network capability with wireless connectivity for more than 2,000 devices, based on configuration. The unique venue is a 40,000-sf, three-story event and exhibition space in the heart of historic downtown Las Vegas, and is an ideal space for fully customized branding opportunities.
The technology includes AV TeleData tieline connectivity plates every 10 feet on the first floor and multiple plates in every other meeting space as well as universal plug-and-work capability, from computer to iPods to high-definition media to DVD and beyond. Fiber optics technology also is wired into the building and between floors, and customizable digital signage opportunities are available throughout the interior space. Custom lighting and much more is available.
In Reno, the former Siena Hotel is being transformed into the 214-room Renaissance Reno Hotel, scheduled to open March 2017. Renaissance Reno will be the first non-gaming, branded full-service luxury hotel in Reno’s history. Following an extensive renovation inside and out, the hotel will be “classically styled with touches of whimsy in warm, vibrant colors,” and will feature upscale restaurants showcasing local flavors. Set alongside the Truckee River, the Renaissance Reno will offer 13,198 sf of event space, composed of eight rooms (the largest will have a capacity of 650). A full-service spa, fitness center and pool will round out the facilities, targeting both business and leisure guests.
Following an expansion which doubled its room inventory, Reno’s Whitney Peak Hotel has now doubled its meeting space. The renovation project, which encompasses the entire third floor of the hotel, created nearly 12,000 sf of new event and meeting space, with air walls to subdivide the space into eight separate areas, ranging from 350 sf to a ballroom that is just under 5,000 sf. Whitney Peak also features Cargo Concert Hall, a state-of-the-art live music venue; and BaseCamp, a 7,000-sf indoor bouldering park that is home to the world’s tallest exterior climbing wall.
Impact Experiences are the latest addition to the meeting agenda at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. Designed as a way for groups to give back to the local community, the activities are social and environmental in nature — ideal for groups that want to support efforts in child well-being or environmental responsibility. Among the on-property activities that can be incorporated during lunch breaks or receptions are partnering with the resort’s culinary team to prepare a regional dish for a local hunger relief organization, or assembling school supplies in backpacks for donation to students threatened by poverty. Additionally, offsite Signature Impact Experiences are available for outdoor teambuilding, such as assisting in the reforestation of Lake Tahoe’s native sugar pine trees or helping to preserve the lake’s famed deep blue waters through invasive-species monitoring and trail restorations, and water-quality improvements. C&IT