Nevada is more than Las Vegas. Even Las Vegas is more than Las Vegas — at least more than the perception of Las Vegas held by much of the public and seeded by the city itself with its racy ad campaigns. Ironically, few cities in the world are more serious about meetings and conventions than Las Vegas or able to match Las Vegas in terms of the quality, depth and value of its meeting experience.
Still, it’s not the only game in town. Nevada also has the Reno-Tahoe combo, with the soaring Sierra Nevada as backdrop to Reno’s skyline, and Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border and plummets to depths of 1,644 feet below its piercing blue surface, as a conference add-on. Between these two cities are enough options to bring groups back to the Silver State for years to come.
When Amy Alley, director of events for Dynamic Communities Inc. in Tampa, Florida, considers what makes Reno an easy sell, it’s the whole package — hotels, CVB, pricing and community. Dynamic Communities’ User Group Summit took place there in October, drawing 4,000 attendees. The group was based at Atlantis Casino Resort Spa and Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, both near the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
“Reno is a good fit for us because of the pricing, relationships we built with the CVB and hotel partners, functionality of the space to fit our program and the culture of the area,” Alley says. “It’s not too big, not too small a feel and a grassroots community much like our organization. Our program was primarily held at the convention center and Atlantis and Peppermill. Several of our sponsors held receptions and events outside of the hotels. One sponsor held an event at the Edge at Peppermill, and it was a huge win.”
With such a large group, Alley was proactive about flights. “The main challenge facing attendees was flight accessibility,” she says. “We listed the top airlines flying into Reno on our websites and communicated with the CVB to inform the airport of our large group. Some attendees had to stay an extra night or leave a day early, but most people were accommodated in their travels.”
When it comes to what made the biggest difference in successfully planning this event, Alley points to the people. “Our sales teams at the CVB and hotels went above and beyond to showcase what the city has to offer. Their customer service and their genuine care for our team and our program led us to do business in Reno. We were really impressed with the facilities at both hotels, as well as their willingness to make our program a success.
“At Atlantis, John Carter was our primary contact and was always on hand, from the beginning of the sales process to onsite at event execution. John is a true professional. At Peppermill, Nat Carasali and Pat Flynn were there to welcome me from the first site visit. Not every owner of a luxury resort takes the time to show planners the meeting space and guest rooms! Nat has a humble manner but a great sense of pride that beams through.”
Also a standout was Alison Farr, who changed jobs during the planning process but didn’t miss a beat. “Alison Farr is largely the reason we chose Reno for our Summit,” Alley says. “At the time, she was with the CVB and then moved to the sales team at Peppermill and continued the same pleasurable level of service to our group, going out of her way to make sure we had everything we needed. John Leinen with the CVB continued our great relationship there, assisting us greatly along the way.”
With such a large group, logistics were critical. “We provided our attendees’ shuttle service from the Peppermill to the convention center, and I believe that’s a must if leveraging both venues for a program,” Alley says. “We used Atlantis for one program’s breakout sessions and ran 17 breakouts consecutively there. The walk across the skybridge was relatively easy and accessible to the convention center, but to ease the flow, we planned the agenda around the least number of times attendees would have to move around.”
Alley says the Peppermill team did an excellent job with catering and that the venue sells itself. “The ambience and décor of our reception locations provided just the right atmosphere,” she adds.
Some attendees also took advantage of Reno’s proximity to Lake Tahoe through a group rate Alley was able to offer at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort. “I personally enjoyed Tahoe during our site visits and believe that is a great asset for Reno to offer,” she says. “I’d encourage groups to plan more outings there if possible for their programs.”
With 4,000 attendees, Alley says it was a large group for Reno — with a lot of expectations. Yet the meeting was a great success with few negative issues. “Overall, I believe the relationships and customer service carried us through a great planning process,” she says. “We had some challenges with Internet bandwidth at the convention center as our group requires a lot of service. We started planning early, but I wish we would have had better contingency planning for onsite.”
Alley doesn’t hesitate to recommend Reno. “Reach out to John Leinen at the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (aka Johnny Reno — just ask him), Alison Farr at Peppermill and John Carter at Atlantis. You’ll be well taken care of. Everyone works as a team, a huge benefit to planners.
“Oh, and one more thing: At the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, don’t miss out on the grilled donut stations for your reception — a big hit!”
Billy Ford, senior vice president with Atlanta-based Kemira Chemicals Inc., brought approximately 200 attendees to Kemira’s annual sales and marketing meeting at M Resort in April 2015, which was not the group’s first Las Vegas meeting.
“Everyone loves the energy and excitement of Vegas. That energy permeates the team, and we leave Vegas energized and ready not only to work but also to win.” — Billy Ford
“We selected Las Vegas six years ago and haven’t considered another location since. Despite the fact that we are a team of 200-plus conservative engineers functioning as technical sales representatives, everyone loves the energy and excitement of Vegas. That energy permeates the team, and we leave Vegas energized and ready not only to work but also to win. While a motivated and energized sales force is priceless, it is also helpful that I can clearly document the cost advantage and ease of access Vegas provides, making our selection of Vegas the clear, right choice.
“Before anyone could challenge the selection of Vegas, I solicited quotes from multiple cities. We priced airline flights from around the country to each of those destinations. Vegas has consistently been the lowest total cost option, making it impossible for anyone to challenge the selection of Vegas as our destination.”
Kemira has hosted its meeting at M Resort for multiple years, which Ford says has made the planning process easy. “We initially selected The M because of the focus on service and quality, which matches our company culture. We have continued to choose The M because we have developed a true partnership based on trust. Our management teams have come to know each other, and it really has been as simple as saying ‘Hey, we want to do the same thing again this year,’ which has made the planning simple. We’ve never had to utilize an external event management team to make the meeting a smooth, flowing success because we haven’t had to reinvent the wheel each year. We make tweaks, but we do so seamlessly with the help of the team at The M. We have also developed a great working relationship with the LVCVA who help us select and connect with service providers like transportation, entertainment and offsite teambuilding venues. With the help of The M and the LVCVA, we show up and the meeting just works.”
Ford says everything about M Resort stands out, from the service on arrival to the housekeeping and food. But two venues are favorites. “We particularly love the Hostile Grape wine cellar for our opening session. If you haven’t seen it you should. It’s ‘technology-meets-wine’ in a high-class environment. We also love the central bar area where we network after dinner. Our team doesn’t get spread out like it might at a mega casino, allowing us to maximize networking potential.”
Also excellent, Ford says, is the ease of access between guest rooms and meeting space. “The main elevators take our people directly from their rooms to the convention level. From there, the primary ballroom and breakout rooms are only steps away. We’ve never ‘lost’ anyone!”
The hotel is the setting for one of the most important evenings of the event, the Pinnacle Award Ceremony, held on the second night. “The white table linens, outstanding surf-and-turf dinner, stage lighting and attention to service all set the right climate for this coat-and-tie dinner,” Ford says. “It’s the pinnacle of our year when we get to recognize our top performers in front of their peers in such a powerful setting.”
The group also has time to get out in the city. “We generally have a free night for the meeting participants to enjoy Vegas. It’s great to see people teaming up with colleagues they don’t work with on a daily basis for dinner and a show or dinner and sightseeing on The Strip,” Ford notes. “One of the most exciting activities is a combined supercar and helicopter program we developed with Exotics Racing and Maverick Aviation. We take our Pinnacle Award winners to Exotics Racing where they drive supercars on a track at triple-digit speeds. When the Maverick Aviation copters swoop in to pick them up for a trip to the Grand Canyon, it becomes tangibly clear that the effort invested to become a Pinnacle Award winner is recognized and appreciated.”
In the end, Las Vegas perfectly meets the needs of this group of engineers, proving that the reality of the city often differs from the perception. “Don’t be afraid to select Vegas,” Ford says. “The cost advantages are clear and easy to quantify. Be confident in your culture, the maturity of your team and your ability to manage both. Being in Vegas doesn’t mean you will wake up with a tattoo on your face. It does, however, mean you will leave energized and with the drive to do what it takes to be successful so you can come back!”
Karen Hurlbut, owner of Muskego, Wisconsin-based Hurlbut Travel, plans multiple meetings in Las Vegas for Cramer and Associates, a consulting company providing sales, marketing and leadership programs for broker/dealers. In 2015, Hurlbut organized five Las Vegas meetings for the company, all held at various MGM properties including Aria, Mirage and Mandalay Bay.
“My client chooses Las Vegas for multiple meetings due to the ease of access, price and the culture of the area,” Hurlbut says. “He enjoys the variety of dining options as well. The only real challenges with Las Vegas is trying to find rooms during conventions and the length of flights for my travelers from the East Coast.”
In terms of hotel choices, Cramer & Associates wants top-notch venues. “We love to host our events at hotels where attendees will find a wow factor,” Hurlbut says. “We work closely with the sales and catering staff at each hotel, and they can either make or break your experience. The rooms have to be great, the food has to be excellent and the service has to be exceptional.
“The Mirage is the most compact, so the ease for the attendees is great. Aria and Mandalay Bay have wonderful convention space but are a great distance from the sleeping rooms, which can cause challenges for people with mobility issues.”
One issue for Hurlbut is MGM’s pricing for the different hotels. “The thing that surprised me most was the fluctuation of costs from one MGM resort to another,” she says. “Mandalay Bay was much more expensive in food and beverage costs compared to the Aria. Being that they are both MGM resorts and of the same caliber, I found that frustrating.”
Like Ford, Hurlbut says Las Vegas has a lot going for it. “It’s a fun location for all of the attendees. After the meetings, it’s a great venue for networking around the pools and for the casinos and multitude of activities that make Las Vegas famous.”
That’s important for this group because attendees are typically on their own in the evenings after meetings and group dinners.
Because of the city’s popularity, Hurlbut says it’s important to begin the planning process early. “The most important part of the planning process is to start as early as possible and find availability at multiple hotels of the same quality, which gives you the most negotiating power,” she says. “If there are 10 hotels that want your business, it’s easier to get the best deal.”
As the 50th Golden Anniversary of Caesars Palace approaches, the evolution continues with the reimagining of the iconic hotel’s original tower, the Roman Tower, to be completely reborn as the new Julius Tower. Expected to welcome its first guests January 1, 2016, the new 587-room tower will feature new design-savvy, modern rooms and suites.
The guest room amenities will include 55-inch TVs equipped with Sonifi system, luxurious Beauty Rest Bouvet Island Mattresses, a specially curated mini bar and English-themed Gilchrist & Soames in-room toiletries and amenities.
Encore Resort and Encore Tower Suites at Wynn Las Vegas began a refresh in summer 2015, including updated furnishings, floor coverings, technology, aesthetics and custom bed linens. Also of note is that the Wynn Fairway Villas and Encore three-bedroom duplex are now available for guests to rent. The 5,829-sf Encore duplex features a billiard room and private massage and exercise room with floor-to-ceiling views of the city. The dining area seats 16. The Fairway Villas overlook Wynn Golf Course and include a private massage room, workspace with complimentary high-speed Internet access, a breakfast room and seating for eight.
The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas has unveiled the restaurant’s new concept, which elevates the traditional buffet to that of a more sophisticated dining experience.
New at Delano Las Vegas in 2015 was the Delano Beach Club, a South Beach-inspired experience with 16 private cabanas and the availability of buying out the entire beach club in the evening for up to 350 attendees. In July, Delano also welcomed guests to its newly renovated guest rooms, the final phase of a resort-wide refresh.
Rivea and Skyfall Lounge, by Michelin-decorated chef Alain Ducasse, are now open and located on the 64th floor of Delano Las Vegas.
Rivea: Influenced by the delectable food markets of Provence and Italy, the menu focuses on simple, fresh Mediterranean flavors made with the best West Coast-sourced seasonal ingredients. The restaurant’s 50-seat private dining room Rivea+ boasts 180-degree views of The Strip through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Skyfall Lounge: Located adjacent to Rivea, Skyfall Lounge offers an evolving nightlife experience that builds in tempo as the evening progresses.
The Monte Carlo and New York-New York Hotel & Casino revitalization will lead visitors to The Park and the new world-class 20,000-seat Las Vegas Arena, both of which are slated to open in April 2016. The Park will create an immersive outdoor destination spanning more than eight acres, re-envisioning the traditional pedestrian experience in Las Vegas.
Tom’s Urban, a modern and casual dining concept, is now open and serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night at New York-New York. Located on the casino floor and adjacent to the resort’s replica Brooklyn Bridge, the venue features a contemporary dining experience offering innovative, yet familiar dishes coupled with a creative bar program.
The AAA Five Diamond Aria Resort & Casino announced a major expansion of its LEED Gold-certified convention center as well as enhancements to the existing convention center and event space at Crystals, and two new restaurants. 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 new Las Vegas Arena. With anticipated completion in February 2018, Aria will feature more than 500,000 sf of meeting space.
The first level will feature an open ballroom with ample prefunction spaces, and access to an exclusive loading dock for events that require sizable displays. Versatile indoor-outdoor breakout rooms will highlight the second level, while the third level will offer a large ballroom as well as naturally lit prefunction spaces connecting to Aria’s existing convention center. The facility’s top floor is set to become one of Las Vegas’ most unique meeting venues as it complements a vast ballroom with a striking outdoor patio that can accommodate receptions for up to 2,000 guests. The top-floor patio will feature views overlooking The Park and Las Vegas Arena.
New media walls, high-tech furnishings, charging stations and a new registration area are among the elements added to the current convention center. Adjacent to Aria, The Shops at Crystals now offer 13,000 sf of multilevel, flexible space accommodating up to 980. The event space overlooks Aria’s colorful dancing waters of Lumia and the Focus Water Wall. New Italian restaurant Carbone opened in October while indoor-outdoor Herringbone, featuring its take on California coastal cuisine, opened in late December.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino opened the Convention Center’s 350,000-sf expansion. The $70 million expansion includes new exhibit space, a 20,000-sf foyer and underground parking. The final phase of the expansion will transition existing space into a 70,000-sf carpeted Oceanside Ballroom this month. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center boasts more than 2 million total sf and more than 900,000 sf of contiguous exhibit space, which elevates its ranking in North America to No. 5 in both total square feet and exhibit space. C&IT