Thirty years ago, gambling was the main thing that brought people to Las Vegas and Reno. Casinos were rare in the rest of the country and afforded visitors plenty of excitement and an enticing air of edginess.
That’s no longer the case today. Gaming has dipped in Las Vegas and Reno, but most everything else is on the rise. “Hospitality, entertainment and food and beverage have really taken off,” says Don Ross, vice president of catering, conventions and events for Las Vegas’ Caesars Entertainment. “Las Vegas has the best dining that the world has to offer. Within three miles, we’ve got almost every big chef in the world. We’ve got some of the best shopping in the world.”
The meetings, conventions and incentive trips industry has continued its own dramatic upswing, to the point where Las Vegas is now one of the biggest and most beloved event destinations globally.
Reno has seen tremendous new investment in hotels and resorts. The number of interesting shops and restaurants is growing, and it continued to be an amazing place to experience art. “Airlift has gone up year over year with new lift and new carriers,” says Mike Larragueta, vice president of sales for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.
Lake Tahoe and other outdoor recreation spots offer opportunities for adventures year-round. All of these things make Reno a destination that’s just as exciting as its more glitzy neighbor. Find out what’s new and enticing in Nevada’s two largest metro areas.
“Las Vegas is a dynamic, exciting city unlike any other, and we’re constantly evolving,” says Amy Riley, CEM, senior director of business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). Whether it’s an entertainer, restaurant concept, event venue or hotel, there’s something new to see pretty much every time you set foot in the city.
“From the fine-dining restaurants to the 24-hour coffee shops to the entertainment and nightlife and shows, everything is right there at your fingertips,” says Bryan Gay, CMP, senior vice president of sales and conventions for the SLS Las Vegas.
Guests will never lack things to do — and everything they might want to do is a stone’s throw away, which keeps transportation costs low and guests eager to keep coming back.
One of the best things about Las Vegas is that it offers something for everyone.
“There’s something for groups of all budgets, whether you’re very cost-conscious or whether the sky’s the limit,” says Gus Tejeda, director of marketing for the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas. “Along with that, there’s myriad hotel options, from budget to five-star. This city has the best meeting space options on the planet, with the ability to accommodate meetings ranging in size from 10 to 10,000. It really lends itself to any type or size of group.”
“We host approximately 22,000 meetings and conventions each year…. Simply put, we’re the experts and the industry leader for hosting meetings and conventions.” — Amy Riley, CEM
The Four Seasons was recently home to an event that showcases why Las Vegas is an ideal destination for businesses wanting to provide memorable experiences for employees. It was called Cash Bash, and it’s an annual incentive trip for regional sales managers at Subaru of America, Inc.
“The reason we go to Las Vegas is, generally speaking, it offers everything our sales managers and we want when we offer a program,” says Linden Calder, national director of retail operations training for Subaru of America, Inc. “They are sophisticated people with high incomes who are highly educated. They like the shows and restaurants. There’s good weather, and the flights in and out are easy and available. There’s a high level of customer service.
“When you want to put together a themed event, there is no easier or better place than Las Vegas,” Calder adds.
For 2018, Cash Bash’s décor and activities were based on a popular children’s book and movie. As people arrived on Sunday, they could grab snacks and drinks and watch football in a hospitality suite, which was decorated to look like the story’s famous tea party. The main incentive program took place in a stage set to look like something found on the other side of the looking glass. (Subaru worked with Absolute Amusements to bring the storybook land to life.) At a long-drive golfing championship, people hit balls that looked like hedgehogs with clubs done up to look like long-necked birds. People were delighted by the little details from the story.
Subaru had been to the Four Seasons before and typically doesn’t go back to the same hotel twice. However, “I was impressed with the people at the Four Seasons and the way they demonstrated their desire for our business,” says Calder. “The level of service they showed us was the type of service I’d like to extend to customers and the way things should be done by our sales managers. They were perfect partners to produce the event.”
Part of the great service that’s available throughout Las Vegas comes from the level of experience of the typical service industry employee.
“We’ve been the No. 1 trade show destination in the country for the past 24 consecutive years, according to the Trade Show News Network,” said Riley. “We host approximately 22,000 meetings and conventions each year, with 70 percent welcoming 500 people or less, and we hosted a record-breaking 6.6 million delegates in 2017. Simply put, we’re the experts and the industry leader for hosting meetings and conventions.”
Steve Blanner, senior vice president of hotel sales for Wynn Las Vegas, strongly advises meeting planners to take advantage of that expertise. “The whole city revolves around travel and tourism, so we’re experts. It’s important to ask questions and get the most out of wherever you are. Really listen to what people are suggesting. They know their hotels.”
Another standout aspect of Las Vegas is the wide array of entertainment options that are available. The ability to see world-class concerts, plays and other shows gets people excited about coming to Las Vegas. They’re more likely to register for conferences and compete for incentive trips. Companies shouldn’t feel like they have to pay for large parties or major performers at their events if they don’t want to. There’s no worry that guests will get bored; there’s something happening in Las Vegas 24/7.
However, corporations that want to put on their own special events have an added advantage when they come to Las Vegas. Due to the fact that there are already so many celebrities in Las Vegas for residencies or special events, it’s often possible to arrange for big-name performers without having to pay for their transportation costs. Ross recalls a recent event for a group of 12,000 people that included a themed dinner on the lawn followed by a performance by Kelly Clarkson. Caesars was able to schedule Lenny Kravitz for another corporate meeting.
Even if you decide to provide your own entertainment, Ross recommends allowing plenty of time for people to explore the many other things Las Vegas has to offer.
“Do an evening event from 7 to 9, for example, then let people enjoy the city,” he says. “Strategize and use the city wisely.”
Amid the amazing-built environment of Las Vegas, it can be easy to lose sight of getting attendees outside and taking advantage of the beautiful weather. But that’s something more people are looking for in this day and age.
“They don’t want to sit in a box boardroom all day long,” says Blanner. “They’re looking for rooms with natural light or patios. That’s really where we’ve carved out our own niche. A lot of our meeting rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows. A lot have balconies overlooking the golf course or pool.”
Outdoor offerings will improve with the addition of a 300,000-square-foot event facility slated to open in 2020. The two-story building will include a 20,000-square-foot outdoor pavilion for receptions and other gatherings. It will complement the recently opened Wynn Plaza, a 70,000-square-foot shopping center that includes a fitness center by SoulCycle and organic coffee and tea shop called Urth Caffe.
The Wynn is far from the only property making improvements right now. According to the LVCVA, more than $19 billion is being invested in Las Vegas facilities right now. The new CAESARS FORUM Conference Center will be a 550,000-square-foot facility with 300,000 square feet of meeting space, including the two largest pillarless ballrooms in the world.
Harrah’s Las Vegas, the LINQ and the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino will all be directly accessible from the conference center. It is expected to open in 2020.
The SLS, which was purchased by Meruelo Group early last year, recently started a $100 million renovation. The casino and one hotel tower will be finished by the third quarter of this year. Upgrades to the remaining towers and common areas will begin after that.
Thanks to some changes that have already been made, large events can now inquire about using the marquis and temporarily rebranding their hotel with their company’s name and logo.
“A recent client had their branding all over the property, which was great for the attendees because they felt like it was their place,” says Gay. “We can really present their brand very well.”
“Over the past year or so, several properties have undergone significant renovations and/or rebranding, including the Monte Carlo, which has rebranded as Park MGM, as well as the boutique NoMad Las Vegas,” says Riley. “Additionally, the Palms Casino Resort has enjoyed an extensive renovation, and last fall, Waldorf Astoria opened in the former home of the Mandarin Oriental. On the north end of the Strip, Resorts World is under construction, and the former site of the Fontainebleau is expected to open in the early 2020s as The Drew.
“Another significant update is the Las Vegas Convention Center District,” Riley continued. “The expansion and complete renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center will add 600,000 square feet of exhibit space, new meeting rooms and other amenities.”
Construction on the expansion started in September and will be completed in 2021. An overhaul of the existing facility will start after that and should wrap up by 2023.
Reno was established during the California Gold Rush in the 19th century, and it’s experiencing a gold rush of a different sort today. Dozens of businesses have set up facilities in northern Nevada in recent years, including companies such as Tesla and Switch, says Larragueta with the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. A tech firm called Blockchains, LLC recently purchased 64,000 acres at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center and is getting ready to open a new office and research center. The concentration of innovative companies makes Reno an interesting place for businesses to visit and learn more about what their peers are doing.
Local event properties are going through some big changes. Meruelo Group bought the Grand Sierra Resort a few years and has put more than $200 million into improving to the meeting space, restaurants, pool, fitness center and more. Marnell Gaming purchased the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks in 2016.
“The property is in the midst of a complete and total renovation, floor to ceiling, wall to wall,” says Randy Kennedy, director of marketing communication for the Nugget.
All 788 rooms in the west tower have been renovated. The east tower, which has more than 600 rooms, will be spruced up this year. The lobby, casino and 110,000-square-foot convention space have all been completely redone. There’s a new sports-themed restaurant and bar called Game On.
“Marnell Gaming is really bullish on the Reno market,” Kennedy added. “They’ve voted with their dollars and have put a lot of capital into the property.”
As these large companies have invested in local properties, it’s spurred redevelopment at other local resorts and hotels. The rooms and food court at Circus Circus Reno were recently renovated, and the Eldorado Resort Casino is currently doing a refresh of all guest rooms. The Silver Legacy Resort Casino just opened the largest spa in the region. The former Fitzgerald Hotel has become the Whitney Peak Hotel, and the old Siena Hotel has transformed into the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel, a trendy spot with features like bocce ball and Reno’s longest bar.
Whatever hotel you choose, Karen Nichols, president of Red Carpet Events and Design, a local destination management company and corporate event planning firm, says great service is a given.
“We are an events town. We’re used to having different entities come in and do events, and that translates to the corporate business, as well. Our hotels are phenomenal in regard to knowing what the business traveler needs. They’re well-versed in events because we have so many.”
People looking to offer unique local experiences to guests have several options. The Midtown neighborhood has become a trendy spot for restaurants, breweries, art galleries and independent shops.
“We get lots of people who want to have the Burning Man experience,” says Nichols. “Reno is the closest big city to Burning Man. The community has a strong presence in the Reno area, and they do phenomenal community art projects. There are amazing mural tours that have incorporated Burning Man art, as well as works by local muralists and artists.”
Groups can also arrange to go to The Generator, a maker studio that hosts many of the people who make large art pieces for Burning Man. It provides classes and a glimpse into where some of the festival’s magic happens.
The community plays host to several large special events throughout the year. The Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, which has been named the best barbecue festival in the country, draws large crowds over Labor Day weekend. Hot August Nights and Street Vibrations, a motorcycle rally, are other popular events. Festivals like these give visitors a chance to experience something different. (Alternatively, they give planners dates to work around, since hotel availability is often quite limited during these community-wide events, Kennedy points out.)
“Reno is a great market, as far as close-by getaways,” says Kennedy. “Lake Tahoe is 45 minutes from our door. Some of the best resorts in the world are surrounding Lake Tahoe. There are at least 30 golf courses within a 45-minute range of Reno. It’s a fabulous outdoor playground.”
Nichols was involved in an event for NCAA Division I basketball coaches that was sponsored by an athletic apparel company. The gathering took place at a Lake Tahoe resort and involved activities such as a chili cook-off, riding electric bikes around the lake, boating and plenty of other outdoor adventures.
“In my business, what we’re trying to do is foster connections between people,” she says. “Going to Lake Tahoe and being in a kayak with someone — it creates that closeness that’s missing when you have a meeting between four walls.”
For those who are less interested in outdoor activities, nearby Virginia City is a historic mining town with old Victorian homes, saloons, museums and other attractions. And, Reno has great shopping, including a large outlet mall and a Scheels location that pegs itself “the world’s largest all-sports store.”
Event attendees will never lack for things to do in “the biggest little city in the world.” C&IT