While we don’t yet know how COVID-19 will affect 2020 convention numbers, one thing is certain: Nothing has stopped Las Vegas from moving forward. The Las Vegas Convention Center expansion, Elon Musk’s subterranean people-mover and the rise of the mega Resorts World Las Vegas and Circa Resort & Casino are on track. Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Las Vegas and MGM Grand Hotel & Casino have expansion plans as well.
Health and safety, however, are today’s priorities. “We’ve launched the citywide Vegas Smart campaign, encouraging visitors to enjoy the destination safely and responsibly,” says John Schreiber, CEM, vice president of business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “Across the destination, enhanced guidelines for health, safety, cleaning and sanitization measures have been established, and you can find links to those individual health and safety plans on the Vegas Smart webpage. Additionally, at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), we’re taking steps to boost meeting planner and attendee confidence, including our commitment to pursuing GBAC STAR accreditation from the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA).”
Individual DMCs, hotels and venues have developed protocols, often working together, says Joshua Jones, DMCP, regional president at Hosts Global. “DMCs have always been risk mitigators for our clients. Today, this element of our business is more important than ever. We’re working with hotel and supplier partners across all our services to ensure that guests can meet with confidence.” Hotel partners, he adds, such as MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts have “really led the charge at developing plans and protocols to establish a confident meeting environment.”
Stephanie Glanzer, senior vice president and chief sales officer with MGM Resorts International, points to MGM’s Seven-Point Safety Plan, which planners can find at mgmresorts.com. “We’re highly focused on ensuring that safety is at the forefront of our planning,” she says. “We work closely with each group to evaluate creative options for their events, including enhanced technology and digital solutions, all while following government and medical guidelines.
Chandra Allison, senior vice president of sales at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, says the new Venetian Clean Commitment includes more than 800 separate initiatives to enhance safety and minimize risk for meeting attendees. “Details include increased frequency of routine cleaning, requiring appropriate personal protective equipment for all guests and team members, and ongoing training and testing for team members. We’ve also aligned with Bureau Veritas, a nearly 200-year-old world leader in testing, inspection and certification. Bureau Veritas has developed the Safe Guard Hygiene Excellence and Safety Label to support operational activities at The Venetian. We know there’s value in live meetings and we eagerly welcome attendees to our resort.”
Jones points to a variety of Hosts Global programs and protocols aimed at creating not only a safe meeting experience, but one that delivers ROI, regardless of venue or platform. “These include meeting and exceeding sanitation and physical distancing requirements on-site; delivering communication plans with key information for attendees before they travel, while they’re here and once they return home, and planning for live, virtual and hybrid attendance scenarios.”
Beyond health and safety, the meeting experience for the near future will likely include virtual and hybrid options, and protocols must exist to meet those needs. Fortunately, Jones notes, many authentic Las Vegas experiences can be delivered virtually. Good bets include celebrity cooking demonstrations with top city chefs, mixology and craft cocktail courses ,and breakout sessions with prominent Vegas entertainment or guest speakers. And, he adds, “It’s important to deliver live experiences inclusive of virtual attendees in a manner that ensures all stakeholders receive ROI.”
Hosts Global has produced a booklet outlining actions and resources for future meetings and events, as well as a talk series with industry experts on how to execute meetings, and events, in a way that bolsters confidence with stakeholders and attendees. “Based on the overwhelming response, we’ve published the booklet and the #MeetWithConfidence talk series, and key takeaways for everyone to access anytime,” Jones says.
An Abundance of Activities
By all accounts, Las Vegas excels at providing a huge array of options for corporate groups to choose, an ever-expanding selection with something new always on tap. The coronavirus hasn’t changed that. “Most planners are familiar with the incredible experiences on the Strip,” Jones says. “They’re now starting to branch out and explore our transformed downtown scene. A few downtown experiences include foodie tours of our newest restaurants to experience delicious cuisine combined with handcrafted cocktails, our stage-worthy street performances and some of the best people-watching anywhere. But, we also have an incredible landscape around Las Vegas, including Lake Mead, Red Rock Canyon and Mt. Charleston. Outdoor activities include paddleboard yoga or watersports at Lake Mead, hiking or horseback riding in a stunning setting at Red Rock, or skiing or snowboarding at Mt. Charleston — and you can still get back to the city in time for plenty of fun and nightlife.”
Also on Jones’s list: an “Old West” adventure created for a group, an authentic contrast to the city’s neon-glitzy persona. He says, “It started with helicopter transport to an old mining town. Once there, participants enjoyed a high-end ‘cookout,’ rode ATVs through the desert, learned archery and axe-throwing, had a curated tour of the old mines, and created their own custom jeans and cowboy hats to take home.”
Dana Eckoff, CMP, a Denver-based senior surgical meetings planner for Alcon, also points to the city’s multitude of options as a core asset. She brought 350 attendees to a national service meeting in February. “Las Vegas offers so much in terms of options for team building, restaurants, entertainment. You can easily plan for many different needs, desires and personalities,” she says. “If you take advantage of all the entertainment the city offers, you can give attendees multiple choices. I came up with four or five activities, including Topgolf and a country-western show, and let attendees choose. That’s the beauty of Las Vegas.”
Eckoff’s group was based at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, a Station Casinos property. Alcon has also booked the hotel for January 2021. “We love the resort because it’s off the Strip. When we look at Las Vegas, we look at properties where the gaming is separate, yet still easy for attendees to access and enjoy in their free time,” Eckoff says. “All meeting space is on one floor, completely separate from the gaming. That’s a plus for our leadership; we don’t want to have to walk through gaming space to get to our meetings. All dining is also on one floor. It’s a very well-laid-out property and easy to navigate. And, at Red Rock, you immediately feel welcomed and comfortable.”
Although it’s off the Strip, Eckoff notes there’s a “beautiful outdoor shopping complex” as well as dining right across the street, and the area’s famous red rocks and hiking trails are nearby. The Strip is just 20 minutes away. “We booked motor coaches on two nights to go to shows on the Strip and it was easy.”
The February meeting didn’t utilize the LVCC, but Eckoff says when she has larger meetings, the center expansion and new people mover will be useful. “For this particular meeting, we like to be contained inside one hotel. For larger congresses, though, those things will make a difference. I’ve worked Las Vegas for years. With larger congresses, you’re typically spread thin with dinners in different restaurants and meetings in different hotels. One block along the Strip isn’t the same as one block in any other city with all of the going up and down escalators, etc. So people movers will definitely be an added benefit.”
With all the COVID-19 issues, Eckoff says planning requires new things to focus on, including determining exactly what hotels, venues, airlines and transportation companies are doing in terms of cleanliness and safety, as well as new ways to set up meeting sessions and meal functions to allow for social distancing. It’s a different mindset, she says, but not necessarily harder. “I do have to think about things I didn’t think as hard about before. I’ve always been zoned in on making sure everything is clean, but now I have to be even more diligent. What’s harder, however, is trying to build a meeting that’s not just live, but hybrid. We can’t force people to come on-site. We have to accommodate everyone. So that’s harder — the content and the technology to make the meeting accessible both on-site and off-site. There are some new challenges,” she says, “but after doing this for 30-plus years, I’m excited about having to be more creative.”
It helps that Station Casinos is also laser focused on critical protocols. Staff COVID-19 testing, frequent cleaning of public spaces and high-contact surfaces, accessible hand-sanitizer stations and temperature screenings at all entry points have been instituted across all properties. Personal protective equipment is mandatory, as is physical distancing. Deanna Burgess, CMP, CEM, CRME, vice president of sales, says Station Casinos believes strongly in being upfront about options, and potential impacts on existing or future meetings.
“Our sales professionals are empowered to offer and provide solutions, including suggesting alternative dates, adjusting room or meeting space based on the current landscape, and building in contingency plans for future meetings. We pride ourselves on taking a consultative approach with planners during the entire process and openly discuss outside-the-box options around room sets, or utilization of our large variety of meeting spaces indoors and out. In addition to our extensive Health and Sanitation Guidelines, posted on our resort website under the ‘Play it Safe’ tab, we work closely with clients to share best practices to ensure that the safety and well-being of their guests and attendees are paramount.”
Gold’s Gym set its international annual convention at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa last year, drawing 900 attendees. The company’s meeting is already booked there for next year. Bridget Sypolt, CMM, director of meetings and vendor relations, says of Las Vegas, “It is meetings. They do meetings seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Other cities have peak seasons; Las Vegas stays busy year round. That means all of the vendors we work with have an incredible depth of experience, which only helps my meeting.”
About the city’s major expansion projects, she says, “It’s crazy to think it, but that will attract even more attendees. They keep building, which means more people can come to Las Vegas. The expansions will just go to improve the offerings Las Vegas has.” Among her favorite venues is the Neon Museum. “It’s a different type of venue but so Las Vegas,” she says. “It’s large and has unique space to allow for small or large groups. On a totally different scale is any activity in Red Rock Canyon. It’s so close and, when we take guests there for a hike, they get to see a very different part of the area.” For either place, she advises, “spend the money on a professional guide to ensure that all of your attendees hear the best stories and most accurate history.”
Sypolt calls Red Rock Resort a terrific venue. “It’s constantly updating and recently re-did the guest room soft goods. For my meeting, we could be completely contained within the hotel — sleeping rooms and meeting space.” Sypolt says it’s a positive that attendees don’t have to walk through the casino to access the meeting space. Additionally, she says, “the hotel has incredible food and beverage; the chefs are amazing. Even with a large group, they get the food just right.”
The meeting space is definitely a positive. “We love it,” Sypolt says. “We were the only group in-house, so we were able to take over. The only downside is that move-in is up to the 5th floor so you have to work with the hotel with their own deliveries, but everyone was very helpful.” As for COVID-19, Sypolt wants venues to give planners details. “Show us what’s standard. Do room sets always have hand sanitizer at every place or every door? Do you only set meeting rooms in socially distanced ways? What, if anything, will this cost us? If I previously had a meal with rounds of 10 and now want rounds of five, will I have to pay for extra labor to accommodate that social distancing?”
As an example of a hotel that gets it, she points to Wynn Las Vegas. “Wynn did an incredible post-COVID-19 video about its cleaning standards,” she says. To planners considering Las Vegas, she advises, “Go for it. There’s a reason our meetings see an increase in attendance when we go to Las Vegas. And rely on the CVA and your DMCs — they’re the experts in the area and know what works or not.”
Anything is Possible
Texas-based Lennox International held its Lennox LIVE West meeting last year at Caesars Rio All Suites & Casino Hotel with 1,100 attendees. Melissa Soto, CMP, meeting planner, Events & Incentives, says the city’s excellent airlift made it easy for guests from across the region to attend. Not to mention, she adds, “Las Vegas is loaded with good food, great entertainment and things to do. This is the most attended Lennox LIVE show out of the four regions.” Like others, Soto says the abundance of options makes Las Vegas desirable. “If you can dream it, you can do it in Las Vegas. It’s a place where anything is possible. There’s something for everyone on the Las Vegas Strip. A wow opening, for example, would be a helicopter tour of The Strip and surrounding area. We’re hoping to provide a tour at our next Las Vegas event.”
There’s no lack of on-the-ground possibilities either. “We held a welcome reception for premier dealers at Brooklyn Bowl, a concert hall, restaurant, nightclub and bowling alley all in one,” Soto notes. “With the help of CSI, a DMC, we hired several impersonators to roam the floor, complete with a dance-off featuring Michael Jackson and our VP/GM, a Champagne girl and a DJ. This event really showcased what Las Vegas has to offer. Our attendees enjoyed the food, drink and entertainment even after our event officially ended.”
She says the city’s current expansion projects will only make it better. “There will be even more choices for meetings, off-site events and activities.” She also has high praise for Caesars Rio. “The rooms are very spacious and everyone thought they were upgraded. The location of the Rio and the convention center being separate is very convenient. The meeting space is in the convention center on the other side of the hotel, so once attendees got to the general session they stayed at the convention center for the remainder of the day. The space itself is way more than adequate for our meeting and the registration area is ideally located. Load in/out was easy and the staff worked well with our production-company schedule and provided support for additional requests. Our exhibit company was equally serviced and their additional requests were met.”
Soto says catering was another plus. “The catering staff went above and beyond with breaks and meals. The breaks were unique, customized experiences and staff were proactive when we brought up concerns and potential issues.” Lennox had a huge all-regions event scheduled in April at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino that unfortunately had to be cancelled. But Soto says Lennox LIVE West is scheduled for March 2021 at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, and she’s looking forward to it. Meanwhile, her best advice for planners booking Las Vegas is “Consider what your attendees want to experience and book accordingly. All hotels in Vegas have something different to offer; they’re all unique in their own way. And you can negotiate multiyear contracts for savings.”
In addition to Caesars Rio, the company is proud of the new 550,000-sf CAESARS FORUM conference center, which opened earlier this year. It’s the first facility of its size built on one level, can host up to 10,000 attendees, features an on-site kitchen, and also offers more than 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space. The Forum and Summit ballrooms are the two largest pillar-less ballrooms in the world, each covering 110,000 sf of meeting space; which can fit one football field in length.
Attendees won’t have to walk far for lodging, as the conference center has direct access to more than 8,500 guest rooms at Harrah’s Las Vegas and The LINQ through the FORUM Sky Bridge. Also, the Flamingo Hotel and Casino Las Vegas is accessible through the LINQ Promenade. In addition to Harrah’s, The LINQ and the Flamingo, other Caesars Entertainment Las Vegas properties within walking distance include Caesars Palace, just across the Strip; The Cromwell Hotel Las Vegas; Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino; Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino; and Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Resort & Casino, providing access to as many as 20,000 rooms.
For events under blue skies or the stars, the 100,000-sf outdoor plaza offers an enticing option for planners, as well as the wide variety of restaurants, shops and entertainment nearby.
The center also has earned the Silver LEED certification, and is estimated to be 44% more water efficient than other buildings of similar size, saving a projected amount of 4.6 million gallons of water per year.
Evolution and reinvention, it seems, are the city’s super powers. Patty Kindness, director of sales and marketing at PRA Las Vegas, says it’s the depth and range of options that “make Las Vegas shine brighter when compared to other destinations. It’s constantly reinventing itself to stay ahead of emerging trends.” Kindness calls the city a “made-to-order” destination with something new no matter how often a group meets there. “There’s never a question of how to experience something new and fresh to create a unique participant experience every time.”
She’s excited about projects on the horizon, starting with Allegiant Stadium. “This facility will offer incredible bucket-list experiences for corporate groups. MSG Sphere is also slated to open in 2021, and will change the way we experience concerts and special events with its multisensory interactive environment. AREA15 will be another option for corporate events, with a capacity of 6,000+ for a full buyout and the ability to accommodate different group sizes within its interactive rooms. Accor Hotels has tapped it for its IMEX 2021 event.”
Kindness sees current projects opening on time and within budget as a very good sign. “With so much uncertainty in the world and our industry, it’s a beacon of hope to see projects such as Allegiant, Resorts World and the LVCC expansion push forward so when planners get back to working on live events, all these shiny new venues and possibilities will await them. It’s heartening to see the depth of commitment Las Vegas and its hospitality community have for welcoming meetings and events back to our city.”
Growth in Las Vegas may come with another critical benefit: optimism. C&IT