It’s no accident that Las Vegas has finally claimed the undisputed title of No. 1 meeting and convention destination in the U.S. Its unparalleled meeting infrastructure and wow factor have propelled it into the stratosphere since the depths of the Great Recession a decade ago.
And a large part of its success can be attributed to planners who use it for meeting after meeting, year after year, with enormous enthusiasm and loyalty.
Gayle Strawn, conference director at Minneapolis-based Franchise Times Corporation, which hosts annual educational conferences in the restaurant and franchise industries, has been using Las Vegas every year for the last 17 years for two of the company’s most important events. One is a two-and-a-half-day November conference for 2,800 attendees from the restaurant industry. The other is a two-and-a-half-day conference each spring for the franchise industry. Attendees include bankers and investors.
Why has Strawn been so loyal to Las Vegas? “The main reason is the ease of getting into Las Vegas for our attendees,” she says. “It is centrally located, as far as flying in and out are concerned. Another reason for our loyalty is that we have also seen our attendance go up each year since we’ve been in Las Vegas. We actually tried holding one of the meetings at another destination several years ago, and we lost half of our attendance. And when we went back to Las Vegas, attendance went back up — and grew.”
The convenience of McCarran International Airport, which is just minutes from Strip hotels, also makes the destination extremely popular with attendees, Strawn says.
Another reason they return annually is its unmatched hotel inventory. “Las Vegas has an excellent range of meeting hotels,” Strawn says. “We tend to mix up our choices each year.” Because both of her meetings attract well-heeled attendees, she adds, she uses only the best and most well-known properties.
“We actually tried holding one of the meetings at another destination several years ago, and we lost half of our attendance.” — Gayle Strawn
The hotels for this year’s November meeting are two of the city’s most exclusive and luxurious resorts: Wynn Las Vegas and its adjacent sister property Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. Both hold AAA Four Diamond ratings for 2018. “We’ve used both hotels before,” Strawn says, “but we’ve never used all of the meeting space at both hotels before. This fall will be the first time.”
Last fall’s hotel was The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. In 2016, it was Bellagio. Strawn is taking the meeting back to Wynn this year because of its unparalleled prestige. “The Wynn is perceived as a very high-end hotel,” she says. “It’s the kind of hotel where people walk down the hall and say, ‘I just love being here.’” Her hotel for next year is Bellagio.
Gigi Gleason, CMP, senior manager, global strategic meetings, at major software manufacturer Autodesk, Inc. in San Rafael, California, is another meeting planner who is a die-hard enthusiast for Las Vegas as a destination. Autodesk hosts two major annual meetings there — a 10,000-attendee, four-day user conference in November and a 3,000-attendee, four-day global sales meeting in spring. Both meetings have been held in Las Vegas for the last 20 years.
“The big reason we’ve been so loyal to Las Vegas is that everybody loves going to Las Vegas,” Gleason says. “It’s also easy to get to, with great airlift. And you can house meetings the size we do under one roof, which is very difficult to do anywhere else. And then the final reason is we, and our attendees, have such great familiarity with Las Vegas from going there every year for so long.”
Gleason’s rotation of go-to hotels has always included marquee properties such as Mandalay Bay, The Venetian and Caesars Palace. “And we’re getting ready to go to ARIA Resort & Casino, which is another fantastic hotel, for our sales conference next spring,” she says. ARIA holds a AAA Four Star rating for 2018. Earlier this year, the property completed a $170 million expansion that nearly doubled its meeting and convention space to 500,000 square feet. The expansion, which totaled 200,000 square feet, converted a theater built to host Cirque du Soleil shows into three ballrooms, more than a dozen new meeting rooms and an executive lounge.
What key factors account for Gleason’s hotel choices? “We use the cream of the crop properties,” she says. “Mandalay Bay, The Venetian, Caesars Palace and ARIA are all well-known ‘brand names.’ But what they also have in common is the number of people you can get under one roof and the amount of meeting space they have. But the ‘brand’ issue is also very important to us, because we want to be associated with top-notch sleeping rooms and meeting space, as well as the overall experience our attendees have.”
Gleason also observes that Las Vegas is constantly reinventing itself, always raising the bar for meeting infrastructure and amenities. “That is very appealing to me as a meeting planner,” she says. “The great thing about Las Vegas is you never have to do the same thing twice. There is always something new and exciting. For example, CAESARS FORUM is going to add a whole new dimension and new amenities to the destination.”
Breaking ground last July and making its debut in 2020, CAESARS FORUM is a $375 million, 550,000-square-foot conference center that will be adjacent to the wildly popular LINQ Promenade retail district and within walking distance of more than 20,000 Caesars Entertainment-operated hotel rooms in its portfolio of blue chip properties, such as Caesars Palace and the LINQ Hotel & Casino.
The CAESARS FORUM complex will dramatically raise the profile of what is possible within an ultra-modern conference facility. The LEED Silver-rated center will feature 300,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including two 110,000-square-foot, pillar-free ballrooms, two 40,000-square-foot ballrooms and six state-of-the-art boardrooms, as well as more than 100 breakout rooms. Able to accommodate more than 10,000 attendees, the entire complex will be built on one floor for maximum convenience and ease of move-in. There will also be a 100,000-square-foot Forum Plaza outdoor venue for opening receptions, other events, wellness breaks and al fresco meals. A skybridge will link CAESARS FORUM directly to The LINQ Hotel & Casino and Harrah’s Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, MGM Resorts International has already set a new standard for 21st-Century meeting space at its new $550 million Park MGM, formerly the Monte Carlo, which debuted in April. Park MGM’s new Madison Meeting Center is specifically designed to host meetings for 10 to 50 attendees. The 10,000-square-foot complex features 10 flexible rooms that have been created to reflect the most innovative breakthroughs in learning when it comes to classroom-style training, certifications, product seminars and workshops. It also offers moveable ergonomic furniture, built-in audiovisual equipment and rolling whiteboards.
Furthermore, it incorporates the DELOS Stay Well Meetings protocol, developed in cooperation with health-and-wellness guru and DELOS board member Deepak Chopra, and previously introduced at the MGM Grand and Mirage properties. The Stay Well program features state-of-the-art air purification, energizing lighting, science-based menu options, soothing aromatherapy and other wellness features designed to enhance the productivity and overall wellness of attendees.
The other new facility at Park MGM is its Ideation Studio, opening this fall, which is aimed at corporate retreats and brainstorming sessions, with eight unique environments and four distinctive room types that each can accommodate groups of six to 25 attendees. Each space has been intentionally planned with options for a wide array of workspaces to spur collaboration, productivity, creativity and innovation.
Yet another reason why Las Vegas is so popular with meeting planners, across a wide spectrum of types and sizes of events, is its one-of-a-kind hotel inventory. A trio of properties illustrate the point.
M Resort Spa Casino, a 390-room off-Strip hotel located in the peaceful seclusion of nearby Henderson, offers more than 92,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 17,400-square-foot ballroom, as well as the 25,000-square-foot M Pavilion and LUX special event venues and a full-service business center. The resort also features a TopGolf swing suite, with a unique training simulation that is popular with corporate groups. It includes a spacious temperature-controlled lounge area that offers food-and-beverage service as well as a variety of interactive games.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, which is enormously popular with younger attendees or planners seeking a “hip and cool” factor, has invested more than $20 million in expanding and updating its meeting infrastructure. The hotel now features more than 110,000 square feet of eco-friendly, multipurpose space, which includes new ballrooms.
The Hard Rock can accommodate events for up to 5,000 attendees. An additional $40 million investment has upgraded the hotel’s guest rooms, as well as its dining and retail shopping venues.
At the other end of the spectrum, in terms of history and local culture, is the landmark and time-honored Tropicana Las Vegas, which has been among the destination’s most beloved properties for decades. It, too, touts a brand name that is synonymous with a fun, exhilarating experience that is Caribbean-themed. The Tropicana’s conference center has been expanded and can be configured into as many as 38 breakout rooms. Facilities also include an elegant 25,000-square-foot Cohiba Ballroom that can accommodate up to 2,700 attendees or be divided into as many as 11 breakout rooms. The Trinidad Pavilion is a 24,000-square-foot, pillar-free ground-level venue that often houses general sessions and large food-and-beverage functions.
Such ongoing expansion and evolution of what is already an extraordinary meeting infrastructure is what keeps Las Vegas atop the heap of major meeting destinations.
“It’s an exciting time in Las Vegas,” Strawn says. “There’s a lot going on that’s new, and I’m hearing that there are a lot of new things coming along in 2020. More and more properties are adding more meeting space. New hotels, like the Drew, are coming.”
The under-development luxury hotel Drew Las Vegas is the former $2.5 billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas, and its opening is highly anticipated.
“So, as a meeting planner,” Strawn says, “I’m thrilled to know there will be new hotels and new meeting space available. And for attendees, Las Vegas is always exciting.” C&IT