Numbers matter in a big way in a destination like Las Vegas, whether you’re talking about the stakes at the gaming tables or the number of visitors the city attracts. For the latter, that number reached nearly 40 million last year, and, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA), 2013 attendance at meetings and conventions reached a five-year high, with more than 5 million attendees participating in a total of 22,000 meetings. Here, attendee engagement with the destination is never in question, with spectacular shows, showplace hotels, and exceptional special event venues from pool piazzas and ultra-lounges to downtown museums and even an observation wheel 550 feet off the ground.
UBM Tech, headquartered in San Francisco, doesn’t seem to be one of those companies that believes in moving their event from city to city each year. The company has held its annual Interop technology conference in Las Vegas every year since 1994. This year, the event attracted approximately 12,000 attendees and 300 exhibitors.
“For Interop, the sense of community is perfect in Las Vegas,” explains Jennifer Jessup, general manager for Interop. “The majority of the attendees are traveling in, so we want it to be a destination event. We find that the engagement in a venue like Las Vegas is quite high because you see those same attendees and exhibitors 24 hours a day the week that you’re there, whether that’s in a class, on the show floor, in the convention center or in the connected hotels and restaurants. That’s really important to us.”
The Mandalay Bay Convention Center has been the site of the event since 2005. Jessup describes why it works for them. “Having a hotel connected to the venue and having almost a hotel feel to the convention center is really appealing. The way the space is configured at the Mandalay Bay is very comfortable.” She added that her event requires about 15 breakout rooms and approximately 359,000 gross sf of exhibit space.
In addition to Mandalay Bay Resort and THEhotel, housing options for Interop attendees included the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, Luxor Las Vegas, New York-New York Hotel & Casino, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton Las Vegas.
The Mandalay Bay contains 3,211 guest rooms, and its separate all-suite tower, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, is being reflagged as the Delano Las Vegas, scheduled to open in the fall with 1,100 suites.
“The Mandalay Bay has a really strong convention services department, so for the majority, we keep our ancillary events within the Mandalay Bay center,” Jessup explains. This year, for its Wednesday night party, Interop booked the Light Cirque du Soleil nightclub at the Mandalay Bay. “We invite all paid attendees, press, speakers and exhibitors to one party. It takes place early evening from 7–10, and the club actually has cirque performers. It’s a fascinating experience watching the performers. There’s a lot of dancing and food. I did not expect our market to be such avid dancers,” she laughs, “because it’s IT professionals, but they were out there on the dance floor!
“Because we do have quite a strong alumni base, they almost feel like this is their vacation,” Jessup explains. “This is their one time of year to meet with each other, to learn. They’re also very dedicated fun-seekers, so we try to provide as many fun networking opportunities as possible.
“I cannot say enough about the Mandalay Bay sales and convention services groups,” she sums up. “They are extremely helpful, extremely professional. When you go to a city like Vegas, hospitality is their business.
She describes another factor that sets Las Vegas apart from some of the other destinations she works with. “In Las Vegas, they just think about the experience constantly, not only for convention-goers, but for tourists, as well. There’s always something new that we can latch onto in terms of ideas or new venues or new restaurants. There are always gems to be found.”
Ed Chase, vice president of conferences for LRP Publications in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, describes the factors that made Las Vegas a good choice for his company’s HR in Hospitality Conference & Expo. “Las Vegas has all the attributes we look for in a conference destination. It’s convenient to get to, there is a wide array of beautiful hotels and ample meeting space from which to choose, sales and convention staff there are professional and intuitive in anticipating your needs, and, let’s face it — Las Vegas is a place where people want to go.”
LRP chose the Aria Resort & Casino for its event.”We held our inaugural Health & Benefits Leadership Conference there last year, which was our first time at the Aria,” Chase explains. “Our attendees loved the hotel and conference space there, and we knew it would be a draw for our hospitality industry HR professionals this year. We are expecting more than 500 attendees with 44 exhibitors in our Expo Hall. Our numbers are up significantly from 2013.
“Las Vegas has all the attributes we look for in a conference destination. It’s convenient to get to, there is a wide array of beautiful hotels and ample meeting space from which to choose, sales and convention staff there are professional and intuitive in anticipating your needs, and, let’s face it — Las Vegas is a place where people want to go.” — Ed Chase
“We have a relatively small footprint of just over 38,000 sf, including a 20,000-sf exhibit hall,” he continues, “but the hotel has worked closely with us to make efficient use of our space. We love the appeal the Aria has. Its convention area, with a three-story wall of windows bathing the convention area in natural light, gives such a bright and energetic vibe to an event there. You can actually see the positivity in attendees’ faces when they know they’re not destined to be stuck in a dark ballroom all day.”
The 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino was one of the first hotels in Las Vegas to achieve LEED Gold certification. The property offers 300,000 sf of meeting space as well as technologically advanced guest rooms, which feature one-touch controls for lighting, temperature, television, music and wake-up calls. Even the draperies are operated by remote control.
Chase says that his company enlists the support of the LVCVA when planning events. “We’re hosting five conferences in Las Vegas this year, and the LVCVA is very proactive with us. They make it a point to meet with us each time we are in town to keep us up-to-date on planned and new events, attractions and hotels, and are engaged in our long-term planning process.”
Lynn Rittenband, senior vice president, event marketing for Wine Spectator, is responsible for a multi-city event called Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour which attracts more than 200 of the world’s top wineries and hundreds of attendees at each stop. The event is held in New York, Washington, DC, and Las Vegas, but Rittenband noted an interesting distinction about the Las Vegas event. “Las Vegas is a destination city,” she says. “We market to the whole U.S. for Vegas. The other two cities are basically regional.” She expects her Las Vegas event to draw approximately 1,000 attendees.
Wine Spectator chose The Mirage Hotel & Casino for the Las Vegas stop on the tour, and Rittenband explained why. “The Mirage has wonderful, large space to hold the event. It is set back from the noise and tumult of the casino floor and the staff is very easy to work with.” Owned by MGM Resorts International, The Mirage contains 3,044 guest rooms and more than 170,000 sf of function space, including unique special event venues such as Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, the Bare Pool Lounge and 1 Oak nightclub.
Las Vegas boasts an ever-changing menu of interesting venues to choose from for private events. Lisa Gentilin, PhD, CMP, and president of Fancy Shindigs Inc., conducts a half-day workshop and field trip titled “Four Exciting Las Vegas Venues That Will Dazzle Your Guests” at the annual Exhibitor Conference & Exhibition, a training conference and expo for trade show exhibitors and event marketers held in Las Vegas. Gentilin’s session has become so popular that it is now offered twice at each conference.
“It’s all about finding a special event venue that’s not necessarily in a hotel ballroom,” she describes. “We talk about the pros and cons of different locations, and I reach out to different venues that I’ve either done things at myself or I have become aware of. We really try to get some of the new venues.”
The first venue they toured was the Keep Memory Alive event center. Located in downtown Las Vegas at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the venue was designed by famed architect Frank Geary and features a dramatic, undulating exterior made of stainless steel. “It’s so lovely, and one of the great things that people don’t realize until they’re taking part in the tours is that every penny that they spend for an event actually goes back into the research facility that’s there,” Gentilin explains. The venue can accommodate 400 for a sit-down event or up to 700 for a reception.
“Next, we went over to The Mob Museum, which is in the old courthouse,” she continues. The interactive museum is dedicated to the history of organized crime and law enforcement, and offers a variety of spaces for private events. The entire museum also is available for a buyout.
“And then we went over to the Rio (All-Suite Hotel and Casino), which is a Caesars property, because that offered us so many different things within one location. I highlighted the Palazzo suites, showing how you could do hospitality events in the suites and combine them with sleeping rooms, since they can be locked off.” The Palazzo suites are located in their own tower at the Rio and range from 3,900 to 13,950 sf. “A lot of the hotels have villas and suites that aren’t on their sales list. You just have to know to ask for them.”
The next stop on the tour was the Penn & Teller Theater at Rio. “If you’re only going to have a general session for an hour or two hours and need space, why not use something like that? It just has a nicer feel than sitting theater-style in a ballroom,” Gentilin notes. “They’re dark during the day and two nights out of the week. And that applies to all of the theater space that’s within Las Vegas.
Next, Gentilin took her group up to the Voo Doo Lounge located on the Rio’s 51st floor. “It’s beautiful up there. This one has the whole restaurant floor and then it’s got the club floor on the top and it’s the largest club within Las Vegas.” Gentilin explained that the Voo Doo Lounge also has an outdoor rooftop area and that they are in the process of adding a zip-line attraction to it. After that, the group had lunch in the Barrel Room at the Rio’s wine cellar.
Next, they went to The Linq, Caesars Entertainment’s new shopping, dining and entertainment district, to preview the 550-foot Las Vegas High Roller, the world’s highest observation wheel. The new ride is equipped with cabins that can hold 40 guests each. “You can rent the cabins for events, and then at the building that’s closest, where they board, there’s a small event space there and two rooftop areas.” The High Roller takes 30 minutes to complete one rotation, and Gentilin says that for a group of 25, bar service can be provided in a private cabin for a set package price.
While they were at The Linq, Gentilin also took her group to see the event space at the new 80,000-sf concert and event venue Brooklyn Bowl, which also includes a rooftop area.
Gentilin, who also teaches event planning for private companies and at San Francisco State, says she gets a great response from event planners who attend these annual field trips. “They absolutely love it, and I have to say, one of the nice things about it is that they get treated well. We’re planners, and we’re always worried about making sure our client is getting treated well and having a good time. This is the reverse for them. They get pampered.” Now, she’ll turn her attention to finding four more interesting venues for her sessions at Exhibitor 2015, which will take place next March 1–5 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
New on the nightlife scene, as of last spring, is MGM Grand Hotel & Casino’s Hakkasan, a five-level space that offers a variety of environments, including the restaurant, private dining room, Ling Ling level, main nightclub, pavilion and mezzanine.
Hakkasan Group recently acquired Pure Nightclub inside Caesars Palace. The nightclub closes this month in order to undergo a total remodel that will be completed in early 2015. Pure was named the No. 1 nightclub in the country by E! Entertainment one year after its opening in 2004.
Making a splash last June was the debut of the Seascape Ballroom within Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Planners can hold intimate receptions, sit-down dinners and board meetings here, with an animated backdrop of swimming sharks and other marinelife in the 1.3-million-gallon exhibit.
The newly renovated Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton added two new event venues: the Havana Room and the outdoor Beach Club.
The 390-room M Resort Spa Casino just opened its Villaggio del Sole main pool and entertainment complex for the spring and summer pool season. The 100,000-sf Villaggio del Sole backyard pool piazza features two infinity-edge pools, private daybeds and cabanas, and a main pool deck perfect for outdoor group receptions and networking. New at Villaggio are Penthouse Patios, each accommodating up to 30 VIPs with lawn area, lounge furniture and recreational game tables. M Resort Spa Casino offers 92,000 sf of conference space, with great views of the Las Vegas skyline.
The very hip 634-room Downtown Grand hotel, which opened its doors in December in a location convenient to the Freemont Street Experience, features a rooftop venue called Picnic, which can host private events for up to 1,500 guests.
Imagine Exhibitions Gallery at The Venetian debuted its third installation, Da Vinci The Exhibition, an in-depth and interactive look at the works, life and art of Leonardo da Vinci. The space features 65 fully built, life-size inventions, more than 20 fine art studies and dozens of stunning displays, making for an inspirational event space for private functions, dinners and cocktail receptions.
Planners who need an entirely self-contained sanctuary for a more meeting-focused environment can look to The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa in Henderson, which underwent a major renovation before re-opening under the Westin flag in 2012. Although it’s only 30 minutes from The Strip, the Moroccan-inspired resort might as well be a world away with its tranquil setting featuring lake and mountain views, white sand beaches and any number of water activities, plus access to the Jack Nicklaus-designed SouthShore Golf Club just five minutes away. The Westin takes advantage of its stunning environs by offering 50,000 sf of outdoor space from gardens and poolside decks to a terrace overlooking the lake. There is 94,000 sf of meeting and banquet space including a 20,000-sf ballroom and naturally sunlit meeting rooms and boardrooms.
The three-level Mandalay Bay Convention Center currently offers 1.7 million square feet of event space, and it recently unveiled plans to expand the facility to over 2 million sf. Plans call for the addition of more than 350,000 sf of exhibit space, as well underground parking and additional carpeted ballroom space. Construction on the $66 million project is scheduled to begin in the fall, and the new exhibit space is expected to be available in late summer 2015.
May 1 marked the groundbreaking for a new 20,000-seat indoor sports and entertainment arena, which is a joint venture between AEG and MGM Resorts International. The new venue, which will be located between the New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, is expected to open in 2016. It will be part of an eight-acre dining and entertainment district called The Park, a landscaped area that is being designed to create an interactive neighborhood environment. The project also is scheduled to open in 2016. Both resorts are undergoing significant transformations of their Strip-facing experiences into plaza environments featuring casual eateries, bars, restaurants and retail destinations that will ultimately lead to The Park. Restaurants at Monte Carlo’s new entryway include the just-opened Double Barrel, a 12,000-sf roadhouse restaurant; Yusho, with authentic Japanese street food by celebrated chef Matthias Merges; and 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. Anchoring the new experience at New York-New York, a 2,024-room property with 21,500 sf of meeting space, will be the two-story Hershey’s Chocolate World. The interactive destination for chocolate lovers opens in the second quarter.
In response to guests’ growing interest in health and wellness, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino recently expanded its Stay Well collection. Encompassing the hotel’s entire 14th floor, the collection now includes 171 rooms and suites, all offering health and wellness features such as a vitamin C-infused shower, air purifier, dawn-simulating alarm clock and healthy menu options. Guests also have access to the Stay Well lounge, an exclusive area for registration and relaxation.
Caesars Entertainment’s The Cromwell, the first standalone boutique hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, opened this month. Created through a $185 million renovation of the former Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, The Cromwell offers 188 rooms and suites, a 40,000 sf casino, and Giada, a new restaurant concept by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis that opens in June. The hotel also will be home to a new 65,000-sf rooftop venue, Drai’s Beachclub Nightclub, which is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend.
This year the Tower suites and spas at Wynn and Encore received Forbes Five Star awards. Wynn Las Vegas and sister property Encore together offer more than 4,700 guest rooms and 260,000 sf of meeting space. The luxury hotels have 32 F&B outlets boasting two signature chefs, two award-winning spas, an onsite 18-hole golf course, Maserati and Ferrari dealership, 94,000 sf of retail space, two showrooms, three nightclubs, a beach club and more. Wynn Las Vegas’ aqua theater-in-the-round presentation “Le Rêve: The Dream” is offering backstage tours and a special “Diver’s Dream” package for guests who are scuba certified. Guests can go behind the scenes of the show and see all of the props and special features that take place backstage. Also, those who take part in the diver’s dream package are able to be in the water during an actual performance of Le Rêve to see all the magic underwater.
In January, the ESPA at Vdara Hotel & Spa “Las Vegas has all the attributes we look for in a conference destination. It’s convenient to get to, there is a wide array of beautiful hotels and ample meeting space from which to choose, sales and convention staff there are professional and intuitive in anticipating your needs, and, let’s face it — Las Vegas is a place where people want to go.” began welcoming guests to its 18,000-sf, two-level spa experience comprising 11 treatment rooms. Attendees who are spa enthusiasts will note that this is ESPA’s first branded spa on the West Coast and only the third in the U.S. The 1,495-suite Vdara, while relatively low on meeting space (10,000 sf), has a prime location in CityCenter, a mixed-use, 76-acre complex that also is home to Bellagio and Aria Resort & Casino.
The Sands Expo and Convention Center, which offers 2.25 million sf of exhibit and meeting space, as well as direct connections to more than 7,000 suites at The Venetian and The Palazzo, recently completed a $37 million renovation that included remodeling the lobby and adding escalators, new carpeting, Wi-Fi hotspots and food outlets. And, the “Panda!” show has made its world premiere at The Venetian and The Palazzo. It features a combination of acrobatics, martial arts, music and dance from the China National Acrobatic Troupe.
Ed Chase offered a few helpful tips based on his experience planning events in Las Vegas. “Plan ahead early, and plan for the ‘Vegas Bump.’ We’ve found that Las Vegas itself will be responsible for a 10 percent increase in the number of your attendees — always a good problem to have!” C&IT