Planners benefit from the great value, numerous dining and entertainment options, and higher attendance that come with meeting at gaming resorts. Planners stand to benefit even more in the future due to growing competition among gaming resorts.
New properties are opening as existing resorts renovate and expand. Gaming destinations, notably Las Vegas and Atlantic City, are diversifying by spending billions to add more non-gaming attractions. Meanwhile, major gaming destinations continue to set records for meetings and bookings.
Las Vegas leads the way. The city is the No. 1 trade show destination for the 21st consecutive year, according to the Trade Show News Network’s “2014 TSNN Top 250 Trade Shows in the United States.” Sixty of the largest shows met in Las Vegas last year, up from 53 the previous year.
Michelle DeClerck, CMP, president of West Des Moines, Iowa-based Conference Event Management, is a fan of meeting in Las Vegas for a number of reasons. “The sheer number of hotel properties and sleeping rooms, quality restaurants and the ease of air and ground transportation make Vegas one of our top go-to destinations when we source hotel needs,” says DeClerck, who recently planned a meeting for an insurance company at the M Resort Spa Casino. “Great dine-around options almost always exist within just a few hotels’ distance from the host headquarters, allowing attendees to plan their own meals and eliminate transfer budgets. Restaurants also accommodate larger parties with frequency,” she adds.
The value that Las Vegas offers also is a prime consideration for planners. “When insurance and financial companies look for a competitive edge for their budgets, gaming destinations are often considered because they offer a few more advantages that help businesses stay within budget,” explains DeClerck, who has planned meetings at several Las Vegas properties.
Las Vegas’ value extends to off-property entertainment. “Many attendees pay for their own entertainment outside of the meetings at gaming facilities, so planners are able to reduce activity budgets as attendees head to casinos or fine restaurants in the vicinity at their own expense,” she says. “Another cost advantage comes from the aspect that many guests stay out late in the casinos, thus allowing the planner to reduce the breakfast count as those attendees often sleep in until the meeting starts.”
DeClerck recently arranged a meeting for an insurance company at the 390-room M Resort, which boasts 90,000 sf of meeting space, a 23,000-sf spa and the Studio B Buffet — twice named the best buffet in Las Vegas by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The meeting was comprised of more than 100 of the firm’s insurance marketing officers, executives and agencies. “While this was one of the smaller meetings that we put on in Vegas, the M Resort treated attendees as if they were the most important group they had all year,” says DeClerck. “We always get kudos from attendees on the way they are treated. The M Resort always works hard to stay within the client’s budget.”
Such top service stems partly from familiarity: The group has met at the M Resort several times. “Due to the frequency with which we take our financial groups to Las Vegas, our director of sourcing has developed such a strong relationship with the M Resort sales team that it makes it easy to go to them when we have a budgeting challenge,” says DeClerck. “They work so hard to find a way to help us stay within budget that it’s often a preferred hotel choice.”
“They have kept their event at M Resort annually as they find it very advantageous to still be at a gaming facility, yet away from all of The Strip’s ongoing action.” — Michelle DeClerck
Some of the planner’s groups thought they would meet at the M Resort for one year and then return to a property on The Strip for the next meeting. “Instead, they have kept their event here annually as they find it very advantageous to still be at a gaming facility, yet away from all of The Strip’s ongoing action,” DeClerck says.
While Las Vegas and Atlantic City appeal to planners nationwide, a growing number of Native American tribes operate gaming resorts that appeal to regional groups located within driving distance or a short flight.
Connecticut is home to two popular Native American-owned gaming properties.
The 1,200-room Mohegan Sun will add a second property when the 400-room Earth Hotel opens in fall 2016. The expansion comes as Massachusetts plans to develop three casinos, including one about an hour’s drive away in Springfield.
The Mohegan Sun features 100,000 sf of meeting space, a 10,000-sf arena and a 17,500-sf outdoor terrace.
Foxwoods Resort Casino, which includes Fox Tower, the AAA Four Diamond Grand Pequot Tower, Great Cedar Hotel, Two Trees Inn and Fix Tower and the 23-suite The Villas, was named a Connecticut Green Lodging Facility and an AAA eco-friendly property. Foxwoods offers 150,000 sf of meeting space and several restaurants including the AAA Four Diamond Paragon.
The Southwestern U.S. offers its share of top Native American gaming properties. In Mescalero, New Mexico, the 273-room Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino has 40,000 sf of meeting and banquet space, a championship 18-hole golf course and Wendell’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant.
In Scottsdale, Arizona, the 497-room AAA Four Diamond Talking Stick Resort features 50,000 sf of indoor meeting space, including 22 meeting rooms and the 25,000-sf Salt River Grand Ballroom. Casino Arizona, located not far from Talking Stick, features Cholla Prime Steakhouse & Lounge, which recently received TripAdvisor’s “Certificate of Excellence” Award for the second consecutive year.
In the South, the ever-popular 481-room Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in South Florida offers 17 restaurants, 20,000 sf of meeting space, a 22,000-sf European Spa and nightclubs.
In Biloxi, Mississippi, the 1,740-room MGM-operated AAA Four Diamond Beau Rivage draws groups from throughout the region. The property offers 50,000 sf of meeting space and five restaurants.
In the Western U.S., in Marysville, Washington, the 370-room Tulalip Resort Casino is one of the nation’s most popular Native American gaming resorts for meetings. Last September, a group of 140 banking executives and managers from offices in Washington and Alaska held a three-day meeting at Tulalip.
It was the second consecutive year that the group met at Tulalip. “The value is so good that we plan on signing another contract to meet in 2017,” says the banking executive who plans the meetings. “Tulalip always hits it out of the ballpark,” he says. “I’ve been to other casino resorts and every one goes out of its way with services, but Tulalip has the ability to do it better than some others. And our people just love the rooms. They always comment about the great showers.”
The executive raves about Tulalip’s facilities and food. “They have great meeting rooms (30,000 sf of meeting space) and a great food department with many restaurants,” he says. “The food is very high quality, reasonably priced and when we need to change the number of people showing up for a meal they don’t make you feel like you are putting them out of their way.”
In addition, Tulalip and the surrounding area offer plenty of activities and entertainment. “On the first day, we started off with a golf tournament at a nearby course,” he says. “We also did a wine tasting at the hotel and held a banquet. We also saw a comedian entertaining (at the 3,000-seat Tulalip Amphitheatre). The next day we had an auction and another banquet.”
Atlantic City is adding more non-gaming attractions to compete with growing gaming markets in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Delaware that are vying for the Northeastern-based groups, long the mainstay of New Jersey gaming properties.
According to Casino Reinvestment Development Authority executive director John Palmieri, “Several large scale, new attractions should stir significant interest in Atlantic City from new and returning visitors throughout 2015. “Bass Pro Shops, The Playground renovation of the Pier Shops, Tropicana’s retail and Boardwalk entertainment areas, and Borgata’s outdoor concert facility are just a few of the exciting additions visitors will be able to enjoy this year,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City resorts are prospering. The number of convention and hotel bookings has been rising at a double-digit rate this year, according to Meet AC, the non-profit agency that touts Atlantic City as a convention and trade show destination. In addition, hotel occupancy increased about three percent to 72.8 percent while the average room rate also climbed.
Numbers may continue to rise due to new non-gaming attractions, notably The Playground, a 464,000-sf self-contained live entertainment, high-end retail and restaurant venue. The Playground will feature a 50,000-person oceanfront concert facility, bowling alley, swimming pool and the Varsity Club, a sports bar. The Playground will be fully open by the end of this year.
New non-gaming attractions include Borgata Festival Park, an outdoor concert venue and festival grounds located at the northeast entrance to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. The venue features Borgata-style musical entertainment acts; some of the world’s most popular deejays; and a series of electric dance music parties.
In addition, Harrah’s Resort Waterfront Conference Center is scheduled to open in August. The center-hotel complex is adjacent to Harrah’s Atlantic City and features two 50,000-sf ballrooms, each divisible into 27 smaller meeting rooms.
In addition to well-known casino resorts in the West, South and East, properties in the Midwest also are growing in popularity and attracting their share of repeat meetings.
For example, Island Resort & Casino in the Upper Peninsula town of Harris, Michigan, has hosted four meetings of about 20 attendees for Anderson Tackman and Co., an Escanaba, Michigan-based tax and accounting firm. “We would probably meet at Island Resort every time if we could get rooms there because it’s our first choice,” says Ray LaMarche, CPA, who also plans the meetings.
LaMarche says there are other gaming properties in Michigan and Wisconsin within a few hours’ drive but they don’t offer the venues that his group needs. “In our area, Island Resort is the premiere conference space and it’s sometimes hard to get a spot unless you book far in advance,” he says. “We set our dates annually and, at that time, see if they have availability. We wanted to meet there this year but we couldn’t get a spot.”
LaMarche cites several advantages of meeting at Island Resort. “It’s centrally located among our five offices in Wisconsin and Michigan, so mostly everybody is within driving distance and that’s important,” says LaMarche. “There are several things to do. People do some gaming, a lot of eating and golfing at the casino’s championship course right off the back doors of the casino.”
Island Resort’s self-contained activities are another plus. “Everything is right there onsite,” says LaMarche. “You don’t have to go anywhere. The meeting rooms are good. There is good wireless connectivity. What it really comes down to is that everybody enjoys coming to that location.”
LaMarche also finds good value at Island Resort. “In terms of value, you probably can’t find a better deal,” he says. “They usually throw in the conference room at no cost. Food and drinks are reasonable. I just tell them to block off rooms and tell them what we want for meals, and they just bill it to me when we are done. It’s very convenient.”
Las Vegas is investing $2.3 billion in building the new Las Vegas Global Business District (LVGDB), the largest economic development project the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has initiated since constructing the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) in the late 1950s.
The project’s first phase includes 750,000 sf of new exhibit space and 187,500 sf of meeting space. The second phase consists of 100,000 sf of additional meeting space and another 100,000-sf general session space. Both phases will increase the entire LVCC to 5.7 million sf from 3.2 million sf. The LVGDB also will include a World Trade Center and global business center designed to attract companies to do business with corporations that meet at the LVCC.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is redesigning more than 3,000 guest rooms and suites as part of the last phase of its resort-wide transformation. In addition, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center is adding 350,000 sf of exhibit space and additional ballroom space, bringing the total exhibit and meeting space to more than 2 million sf. The entire project is scheduled for completion by January 2016.
The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, announced new special offerings for groups. The museum’s Speakers Bureau features members of the museum’s board of directors who include professionals from local and state government, law enforcement, the judicial system, media and the business community. For groups seeking teambuilding activities or simply to be active and entertained as part of the company gathering, Museum Scavenger Hunts provide an unique solution. The Mob Museum offers flexible space and can accommodate groups of from 10 to 400 people.
The 1,467-room Tropicana Las Vegas now offers more than 100,000 sf of indoor meeting space due to a 30,000-sf expansion of the Trinidad Pavilion and Meeting Rooms. The expanded convention space features one of the fastest Internet services within a Las Vegas property.
Wynn Las Vegas’ Encore Tower Suites and Encore Resort Tower are currently undergoing renovations that include new furnishings, carpeting, technology and additional USB plugs and electrical outlets. The Wynn Las Vegas and its sister property Encore combined provide 4,734 guest rooms and 260,000 sf of meeting space. .
Aria recently opened its Sky Pool, a posh pool for guests of the resort’s Print Sky Suites. Sky Pool’s many amenities and personal services include a private guest entrance, complimentary refreshments, 135 single and 15 double chaise lounge chairs, five daybeds and eight cabanas with flat-screen TVs and curtains.
South Point Hotel and Casino offers South Point Bowling Plaza, a new $35 million 90,000-sf million bowling tournament facility with 60 lanes, a 360-seat viewing area and 720 locker-room units.
MGM Resorts International operates several internationally known gaming properties in Las Vegas, including MGM Grand, Bellagio and Mandalay Bay. MGM’s other resorts each have unique identities and offer something different, including varying room rates.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is refreshing its 39 Opus suites and two 5,000-sf Residence suites. The improvements follow the redesign of the resort’s 1,566 Classic guest rooms and hotel corridors. Borgata has invested in renovations to its Borgata Buffet; the Fitness Center and men’s and women’s lounges at Spa Toccare; and the casino floor. Borgata offers 70,000 sf of event space.
Harrah’s new Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center is scheduled to open in August. The center-hotel complex will be accessible to Harrah’s Atlantic City and features two 50,000-sf ballrooms divisible into a total of 27 sections.
Tropicana Atlantic City recently completed a $50 million renovation including renovations to the North Tower’s guest rooms and casino floor; new retail shops; a light and sound show for the Boardwalk façade; and a new fitness center on Brighton Avenue.
Resorts Casino Hotel now offers an all-inclusive group meeting package that includes upgraded guest rooms, audio-visual, Wi-Fi in meeting and guest rooms, resort fees and three daily meals. The 943-room property underwent a $70 million renovation and expansion, including 12,000 sf of additional event space. Meeting space now totals 64,000 sf. In addition, Resorts Casino Hotel is home to a new Margaritaville restaurant.
Planners will have more gaming resort options as some states build new properties and existing ones expand and renovate. As competition increases, gaming resort meccas such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City will continue to lead the way in offering a variety of properties, value, entertainment and meeting spaces in a single destination. I&FMM