Jennifer Miller, DMCP, general manager of Access Destination Services, has definitely seen that times have changed — in a good way. “I think back 10 years to where people would never do a meeting in Las Vegas and now everybody does things there,” she says.
“Probably about 40 percent of the business that we do in Las Vegas is for the financial and insurance industry. Last year, it was higher than we’ve ever seen it. We’re excited about that. We’re Emerald Level sponsors with FICP (Financial and Insurance Conference Planners), so we’ve made a big investment in that market.”
Miller, who is based in San Diego, CA, describes some of the events her company has planned for insurance and financial services clients. One concept is an internal block party. “It’s for the larger groups that don’t want to be in a ballroom and really want to get the flavor of Las Vegas, and maybe experience something outside of their hotels.” She explains that depending on the size of the group, they can buy out several restaurants and nightclubs within a hotel. “We’ve done this for groups from 500 to 4,000.”
Miller describes the concept’s appeal. “There’s a whole culinary world there. A lot of chefs have these amazing restaurants in Las Vegas. There are two venues that we think do this very well — The Palms Hotel and the Hard Rock Hotel. You’re using space at their pool and three or four of their signature restaurants and maybe one of their nightclubs. It’s actually buying out different venues. Within one venue, you get different experiences. If you have a group of 500, you might have two of those, if you have 4,000 you might buy six or eight different venues depending on the cost and the price point.
“We’ve worked really closely with the hotels to develop this over the past two years. They bring in staff that really helps direct people to where they need to go. It’s very user-friendly. The guests can go from venue to venue. We get such great feedback.”
Miller continues, “Another venue that we’re really excited about is attached to the MGM (Grand) hotel, which is undergoing a major, major renovation right now. It’s called Hakkasan. It’s a multilevel venue that is being built on the outside of the MGM Grand to face The Strip. That is an awesome venue that’s coming online, and we’re really excited about that. It will give us a lot of opportunities. When people go to Las Vegas, they really want to experience The Strip and there’s not a lot of outdoor space. There are really only three or four venues that have indoor and outdoor space that overlook The Strip.”
Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub will include approximately 75,000 sf of space over five levels. The nightclub debuts April 18 and the restaurant opens May 3.
The new project follows on the heels of the resort’s recently completed $160 million “Grand Renovation” project that included a remodel of all of the resort’s 3,570 Grand King and Queen guest rooms and 642 suites.
MGM Resorts International has partnered with Cisco Systems to create what they describe as “the highest-performing wireless LAN in the industry” to allow guests to enjoy quality Wi-Fi on multiple wireless devices. The rollout of the new service in low-rise public spaces was completed at the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage late last year, and the Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor and Excalibur will receive the new service this year. The rollout of the new service in guest rooms also has begun.
There’s also a serious, responsible side to meetings that companies want and need to project, especially in a destination with the glitzy rep of a Las Vegas. Says Joshua Jones, DMCP, vice president of Hosts Las Vegas, “A lot of the events that we’re doing now need to tie-in some sort of educational element, so even when we’re doing your standard reception that we’ve done for a million years, now, it’s ‘How do we tie-in something educational?’ It may be bringing in somebody who can speak on the future and what’s happening in those industries.
“The other thing we’re seeing is teambuilding or some sort of corporate social responsibility event,” he adds. “It seems like a lot of those groups, I would say, almost all, have implemented some sort of…CSR event. They want to try to come in and make some sort of positive impact on the communities where they’re meeting.”
Aubrie Jones, DMCP, director of sales for Hosts Las Vegas, describes two local nonprofit organizations where groups can volunteer. One is the Three Square Food Bank. “They have a really amazing program called the backpack program. What they do is deliver food to children in regular grocery store bags on Friday because the food they get at school is the only food they get for the week, so it allows them to get substantial meals through the weekend. We’ve had groups go in and help.
“You would be blown away if you saw this,” she continues. “I’ve never seen anything so organized in my life. It’s like an assembly line. At the same time there are people packing the completed bags into crates. There’s also a team of people that are breaking down boxes and refilling the stock for people that are coming in the following week.
“Another one we’ve done is St. Jude’s,” she adds. Not affiliated with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, St. Jude’s Ranch is a campus for abused, abandoned and neglected kids. “It’s a really nice facility because it allows for larger groups. We split up (to do tasks like) cleaning the chapel. They have a store that people donate things to. People will go through the items and put them on hangers and price them. It’s a really nice give-back situation. We’re seeing a lot more of that being tied-in to programs these days.” Aubrie says that incorporating a CSR component into a program requires approximately three to four hours, including travel time.
“As far as teambuilding,” she continues, “it’s more of a collaboration of people who have never met one another. For example, we have one called catapult construction. We divide them into teams, and as a team they put a marketing campaign together and they build this catapult. There’s a competition at the end of the day to see whose catapult shoots the farthest. We’re seeing a lot more interest with that.”
Joshua noted that Las Vegas now has several interesting choices for groups in search of a museum type of venue for their events. “The Smith Center for the Performing Arts has been a big coup for us. It has given us an out-of-the-casino, more traditional style of a real high-end event.” The Smith Center offers a choice of multiple venues, including a 2,050-seat theater, a dramatic Grand Lobby and some more intimate spaces.
Aubrie explains that another popular venue is located at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. “Part of the donation for the rental fee goes to the Ruvo Brain Center. The venue is called Keep Memory Alive Event Center. It was designed by Frank Geary. It’s an amazing architectural wonder. They built an entire, separate venue just to host fundraisers and events with a big portion of the proceeds going back to the center to help further the cause of brain diseases. It’s wonderful. We always try to steer any clients we can in that direction because it’s for such a good cause.”
Kellie Hanley, vice president of special events for AWG Destination Management Services adds, “We also have some new things in Las Vegas that are proving to be popular right now that focus on our history and Las Vegas days gone by,” she continues. “One of them is the Mob Museum, which is downtown. It’s a great new venue. It’s educational and entertaining at the same time. It’s in our old post office, so it has a lot of historical value as a building and it has a lot of interactive memorabilia having to do with the mob era here in Las Vegas.
“We’ll do mobster lookalikes for lots of photo opportunities, and we usually do a play on words with the foods and the cocktails to amp it up. I’m working with a client who is carrying the mob theme through the whole conference with characters coming in a couple of times to do a surprise ‘raid’ during one of the general sessions. It’s funny how executives get into it. What guy doesn’t want to be a boss? Everybody does.
“Sort of in conjunction with (the Mob Museum) is the Neon Museum,” Hanley continues. “They’ve taken our old marquees like the Stardust, the Sands, the Silver Slipper, and they’ve put them into a museum atmosphere in an outdoor venue. We’re able to use that during the day for city tours or at night for small gatherings like VIP dinners. It’s a really great way to use that space. (At night) we bring in a lighting package to focus on the individual pieces, and it’s really fun to have an educated docent around to answer any of the guest questions and explain to them what the history is behind each of the marquees. It’s great.
“There are also a couple of activities that we’ve just rolled out in the past couple of months that have proven to be popular,” Hanley describes. “For years and years, everyone has wanted to go out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and drive a race car, and while that’s still a popular option, a lot of our incentive guests have had that experience. So the way that they’ve taken that to the next level is that you actually get into modified trucks and do an off-road course that is quite exhilarating with a lot of peaks and valleys. You can either drive or ride. You can do it during the day or night. That’s currently one of the most popular options for our guests because it’s new and exciting for the guests that want that adrenaline rush.”
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway debuted in March the American Muscle Car Challenge by Richard Petty Driving Experience, which is customized for corporate groups. Participants put their driving skills to the test in the Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Hanley noted that insurance groups often can express concerns over safety with this type of incentive experience. “We take that very seriously as well,” she explains, “and we work really hard to make sure the suggestions we make to any of our clients are safe and sound and are run by reputable, well-insured companies that have safety at the top of their list.
“We’re happy to say to say that a lot of our customers…understand that we do that due diligence in advance so some things that might at first glance appear to be out of their realm of options, and if they take a second look at it, they realize they can really entertain their guests with something exciting without putting themselves in a negative situation. (For the off-road truck experience) there is a sigh of relief at the end, realizing that there was very little opportunity for any danger.”
Hanley continues, “As far as nighttime events, we have such amazing entertainment, and just about all of our groups want to take advantage of the shows at night,” Hanley says. “The way that we have worked to create sort of a personalized spin on that for our guests is to create an entertaining pre-show in a ballroom.” She used “Love,” the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show, as an example. “We spin off that with characters and fun colorful décor and some custom entertainment that sort of gets everybody ready for the evening ahead. We have Cirque characters in vibrant costumes. Sometimes they do set entertainment, but more often, it’s more of a walkaround meet-and-greet photo opportunity.”
Max Byrd, co-founder of the third-party planning firm The Global Advisory Council, brings groups to Las Vegas several times each year. In May, he planned an event at the Bellagio for 225–250 guests for a major credit reporting company. “It was probably the highest profile event they do,” he notes. “It was called the financial services conference.
“Their customers are the financial institutions,” he explains. “These guys get millions of invitations every single day. Everybody and their brother is after these same people to attend their conference. We always look for the edge. What’s going to make our event different? The curriculum, which is our responsibility, has to be timely. It has to be appropriate. It has to be attractive. The destination has to be attractive, too.”
He explained that the destination also has to be easily accessible. “These guys are very, very busy, so we look for places that are easy to get to. With the airlines cutting back capacity, cutting back on routes, reducing the number of people they can take to a certain area, it’s more vital now that the ease of access is good. People’s time is very, very valuable.
“If you look at the whole competitive side of getting people to come to your conference,” he continues, “if they have two on their desk they’re looking at, and if one is in a destination that may be nice, but it’s hard to get to, they look at the amount of time they’ll be out of the office. Las Vegas is one of the easiest places to get to, and once you’re there, it’s only a 15-minute ride to The Strip (from the airport).”
He explained why the Bellagio was a good fit for this high-profile group. “The facilities are just stunning. The guest room product is excellent. It’s a great representation of who this customer is. They have exceptional restaurants, they have the casino, they have the spa, they have the “O” (Cirque du Soleil) show. There’s so much there within walking distance. Let’s face it. None of these guys have to attend our conference. Bellagio in Las Vegas gives us an edge.”
Ultimately, however, it all comes down to service. “We always talk about the importance of relationships,” Byrd explains. “Taking that one step further, it’s an issue of trust. I can’t overemphasize that. As much as we plan, as much as we anticipate, as much as we do our due diligence on making sure we’re doing everything possible, something’s going to happen. It could be a million things. It may be self-inflicted. It may be something we forgot. We have a very high level of trust in Bellagio that when something does happen, that they’re going to be our allies. They’re going to do whatever they can to fix it.”
Byrd also says that the staff at the Bellagio gives as much attention to a small meeting as a large one. “Even for a group of 50, that event is the most important event that person is going to do, and they get that. A lot of hotels turn their noses up at smaller groups, even a group of 250 or 300.”
Like many planners, Byrd just knows when a property is a good fit. “I feel at home at Bellagio. As soon as I walk in the door, I’m just relaxed.”
To be sure, Las Vegas has a dizzying array of hotels, restaurants, special event venues, entertainment and activities to choose from. Kellie Hanley listed a few of the high-end hotels that she finds are popular with incentive groups: Wynn, Encore, Aria Resort & Casino, and The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. “Even the Four Seasons for the smaller groups. Those types of properties seem to appeal to them,” she says. But if you think the hotels and this city are just going to sit back and rest on their laurels, think again.
For example, collectively, Wynn Resorts boasts 40 Forbes Stars in the Five Star category and 16 stars in the Four Star category, more than any other independent hotel company in the world. Wynn and Encore together offer 4,750 guest rooms, suites and villas in two luxury hotel towers; 186,000 sf of casino space; 32 F&B outlets featuring signature chefs; two award-winning spas; an onsite 18-hole golf course; 260,000 sf of meeting space; a Ferrari and Maserati dealership; approximately 94,000 sf of retail space as well as two showrooms; three nightclubs; and a beach club. Wynn’s signature show is “Le Reve – The Dream”, performed in a circular theater with a pool in the center.
Aria Resort & Casino’s exclusive Sky Suites, the luxurious hotel-within-a-hotel with views of Las Vegas, also has earned Forbes Five Star distinction for their 442 one-, two- and three-bedroom suites as well as the 16 Sky Villas, which are single and two-story retreats. The 4,004-room Aria, the centerpiece to the CityCenter multiuse complex, has 300,000 sf of high-tech meeting and convention space. Planners like the fact that the convention space is stacked on three levels, reducing the time it takes to walk from one meeting to another. Also in CityCenter is Vdara Hotel & Spa, the nongaming, smoke-free 1,495-suite luxury property, which offers 10,000 sf of ground-level meeting space plus a rooftop pool area for special events. Vdara specializes in groups ranging from 10 to 300 people.
The 390-room M Resort Spa Casino — which is available for buyouts by groups — has added two new meeting and event venues to the property in the recent past: the M Pavilion, with 40-foot ceilings and 25,000 sf of function space; and LUX, a 16th-floor restaurant featuring a 7,200-sf event space with expansive views of The Strip. In total, M Resort offers 85,000 sf of meeting and event space.
Comprising one of the largest LEED-certified meeting complexes in the world, the 4,000-suite Venetian Resort Hotel Casino — the largest AAA Five Diamond property in the U.S. — the 3,000-suite Palazzo and the adjacent Sands Expo and Convention Center offer a combined 2.25 million sf of function space, including the 85,000-sf Venetian Ballroom.
The 2,163-room South Point Hotel & Spa is located just off The Strip, offering a self-contained meetings and entertainment destination with 165,000 sf of exhibit, meeting and banquet space, as well as a 4,400-seat arena, 64-lane bowling center, 16-screen movie complex and Costa del Sur Spa, which recently completed a total makeover of its facilities and services. The hotel also offers shuttle service to The Strip.
Located a 20-minute shuttle ride from The Strip is the AAA Four Diamond Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, which has 800 guest rooms, 94,000 sf of meeting space and a 72-lane bowling center. Sister property Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa & Casino in Henderson, NV, about 10 miles from The Strip, is one of the first luxury boutique hotels built in the Las Vegas Valley, offering 79,000 sf of meetings space plus a poolside event space accommodating up to 4,500 attendees.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal recently reported that a group of gaming industry analysts and brokers are predicting that more than $1.5 billion is going to be invested in the Las Vegas gaming real estate market in the next two years. Included in this figure is the $500 million being spent to convert the former Sahara into the SLS Las Vegas and another $750 million being invested to transform the Imperial Palace into The Quad Resort & Casino.
But probably the biggest news to break recently is the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s (LVCVA) plan to develop a $2.5 billion Las Vegas Global Business District, which will encompass major renovations of the Las Vegas Convention Center, creation of a World Trade Center facility and the development of a centralized transportation hub. The major project will be completed in three phases over several years.
The LVCVA has confidence in a growing meetings and convention demand to justify the massive new development: Las Vegas hosted 21,615 meetings, trade shows or conventions in 2012, up 13.6 percent from the 2011 total of 19,029. The 2012 total is the highest number of meetings and conventions held in Las Vegas since 2008.
And the beat goes on…
The Genting Group has announced plans to develop Resorts World Las Vegas on the 87-acre site of Boyd Gaming’s abandoned Echelon project. The first phase of the project will build 3,500 guest rooms, 175,000 sf of gaming space and several luxury dining and retail amenities. The resort also will have convention space.
Bellagio recently completed the $40 million remodel of all 928 guest rooms and suites in its Spa Tower, marking the conclusion of the hotel’s redesign of all 3,387 Resort Rooms. Additionally, the resort introduced three new 2,500-sf executive parlor suites, which feature a billiards lounge and separate high-tech home theater living area.
The world’s first Nobu Hotel Restaurant and Lounge Caesars Palace Las Vegas welcomed its first official guests on February 4, 2013. The boutique hotel features 181 guest rooms including 18 suites, which range from a 1,000-sf one-bedroom to a 3,500-sf five-bedroom configuration and are available as premium accommodations or a stunning venue to host a special event. The 12,775-sf, 327-seat Nobu Restaurant and Lounge is the world’s largest Nobu Restaurant.
The New Tropicana Las Vegas completed a $200 million renovation including guest rooms, casino and conference center; and the 1,045-seat Tropicana Theater reopened in February after a complete makeover.
Meeting attendees who are adrenaline junkies will soon have a new thrill. Fremont Street Experience is slated to introduce SlotZilla, the world’s first powered-launch zipline attraction, later this year. The two-level ride will feature four upper ziplines and four lower ziplines.
Byrd summed up the reason why Las Vegas has such broad appeal. “There’s something there for everybody. No matter what market you’re in, in terms of what type of property that you’re looking for, Vegas has it all. If you need something inexpensive, they have inexpensive. If you need the five-star type of hotel, they have those, too. That’s what makes it really appealing. Seriously, it’s hard to screw up a meeting in Las Vegas.” I&FMM