Las Vegas is the king of destination reinvention. The city traditionally known as a gaming destination is aggressively transforming itself into a powerful draw for all types of visitors, groups and families by developing a variety of new entertainment, retail, resort and dining options.
According to Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), “New experiences of all kinds drive additional visits for leisure travelers. Las Vegas is known for continually reinventing itself to provide what our visitors want to make their trip memorable. Whether it’s dining, shopping, nightlife or outdoor activities, Las Vegas is continually adding amenities to attract all demographics.”
Much of the reinvention centers on a total of more than $7 billion in current and proposed development projects. The developments will help Las Vegas build on its record performance in 2015, when the destination hosted 42.3 million visitors, a 2.9 percent increase from 2014.
“Las Vegas is known for continually reinventing itself. Whether it’s dining, shopping, nightlife or outdoor activities, Las Vegas is continually adding amenities to attract all demographics.”
— Chris Meyer
Convention and meeting attendance fueled the growth, according to the LVCVA-commissioned Economic Impact Study by Applied Analysis. Las Vegas, which boasts 11 million sf of meeting space, attracted about 22,000 meetings, conventions and trade shows in 2015 and has ranked as the No. 1 trade show destination in North America for more than two decades.
One of the groups that chose Las Vegas for a two-day meeting this year is a financial firm that plans to bring about 700 corporate staff, franchise owners and vendors to The Mirage Hotel & Casino this fall. The meeting has been held in Las Vegas previously, but this event will be the first meeting at The Mirage.
According to Allison Piedmont, project manager at New York, New York-based First (formerly First Protocol), The Mirage’s Event Center is a major reason why the financial firm selected the property. The center offers 90,000 sf of pillarless space divisible into three 30,000-sf sections, one of which can further divide into three rooms of 6,500 to 10,000 sf. Other spaces include three ballrooms of different sizes and a boardroom.
Piedmont enthusiastically praises the center. “It is well designed,” she says. “The center can be broken up into multiple spaces to accommodate our general session with about 900 people and six breakouts as well. We were able to take over most of the meeting space whereas in a convention center this group might be a small fish in a larger pond.”
The various sizes and configurations of the center’s breakout rooms were a big draw. “We weren’t stuck to meeting in theater or classroom setups because the room can’t accommodate anything else,” says Piedmont. “Normally, we set our general session in a theater. This year we have the option to set it in crescent rounds because we have the space to be more creative in breakouts. Little things like that make a meeting better.”
The financial group also was seeking meeting space that could accommodate a new general session format. “This year we will have one wide screen instead of screens on the left and right with the stage in the middle,” says Piedmont. “We are able to do that because of the space of the ballroom and it will enhance the meeting.”
In addition, the center offers easy access for meeting setups. “One of the walls of the center looks like a regular ballroom door, but it’s really a garage door,” Piedmont explains. “It opens so that a truck can back up to the ballroom. It doesn’t get any easier than that when loading and unloading. They also gave us early access to the ballroom to set up everything, and have been flexible with us as we finalize plans.”
After choosing The Mirage, Piedmont discovered that the resort was an understanding partner and flexible in dealing with every aspect of planning. “I’ve had great communication with my salesperson from the beginning,” she says. “She is easily reachable and willing to talk on the phone instead of emailing to go back and forth on contract negotiations and concessions.”
One key issue has been guest room pickup and attrition. “Guest room pickups have been a little slower than I would have liked,” Piedmont says. “But I was able to call my salesperson and talk about our options. We were able to come up with solutions that worked for the hotel and the group. It makes planning more of a pleasure when you work with someone that makes you feel like an equal partner without worrying just about protecting the hotel.”
The Mirage also was flexible with guest room rates. According to Piedmont, “They gave us a very competitive room rate. We presented them with the rate that we usually receive, and they were able to meet that. They also offered concessions in food and beverage as well as AV discounts.”
While Las Vegas has always had a reputation for rolling out the red carpet for large meetings, the destination also has developed a knack for giving small meetings the royal treatment.
Earlier this year, a financial firm held a three-day, 15-member board meeting at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino on The Strip. It was the group’s second meeting in Las Vegas and its first at Excalibur.
The planner for the meeting at the Excalibur says that the service exceeded expectations. For a dinner in a private dining room, Excalibur provided two staffers dedicated for the small group. “When we asked for privacy they gave it to us, but seemed to knock on the door just when we needed something,” says the planner. “This was a meal with a set menu and time for use of the room, but we went beyond the time frame, and there were never any questions asked. I felt like we received five-star service without paying for it.”
Top service extended beyond the dinner by a staff that anticipated their needs. “The AV and technology people were available just across the hall if we needed help,” says the planner. “But we didn’t have to go to them because they constantly came to us to cordially check and see what we needed. That was outstanding.”
The financial firm’s planner also was impressed by the Excalibur’s small touches. For example, “They put together some nicely themed snack breaks,” he says. “One was called a movie break with popcorn and other movie-related snacks. Another was called a chocolate break with a chocolate bar. We enjoyed that.”
A key to the popularity of Las Vegas among planners is the destination’s increasing diversity of offsite entertainment, activity and restaurant options. That’s a big reason why a large financial company holds one of its meetings in Las Vegas every other year.
This year, the financial company will hold a four-day meeting in December at the Aria Resort & Casino for 1,200 executives of the firm’s various teams such as tax advisory and audit.
The group will experience a range of Las Vegas venues. “A lot of participants have never been to Las Vegas before,” says Patty Kindness, national sales manager, AlliedPRA Las Vegas. “We have been searching for venues that are unique to the destination that they probably wouldn’t experience on their own.”
The venues include Top Golf, a spacious entertainment venue with several high-tech driving ranges, luxurious lounges, drinks and games. “It’s a full buyout,” says Kindness. “They made a decision about it within 24 hours after our presentation, which is unusual in this industry. What’s great about it is that you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy it. They are doing food and beverage and entertainment.”
Kindness also is considering options for a final-night gala celebration. “We might keep it onsite at Aria, maybe poolside,” she says. “We are also looking at offsite options. But 1,200 people is a fairly large number so it limits the number of options we can present. We are also potentially looking at Linq Promenade. That is another interactive venue with a bowling alley, concert venue, restaurant, etc. Another option is the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where we are able to engage the guests in different ridealongs and entertainment.”
The goal in selecting offsite options is to balance the group’s desire to experience Las Vegas while at the same time maximizing meeting attendance. “A lot of our clients, especially the big corporate conglomerates with seasoned planners, have come to realize that attendance is more about trying to engage their guests as much as possible,” says Kindness. “By sponsoring these events, they give guests a chance to experience the destination while maintaining their audience.”
Monte Carlo Resort and Casino will undergo a $450 million transformation that will provide two different hotel experiences — Park MGM, a new luxury property, as well as a Las Vegas version of Sydell’s NoMad Hotel.
Each of the two properties will feature redesigned and renovated guest rooms as well as unique food and beverage experiences. These will include the award-winning NoMad restaurant and Eataly’s Italian marketplace with cafés, restaurants and to-go counters featuring products from sustainable Italian and local providers.
The two new hotels are the final projects in MGM Resorts’ redesign of the central Las Vegas Strip neighborhood that started in 2009 with the construction of City Center and includes the recent introduction of T-Mobile Arena and The Park, an outdoor dining and entertainment district.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Convention Center has opened its 70,000-sf Oceanside Ballroom, marking the completion of the facility’s $70 million expansion. The project includes 350,000 sf of new exhibit space, a 20,000-sf foyer and underground parking.
Mandalay Bay also finished the final phase of its remodeling of more than 3,000 guests and suites. This last phase concludes a $100 million remodeling that began in 2015. The redesigned rooms include three new color combinations, glass desks, modern seating, task lighting and easy bedside recharging.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas plans to add about 18,000 sf of pillarless meeting and convention space to the artist ballroom as well as 2,000 sf of prefunction space by winter 2016.
The Hard Rock’s plans also include contiguous meeting and event venues; a business center; exterior signage along Paradise Road; and 5,000 sf of storage and office space. Hard Rock Las Vegas also provides 16 breakout rooms ranging from 450 sf to 850 sf. When the project is completed, Hard Rock Hotel will offer about 110,000 sf of meeting and convention space.
Steve Wynn is proposing to build a new entertainment destination — tentatively called Wynn Paradise Park — based on a recreational lake concept. The development, subject to approval by the company’s board of directors, would include a 38-acre lagoon with a white sand beach and boardwalk; 260,000 sf of meeting space with unobstructed views of the waterfront; and a 1,000-room hotel tower. Plans also call for a small casino and several dining and nightlife options. The project would be built on 130 acres currently home to Wynn Golf Club.
Another Wynn development, Wynn Plaza, will feature 80,000 sf of luxury retail space that adds to existing luxury retail space at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, and is expected to attract shoppers from far and wide.
Wynn Las Vegas and Encore offer a combined 260,000 sf of meeting space in many configurations for any size meeting or convention. Groups can enjoy many amenities, including Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers, a music spectacular showcasing 66 singers, costumed dancers and a full orchestra offering a variety of songs and dances at the Encore Theater.
The Tropicana Las Vegas opened the Sky Beach Club featuring interactive experiences such as live music acts, music spun by a DJ and celebrity hosts. The venue showcases two luxury pools, a hot tub, two main bars and a large pool deck lined with lounge chairs, palm trees and tropical foliage.
The opening of the Sky Beach Club follows a $200 million transformation that included 1,469 updated guest rooms and suites, the 55,000-sf Trinidad at Tropicana Las Vegas, and a new conference facility with more than 100,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space. The new space also offers a 25,000-sf ballroom divisible into 38 breakout rooms.
Caesars Entertainment is upgrading more than 4,800 hotel rooms at four of its Las Vegas resorts. The projects include transforming the original tower at Caesars Palace to create the Julius Tower and refurbishment of the Augustus Tower, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Paris Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas also will undergo room upgrades.
In other Caesars developments, The Linq Hotel & Casino, Caesars Palace and Flamingo Las Vegas premiered a new integrated self check-in program that includes text, email, web and mobile apps in addition to new check-in kiosks. Guests can use the kiosks to process payment information and verify identifications. The kiosks provide a printed key if the room is ready, or an alert to return when the room is ready. Other Caesars resorts will soon use the system.
Aria Resort & Casino is adding 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space on four levels to its LEED Gold-certified convention center. The $154 million project, set for completion by February 2018, includes indoor/open-air spaces and a glass-enclosed venue with views of T-Mobile Arena and The Park. The expansion will add 500,000 sf to Aria’s existing meeting space.
The rooftop pool at the downtown Las Vegas Plaza Hotel & Casino has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation that includes new chaise lounge furnishings, a 12-person hot tub, wet deck and refurbished outdoor recreation space. The pool deck is about 70,000 sf and is one of the largest in Las Vegas.
Plans to expand and renovate the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) moved ahead after the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee supported a funding proposal for the project. The proposal would also create a seven-member panel to oversee the recommended $1.4 billion development. The LVCVA has said it needs to expand convention facilities to meet demand for additional trade show space.
According to Meyer, “We need to move forward with our expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center to provide the opportunity for our existing shows to grow and to have the space to attract new shows as well. The LVCC needs to update the facility to be on par with the world-class technology and service experienced by attendees staying at our destination resorts. We need to add space, technology, restaurants and other elements demanded by our building clients.”
Las Vegas Sands Corp. and The Madison Square Garden Company are spearheading the development of a 400,000-sf music, entertainment and event venue. Developers tout the facility as the world’s largest venue designed specifically for music and entertainment. The structure features state-of-the-art technology and a unique seating design offering front-of-the-stage views for all 17,500 seats.
The Linq Promenade, Caesars Entertainment’s outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment district on the Las Vegas Strip, has opened several new restaurants and retail stores. The eight restaurants and retailers include In-N-Out Burger, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips, Canter’s Deli, Virgil’s Real BBQ, Amorino, Basin White, Purple Zebra and C&E Studio Tony Vegas.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas will feature a new steakhouse concept run by the Morton family, which operates Morton’s the Steakhouses. Brothers Michael Morton and David Morton plan to open a new 7,000-sf steakhouse at the resort in 2017.
The property also opened Nevada’s first Goose Island Pub, operated by Goose Island Beer Company, a craft brewer. Guests can enjoy eight of the company’s craft beers on tap, bottles of Bourbon County and a range of wines, liquors and food. The Hard Rock Hotel also introduced its Breather Pool Ultra Lounge, a new nightlife concept.
Tropicana Las Vegas will be home to the first restaurant on The Strip run by celebrity chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible.” The restaurant will debut on Tropicana’s casino floor in 2017.
The MGM Grand will premiere the Japanese restaurant Morimoto in the fall of 2016. Japanese chef Masahuru Morimoto, star of Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” will feature dining options that include sushi cuisine and unique cocktails designed just for the restaurant.
Wynn Las Vegas introduced its latest dining concept, SW Veranda, an outdoor terrace above SW Steakhouse with views of the hotel’s classic water feature, Lake of Dreams. The restaurant, ideal for pre-show gatherings and late evening nightcaps, features a wide selection of small plates and appetizers.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is opening the world-famous Japanese restaurant Zuma in late 2016. Chef Rainer Becker co-founded and created Zuma, which features contemporary Japanese cuisine and award-winning cocktails in a sophisticated informal environment. The menu is designed to be shared and offers dishes from the main kitchen, a robata grill and sushi counter.
Whether it’s restaurants, entertainment venues or additional meeting and convention space, Las Vegas is determined to continue doing everything possible to attract even more first-time groups as well as repeat groups because they bolster meeting as well as leisure business.
According to Meyer, “Meeting and conventions are often the first experience travelers have with Las Vegas, and many of those visitors return for a leisure trip after their business experience here, so the continuous trade show calendar is important.” I&FMM