With an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, more than 950 flights arriving daily at McCarren International Airport, and more than 150,000 hotel rooms on offer — most of them dedicated to the meeting and convention market — it’s not hard to understand the appeal of Las Vegas as one of the world’s top meeting destinations.
Meeting planners can look beyond the big numbers — and the neon and glitter — to gain a real appreciation for why Vegas works.
Research released by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) found that meeting attendance increased an average of 9 percent when shows rotated into Las Vegas. Attendance decreased 4 percent when shows rotated out of the city. Further, the LVCVA’s research found that attendees actually spend more time on the show floor in Las Vegas — 11.3 hours versus an average of 8.6 hours in other cities.
For its biennial conference, a top provider of cloud-based software for the global insurance industry needed a site that could host more than 200 education sessions with a variety of tracks, and be able to accommodate 3,400 attendees.
“Our event requires a significant amount of space,” explained the company’s meeting planner, the senior manager of travel and meeting services. “So, facility size is critical. Outside of using a convention center, our options are limited.”
Solution: the 5,000-room MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. The MGM Grand provided the company the venue to house its entire room block, conference function space and evening events under one roof.
“This also meant there was no need for us to go offsite for extracurricular activities,” says the planner. “The MGM Grand offers such a great variety of dining and entertainment options onsite, so it was more than enough to keep our attendees satisfied in-house.”
An appealing feature the hotel has introduced, utilized by guests both in their rooms and in common areas, is Stay Well Meetings. Designed to promote more productive events, Stay Well incorporates the use of state-of-the-art air purification systems, aromatherapy, biophilia, circadian lighting and healthful menu options approved by leading nutritionists at Cleveland Clinic Wellness.
The MGM Grand has 602,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including a Grand Ballroom spreading 61,575 sf. But the hotel is set to grow, with an additional 250,000-sf conference center space coming online later this year. The new space will connect to the existing conference center on all three levels, and features two large ballrooms, measuring 49,000 sf and 32,000 sf, along with smaller ballrooms and outdoor event areas. In all, the hotel will have more than 850,000 sf of meeting options.
As Las Vegas’ largest hotel, the MGM Grand can be a huge property to navigate as it is.
“Be prepared,” the meeting planner cautioned. “Attendees will not enjoy the walk from the guest rooms to the conference center. It can be daunting, but once you are at the convention center, the stackable space is very convenient. Just don’t forget anything in your room so you have to go back.
“We also experienced some internet challenges. It’s important to ensure that all specifications and requirements are fully addressed with the hotel’s IT team in advance, so there are no surprises.
“But don’t be afraid to push back when the situation warrants,” she added. “I found that they were flexible when they could be, but you have to ask, ‘is this negotiable?’ If you have historical data to support your ask, be sure to share this information.”
In the main, the planner was very happy with the results of her big event, and with the feedback she received from her team. “The sales, catering and event staff at the MGM are outstanding. They are willing to go the extra mile for their customers, and they’re focused, not only on the event at hand, but on the relationship as well.”
Another big project MGM Resorts International is putting the finishing touches on is its $450 million transformation of Monte Carlo Resort and Casino into Park MGM. A key feature will be the Madison Meeting Center, a 10,000-sf conference center that can be customized for groups from 10 to 50 people. Ten flexible rooms accommodate varying layouts designed for uniquely tailored events, including classroom-style training, product seminars and workshops. The facility features two self-service lounges, ergonomic, movable furniture with integrated power and built-in AV equipment, confidence monitors and rolling whiteboards. Park MGM won’t be limited to smaller groups — the hotel has an additional 67,000 sf of traditional conference space available.
MGM Resorts International’s Aria Resort & Casino has opened an additional 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space across four stories for a new total of 500,000 sf. The approximately $170 million expansion is highlighted by stunning indoor/open-air verandas with retractable windows and dramatic views of The Park and T-Mobile Arena.
Carved out of the expansive addition is the discreetly marked Cypress Executive Lounge, a Las Vegas first. The 3,000-sf space features a fully stocked pantry, three private suites for personal workspaces and one-on-one meetings, a conference room with flexible furniture setups for up to 30 and a beautiful study for toasting to a successful event.
Also within the 200,000-sf expansion are ballrooms with built-in stages, versatile indoor-outdoor breakout rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and ample prefunction spaces. The top floor is one of Las Vegas’ most distinctive meeting venues: a vast ballroom with two impressive open-air verandas that can accommodate receptions for up to 2,000 attendees.
More renovations and big plans for new offerings on and off The Strip are making news.
Located immediately behind (east) of Linq, a groundbreaking for Caesars Forum is set for the second quarter of 2018. The $375 million project will build a LEED Silver-certified conference center featuring 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including two 108,000-sf ballrooms. A 100,000-sf outdoor plaza will connect directly to the Linq Promenade, and to the Las Vegas Monorail. Caesars Forum is set to open in 2020.
Meanwhile, in February, Caesar’s-managed Harrah’s Las Vegas, one of the oldest names in gaming, announced completion of a $140 million refurbishment, including 1,622 modern, refreshed guest rooms and suites in the resort’s Valley Tower. The upgrades started with renovations to the 672 rooms in the South Tower, and the casino floor and lobby bar also has received a makeover. The hotel offers more than 24,000 sf of meeting space — ideal for small- and medium-sized groups — and guests coming from their rooms need not traverse the casino to access the meeting facilities. Harrah’s is located just a few minutes on foot from the Linq Promenade and High Roller observation wheel, providing easy access to round-the-clock dining and entertainment.
Last month Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson announced a deal to take over the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas and rebrand the property as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas by the end of 2019, following a renovation that will cost “hundreds of millions” of dollars. The hotel’s 1,504 guest rooms and common areas will receive a facelift, but no word yet on what will happen to the Hard Rock’s existing 110,000 sf of meeting and convention space.
The blue-tinted Fontainebleau tower, opposite Circus Circus, has remained unfinished since the recession hit Las Vegas, but a decade later the 60-story high-rise is finally receiving a lease on life. New York developer Witkoff Group and Marriott International announced plans for The Drew Las Vegas, using the Fontainebleau structure, which will include almost 4,000 hotel rooms along with more than 500,000 sf of convention and meeting space. The Drew will be Marriott’s first Edition brand hotel in Las Vegas and will also include the Strip’s first JW Marriott.
Other projects planned for the north end of the Strip include an $860 million expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (taking over the former Riviera land) that will add 1.4 million sf to the current convention center facility when completed in 2021; the Chinese-owned Resorts World project, slated to open in 2020; Wynn West, a 2,000- to 3,000-room project penciled for the land opposite the current Wynn hotels; and $1.5 billion Paradise Park, a 47-story hotel tower now underway behind Wynn-Encore.
Wynn began construction on Paradise Park in January 2018. The 1,500-room hotel tower and convention center will be built alongside a 38-acre lagoon, ringed by a mile-long boardwalk and white-sand beach. The development is replacing the golf course behind the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. Design integrated with recreation is, as always, paramount for Wynn — there are plans for a nightly Carnivale parade of floats on the hourglass-shaped lagoon. Wynn is also doing its part to add more renewable energy resources in Nevada — powering Paradise Park entirely by energy from a dedicated solar array built outside of Fallon, Nevada.
The Cashman Center, an exhibition space near downtown Las Vegas, was shuttered at the end of 2017. However, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that plans are afoot to build another expo center downtown — this time, next door to the existing World Market Center, the large building immediately next to the I-15 freeway, heading north into downtown. The expo center will spread 350,000 sf and represents the largest construction project undertaken downtown for several years.
And at the other end of town, South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa has launched a $40 million renovation of guest rooms in all three hotel towers. The three-year project will remodel one tower each year, with the first phase — Tower One — scheduled to be completed by September 2018. South Point has 75,000 sf of convention space, along with 80,000 sf of column-free exhibit area.
The 390-room M Resort Spa Casino, located in nearby Henderson offers more than 92,000 sf of meeting space, including a pavilion, grand ballroom and multiple reception areas. Both natural lighting and views of the Las Vegas skyline complement the function space. Alternative gathering venues throughout the resort include Lux, the expansive 16th floor function space; Hostile Grape wine cellar; and the M Pool, which includes outdoor event terraces. Top-quality F&B is a major focus of the resort, which houses nearly 30,000 sf of kitchen space and culinary work areas. Most of the M Resort’s restaurants feature outdoor dining on terraces that overlook the 100,000-sf pool and events piazza, as well as the Las Vegas Strip.
By Las Vegas standards, the 1,470-room Tropicana Las Vegas — A DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, is a bit smaller than some of the other hotels and resorts in the city, which may help small groups avoid feeling lost among the large convention-sized groups that populate the larger casino resorts. After a recent expansion, the hotel now features 100,000 sf of indoor space that connects to the Club Tower and includes 38 breakout rooms, the Trinidad Pavilion and the private Havana Room. Upscale events find a home in the Tropicana Theater or the Havana Room, which opens out to the Sky Beach Club pool area. Last summer, the Tropicana Las Vegas opened Robert Irvine’s Public House, which features upscale and reimagined comfort food in a casual atmosphere, with its specialty being the Fork & Knife Burger.
Although Caesars Palace is one of The Strip’s largest hotels, with 3,792 guest rooms, the sheer girth of the sprawling property was not an issue for Linda Hyde, executive director of the American Association of Private Lenders.
“We are a smaller group,” explains Hyde, who notes that her November 2017 conference drew almost 500 attendees. “But we need a lot of space for our sessions and exhibit hall, and Caesars Palace had no issue accommodating that for us when others would not.”
The group has brought its annual conference to Las Vegas for eight years running, and attendance has increased each year. Hyde says that last year’s event saw a 24 percent boost. “This is the highest amount of attendees we have ever had at one of our events.”
“We keep going back year after year. The staff of Caesars Palace stands out for me — at this point some of them are like family. The hospitality is extraordinary, and something you don’t come across everywhere. After four years of hosting the event I look at many of the hotel staff as friends, making the partnership very easy to maintain. The hotel’s service is impeccable — not to say we have not run into hiccups, but they are always resolved in a timely manner.”
In addition to adding new dining venues like the fast-casual Pronto by Giada (De Laurentiis) and high-concept Gordon Ramsey Hell’s Kitchen, Caesars Palace has benefited from an ongoing renovation and upgrade of the property, especially in the guest rooms. The recent renovation of the 1,181-room Palace Tower topped $100 million; the Indigo Tower is currently receiving its makeover and the Forum Tower upgrades are scheduled for completion in 2019.
“The rooms are beautiful after renovation, although I thought they were very nice before,” says Hyde. “We had many guests comment on the change in rooms, how impressed they are with the upgrades and decorations.”
Hyde also was impressed by a reception that her team organized at the Omnia Nightclub Terrace. “The views, staff and overall service was a great kickoff to the event. Many of our guests were very impressed and asked that we host there again next year.
“Caesars is always accommodating to any request my guests or I throw their way. My sales contact, Emily, and the catering manager that handles the planning of my show, Heather, are two that stand out to me. They are great to work with, especially during the stressful few weeks up to the show, staying very organized.” I&FMM