Nevada is one of the top meeting destinations in the world, home, of course, to bigger-than-life Las Vegas, which is probably best known for its ability to accommodate some of the largest meetings on the planet. Reno, in the northern region of the state and up against the California border and dramatic Sierra Nevada Mountains, also is a stellar meeting destination for very different reasons. Casinos, of course, are common to both, but beyond that the two cities offer very different but equally enticing experiences for the relatively smaller insurance and financial company group meetings.
It would be a mistake to think that Las Vegas is not a serious business destination. Although the city has made a name for itself with its elaborate shows, over-the-top clubs, alcohol-infused festivities and hint that naughty is to be expected, that’s the Mr. Hyde side of Las Vegas, if you will.
The split-personality city has another side that is all about supporting and sustaining business — its Dr. Jekyll self, which is in every way a meeting planner’s dream. You may not see splashy TV ads claiming that Las Vegas has a finely tuned conservative focus for business groups and is easily capable of helping those groups prove meeting ROI, but that’s exactly the case.
Las Vegas hosts approximately 22,000 meetings, conventions and trade shows, and brings in a total of about 5.2 million business travelers each year. The city has deep experience meeting these travelers’ needs. It offers thousands of hotel rooms and a competitive 12 percent room tax; flights from more than 130 U.S. and international cities, meaning that moderately priced flights are almost always available; an airport located just a short — and inexpensive — taxi ride from the core business area; and millions of square feet of meeting and exhibition space, giving planners plenty of options to hone in on their required price point. But the best attribute may be that a meeting set in Las Vegas typically increases attendance by 8 percent. All of that translates to a bottom-line bonus especially welcomed by fiscally conservative financial and insurance companies.
And though it’s common knowledge that Las Vegas easily accommodates the mega meetings with thousands of attendees, is it also a desirable destination for small meetings? In fact, it is.
“Las Vegas hosts more meetings and conventions than any other destination on the planet, and roughly half of those events consist of 500 attendees or less,” says Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Everything that makes Las Vegas ideal for large groups works for smaller groups as well. We’ve got an abundance of space throughout the destination with nearly 11 million sf, more than 150,000 hotel rooms providing the best group value proposition in the world, convenient accessibility with more than 900 inbound and outbound flights per day, plus the entertainment and dining options that can help make the event memorable.”
Many of the city’s best-known hotels also cater to small groups, providing not only the right-sized meeting space but also programs, events and à la carte options that work perfectly for small groups but do not accommodate larger ones.
At Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas, for example, which offer 200,000 and 60,000 sf of meeting space, respectively, there are a combined total of five boardrooms specifically designed for smaller groups. And for gatherings of 10 or fewer — not uncommon with VIP and executive groups — Wynn offers 10 salon conference suites in the tower. Small groups don’t have to forego the “wow” venues, either. Wynn’s South Show Terrace, for example, overlooks the Lake of Dreams but accommodates only up to 75 guests.
Other venues at Wynn that are ideal for smaller groups or individual attendees include programs and events in the spa or Claude Baruk Salons, the golf course and several of the brand’s exceptional restaurants, all spaces unable to accommodate mega groups but exactly the type of venues incentive qualifiers expect. Of course, Wynn’s meeting facilities also include the best in tech infrastructure, support and capabilities, whether the meeting is for 20 or 2,000. Moreover, Wynn has dedicated members of its sales, catering and convention teams who specialize only in small groups, giving planners access to staff that fully understands and appreciates the needs and requirements of small groups, ensuring that they don’t get lost in the bright-lights-big-city experience that Las Vegas can be.
In 2013, Caesars Entertainment took the even bigger step of creating an entire division for smaller business groups within its National Meetings and Events, called Caesars Direct. The goal was to provide the brand’s small-business customers with faster service and quality responses from salespeople who thoroughly know and understand the small-business market. The company notes that small meetings are a vital piece of Caesars own business and that these groups deserve the same attention and service as large-business customers.
Through Caesars Direct, smaller groups get the agility and flexibility they require, but they also can book the same Las Vegas full-entertainment experience if they want it. They can also qualify for the same concessions as larger groups, such as having one food and beverage minimum, plus they work with a compressed template for contracts, making that portion of the planning process more streamlined and easier.
All of that flexibility goes a long way in Las Vegas, where the Caesars group includes Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, Rio and both Linq Hotel & Casino and The Linq Promenade.
At M Resort Spa Casino, small to mid-size meetings are the focus, so there’s never an issue of smaller groups feeling lost among the mega-meeting groups, and the resort’s entire convention and meeting team is well versed in what makes smaller meetings shine. Two of the resort’s main meeting venues accommodate only up to 363 at full capacity and when broken down a maximum of 114–121 in each section. Two larger venues accommodate up to 595 each, with a maximum capacity of 114–121 in each section when broken down. Of course, depending on the setup, these rooms also nicely accommodate intimate groups of just 25 as well.
Among M Resort’s creative spaces for smaller groups are three Villagio del Sole outdoor terraces, which range from 4,975–6,550 sf. The terraces accommodate 270 to 370 attendees for a banquet or 400 to 500 for a reception. And there’s the resort’s 5,000-sf wine cellar and tasting room, Hostile Grape, an intriguing space for an incentive group special event. The cellar offers more than 400 wine selections, including 160 by the glass. A great option for hosting dinners or intimate receptions is Lux, a customizable function space with expansive views of the Las Vegas Strip from 16 stories high. The space features a full bar, Enomatic wine dispensing machines, a gourmet kitchen, floor-to-ceiling windows and private elevators.
The city of Reno is often jointly marketed with the Lake Tahoe area, making it another city with a bit of a split personality. While Reno offers the many attributes of a mid-sized urban environment, it’s only a stone’s throw from the wildly scenic landscapes surrounding Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada, and all of the many outdoor activities and options that area presents winter and summer. It’s an area where business and pleasure are easily combined.
Most important, perhaps, for smaller groups with a focus on meeting ROI, Reno and its surrounding area offer tremendous value to both attendees and meeting planners.
“The most important thing for meeting planners to keep in mind is the incredible value that Reno Tahoe USA represents,” says Christopher Baum, president and CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. “Not only do we have first-class hotel rooms at rates that average under $150 per night, but our production and food costs are very low as well, with a gallon of coffee averaging $40 throughout the region. The great team members at our partner resorts handle every attendee with the same friendly level of service, whether you’re part of a citywide convention or one of a dozen people in for a quick committee meeting. And with 300-plus days of sunshine annually in our mild, high-desert setting, Mother Nature almost never gets in the way of a successful event.”
Adds Baum, “And with JetBlue’s new daily nonstop service to and from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport starting in late May, Reno Tahoe USA just got a whole lot more convenient for meeting attendees from the Northeast.”
Dee Souter, market coordinator with Aflac, the well-known insurance group, planned the State Aflac Quarterly Meeting for 115 attendees at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno in July 2014. She says it was not the first or last time the group will meet there for several reasons. “We can combine business with pleasure. Grand Sierra Resort is updated, clean and the staff is amazing.”
Souter also says that the city’s convention and visitors authority has been very helpful, particularly in assisting with availability.
It’s not surprising that Grand Sierra Resort and Casino is a popular choice for meeting planners. Although it’s large — more than 2,000 guest rooms and suites and more than 200,000 sf of meeting and convention space — it also provides plenty of intimate venues for small groups and attentive, personalized service. “Carina Taylor, executive director of sales, helped us get started,” Souter says, “and worked with us for the whole event. And the AV staff and banquet staff were fantastic.”
Multiple upgrades at Grand Sierra recently have been completed or are scheduled for the near future, with the goal of bringing the resort to an entirely new level. Over the past three years, GSR has invested more than $50 million with the goal of creating a premier resort destination. Updates have included newly renovated hotel rooms, an all-new William Hill Race and Sports Book (a sports bar), a brand new spa and more.
This year, upgrades will include a new main porte cochère and a newly appointed Grand Ballroom, with completion scheduled for spring. Additionally, GSR is home to the historic Grand Theatre, which will reopen to the public this summer with a stellar entertainment lineup and an updated, modern look and feel.
Among the resort’s most notable features now is the $15 million, 25,000-sf nightlife venue Lex Nightclub, which opened in July 2014. For those who thought that only Las Vegas or Miami could deliver this type of nightclub experience, the resort puts that view to rest. Lex features an indoor water feature with a dance floor that extends over it, creating the illusion of dancing on water. There also are 33 VIP tables, three full bars, a multimillion-dollar lighting and sound system and some of the hottest names in nightlife entertainment — with different options for enjoying it all available to groups of any size.
The Aflac group held its meetings in Grand Sierra’s conference space and used public venues as well. “I love having adequate space to use; the facility has something for everyone,” Souter says. “Some of the attendees went to the nightclub and had a fantastic time,” she adds.
Souter notes that her group has had several meetings at Grand Sierra Resort and that they’ll continue to use GSR as a meeting base whenever they are in the Reno area. As for her best advice for planners considering Reno and the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, Souter says, “Work with Carina. She has a grasp of exactly what you may need and anticipates your every need.”
Another meeting resort option in Reno is Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, which offers 106,000 sf of meeting and convention space in its Tuscany Tower, the $400 million expansion the resort completed in 2007. Peppermill has ample space for meetings of all sizes across its three ballrooms and two flexible meeting rooms, with several ideal for smaller groups, such as a private dining and reception room, penthouse suites and an luxury executive boardroom.
The White Orchid Private Dining Room was created to dazzle. It features Swarovski Crystal chandeliers, custom-etched glass doors and fine china and linens, all of which make it an excellent choice for VIP events and receptions set up to reward an organization’s top incentive qualifiers. Planners looking for versatility and a “wow” venue should consider the 17th-floor penthouse suites, each one featuring a spiral staircase, elegant décor and sweeping views of the mountains and surrounding city.
The 4,000-sf executive boardroom rises two stories and offers a slew of amenities including sophisticated technology that makes it a good choice for C-suite executives, whether for a very private reception or a high-level business meeting. Décor includes custom walnut inlaid panels, imported textiles, original artwork and high-end lighting. There also are six flat screens along with a 160-inch digital, cinema-grade screen and a state-of-the-art digital sound system with 7.1 surround sound. Executives also can video-teleconference with others in the company via the room’s technology, which includes the capability to set up a 1,000-person webinar.
The AAA Four Diamond Peppermill offers 1,635 rooms and suites, two pools and 10 restaurants, as well as 16 themed bars and lounges and a 43,000-sf spa, salon and fitness center. And, of course, there’s the casino, with all the gaming entertainment options attendees might want.
Like other resorts that cater to business groups, Peppermill has personnel — a sales manager and a coordinator — dedicated to facilitating smaller meetings. These specialists work with groups in the planning process. Once the group is on property, the resort’s convention services department handles everything regardless of the group’s size. What Peppermill staff also say they offer is attention to detail and outstanding quality and service, all at great value.
It’s fair to say that part of that value comes from the resort’s location in Reno, a city that may be “second-tier” in terms of size and facilities but definitely not in terms of value delivered for the price.
Together, Las Vegas and Reno present two enticing and, in some ways, very different options for small meeting groups. Both are well worth considering depending on a planner’s specific needs.
The Omnia Nightclub — the former Pure Nightclub — opened in March at Caesars Palace after a top-to-bottom makeover. The completely redeveloped 75,000-sf venue houses three distinct nightlife spaces: the Main Club including the Balcony level, Heart of Omnia; the sleek ultra-lounge; and the Terrace offering sweeping views of the Las Vegas Strip. Omnia is available for corporate event buyouts for groups of 200–4,000 people.
The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, located one block off The Las Vegas Strip and adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center, is currently undergoing a property-wide $100 million renovation. Upgrades to 1,200 signature guest rooms and the pool area have been completed. The ongoing renovation project will include enhancements to the convention areas and sports book. Two new restaurant concepts, including Sid’s Café, are expected to open in April.
Also debuting in April at Westgate is “Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition, The Show, The Experience,” a new, permanent exhibition and live entertainment shows “that celebrate the life and legacy of Elvis Presley.”
Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino features a 95,000-sf casino, 200,000 sf of meeting and convention space, restaurants, entertainment, a spa and fitness center, pool with luxurious cabanas, access to golf at the exclusive Las Vegas Country Club, and the world’s largest race and sports SuperBook.
The Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton now provides one of the fastest Internet services available in a Las Vegas hotel, thanks to a newly deployed Wi-Fi technology, including wired and wireless Internet access. The Internet access will be available throughout the property’s newly expanded convention space — which will total 100,000 sf, including the new Trinidad Pavilion when completed this spring — as well as in the resort’s 1,467 guest rooms and suites.
With the rollout of Tropicana’s significantly upgraded infrastructure, meeting organizers and attendees will enjoy increased mobility and a substantial leap in bandwidth availability in the conference center and hotel rooms. This allows for streaming of high-definition video without jitter or latency, downloading large business presentations, using cloud applications and sending/receiving large files or photos and other digital data without delay.
Delano Las Vegas opened last fall in the Mandalay Bay complex, bringing the chic style of its iconic sister property in South Beach to the Las Vegas Strip. The new smoke-free, luxury hotel features 1,100 suites, the Delano Beach Club, which debuts in April, the Bathouse Spa and Delia’s Kitchen, a restaurant specializing in sustainable foods.
Award-winning chef Michael Mina opened Bardot Brasserie at Aria Resort & Casino in January. Offering a modern and sexy take on the traditional French brasserie experience, Bardot will present an exquisite array of Parisian cuisine, transporting guests on a culinary journey through The City of Light. Located on the second floor of Aria, Bardot is open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily and offers group options.
Among MGM Grand’s 5,044 guest rooms is the 14th floor comprised of 171 Stay Well rooms, completed in January. The Stay Well guest rooms feature vitamin C-infused shower water, advanced room lighting tailored to sleep/wake cycles, air purification systems, EMF protection and more.
The companion Stay Well Meetings incorporates healthful environments in meeting rooms and spaces, such as ergonomic seating, air purification, circadian lighting, virtual window lights, aromatherapy, healthful menu items and much more.
Golden Nugget Las Vegas invested $6.5 million to transform their 20,000-sf convention center. The project included a complete overhaul of the existing convention center footprint.
The Blackstone Group has announced that it will commence a $200 million makeover of The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, which it acquired for $1.73 billion from Deutsche Bank last May.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority purchased the historic Riviera Hotel & Casino, which will be demolished in August to make room for the $2.3 billion Las Vegas Global Business District project, which includes the expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas has introduced a new event space known as The Gallery, a loft-style venue offering 1,900 sf of space and featuring frosted floor-to-ceiling windows, a painted cement floor, white walls and 16-foot ceilings. This distinctive venue is ideal for an 80-person seated dinner or a cocktail reception for up to 200 guests.
The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, recently 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, such as former Mayor of the City of Las Vegas Oscar B. Goodman. For groups seeking teambuilding activities or simply to be active and entertained as part of the company gathering, Museum Scavenger Hunts provide an intriguing solution. The Mob Museum offers flexible space and can accommodate groups of from 10 to 400 people. I&FMM