MGM Grand hosted TD Ameritrade’s Investor Conference in October. The hotel features more than 850,000 sf of meeting space, including the 380,000-sf MGM Grand Conference Center. Credit: LILA PHOTO
Year in and year out, no U.S. meeting destination hosts more meetings and conventions than Las Vegas, and the most fundamental reason for its dominance is a simple one: Once known solely for its gambling and entertainment, over the last decade the city has reimagined and re-engineered itself into a destination tailor-made for meetings.
“The bottom line is, I call Las Vegas ‘The meeting city,’ says Tracey Lane, founder and president of Fair Lawn, NJ-based The Lane Group, LLC. She has used Las Vegas as a meeting destination for 15 years, bringing at least two groups to town each year and sometimes as many as a half-dozen. “There are only a few destinations in the country that really know how to do meetings really, really well, and that also have the infrastructure to handle so many meetings, including large ones. And Las Vegas is one of them.”
As a longtime and loyal user of the destination, Lane points out that Las Vegas has evolved from being perceived by corporate meeting planners as a gambling destination to being recognized as a multifaceted destination. “There are now non-gaming hotels like Vdara Hotel & Spa,” she says. And there are a lot more things to do. There is more focus on culture. So it’s a different city today, from a meeting perspective, than it was just a few years ago.”
Katrina Kent, CMP, CMM, director, event group at TD Ameritrade in Jersey City, NJ, is another loyal repeat user of Las Vegas. She has been bringing the company’s 1,000-attendee, two-day, three-night annual conference to Las Vegas for the last four years and will return this year. “One of the main reasons we keep coming back is the overall ease of doing a large meeting in Las Vegas,” Kent says. “Everything you need for a major meeting is right at your fingertips. And Las Vegas does major meetings so regularly that doing yours there is just a seamless experience, whether that means your room block or technology or production capabilities.”
Kent’s longtime loyalty to Las Vegas is based on a number of factors, but chief among them is its constant evolution. “There is always something new and exciting happening in Las Vegas,” she says. “There is always a new dining option or offsite venue or attraction or activity. The city is always ‘new’, because it is constantly updating and reinventing its meeting infrastructure. If you go there 10 years in a row, you’re not stuck doing the same old things each year. There’s always something fresh.”
The city’s formidable airlift is another important factor for Lane. “It’s great both domestically and internationally,” she says. “In addition to the ease of getting in and out of town, the major hotel properties along The Strip are very close to the airport, which makes it very convenient for attendees. For me as a meeting planner, and my clients, it is also attractive from a budget point of view, because your airport transfers are less expensive.”
The city’s vast and diverse hotel inventory is yet another reason why Lane and her clients find it so perfectly matched to their meetings. “One of the things I like very much is the nontraditional food-and-beverage spaces you can find at some of the hotels. The local dining scene is another thing that draws corporate groups. There are amazing restaurants and chefs, and there are options at a range of price points, which just adds to the appeal. And finally, the amount and flexibility of the meeting space in Las Vegas is another reason why it’s so attractive to planners.”
For Kent, the unparalleled meeting infrastructure and range of capabilities in Las Vegas is the key to her loyalty. And her hotel of choice, the 6,852-room MGM Grand, which features more than 850,000 sf of meeting space, including the 380,000-sf MGM Grand Conference Center, not only embodies those traits, but also offers remarkable consistency in its service and support, Kent says.
“The major hotels like MGM Grand are used to working with large groups,” she says. “They know exactly how to handle them. Major meetings are their bread-and-butter.”
TD Ameritrade took its annual conference to the hotel for the first time in 2015 because it got a particularly appealing deal. “Attendees at our annual conference pay for their own hotel rooms, so value is very important to us,” Kent says. “Since then, although we still get good value, we keep going back because of the level of the service I get as planner and the level of experiences our attendees get.”
Kent praises the MGM Grand for the consistency of its staff and service. “The people we work with have really gotten to know us and our attendees,” she says. “And it has been very impressive to us, as a company, that the hotel can be so consistent from year to year, both for us as the planning team and also for our attendees.”
Kent hosts all meals at the hotel — both buffets and plated dinners. “The quality of the food is consistently very good. They are very creative with their banquet menus. And the overall quality of the F&B is very high.” She sometimes stages dine-around evenings within the hotel, whose roster of globally acclaimed restaurants includes Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak; Morimoto Las Vegas, from “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto; and a pair of acclaimed dining options, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon, from the late, great “chef of the century.”
Another aspect of the MGM Grand that keeps Kent and TD Ameritrade coming back is the quality and configuration of its meeting space. “It is very well-suited to our conference,” she says. “We love the fact that for a group of our size, we can take over one whole floor of the hotel and be self-contained. That also means attendees do not ever have to go up or down from floor to floor. So the space is not only just top-notch, but it’s also very convenient for us.”
Although there are now many factors that make Las Vegas such a popular meeting destination, especially for those companies that return year after year, perhaps none is more powerful than its dining scene.
Given the vast array of options, Debi Kinney, general manager and director of sales at management company CSI DMC’s Las Vegas office, offers planners a short list of some of her go-to choices.
“The Palms Casino Resort has debuted a trio of hot new restaurants,” Kinney says. “One is Shark, from celebrity chef Bobby Flay. It offers a very creative menu that is sort of a fusion of Southwestern and Asian cuisines. The food is phenomenal. Another is Mabel’s BBQ from celebrity chef Michael Symon. It specializes in classic southern barbecue with a Michael Symon twist. And the third is Greene St. Kitchen, which has a secret entrance through an 80s-style arcade into a beautiful dining room. It serves Asian fusion cuisine.”
All three restaurants are incredible, Kinney says. “And the great thing about having those three new restaurants in the same hotel is that you can do a dine around for a small or medium-sized group under one roof.”
For tiny, super-exclusive VIP groups of nine or fewer, Kinney highly recommends é by José Andrés, which serves modern Spanish-inspired cuisine at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “It is a hidden gem that offers an incredible dining experience,” Kinney says. “It has only nine seats and it does two seatings a night. The wait list for a reservation can be months long. But for meeting groups, it is the ultimate in intimate dining experiences with phenomenal food.” She has used it for C-suite executives from a meeting group and also for the top VIP qualifiers from an incentive group.
For medium-sized to large groups, one of Kinney’s go-to options is the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas, operated by Caesars Entertainment. “The Eiffel Tower Restaurant is one of the staples of Las Vegas when it comes to high-end groups,” Kinney says. “It’s one of my favorites because in addition to the food, it’s such a fun venue. The entrance is up an elevator through a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Then, when you get off the elevator, you walk through the kitchen, which smells amazing. And as you walk out into the dining room, you get genuinely breathtaking views of The Strip. It’s just a unique venue for groups that are looking for a high-end experience.”
Another dining option Kinney enthusiastically recommends to clients because it offers something different and fun is Lip Smacking Foodie Tours. “It’s a great experience, because instead of dining at just one restaurant for the evening, attendees get to dine at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., each of which offers four or five small-plate portions of its most famous and popular dishes,” Kinney says. ”You can also customize the experience by degree of exclusivity or price point. And then during the tour, as you go from restaurant to restaurant, you get historical data and fun facts about Las Vegas. It’s also a great networking opportunity, because typically you end up sitting next to different people from your group at each restaurant.” Lip Smacking Foodie Tours can accommodate groups of up to 250.
When it comes to offsite venues, Kinney also recommends a unique option that also includes an element of corporate social responsibility (CSR). “One of my all-time favorites is the Keep Memory Alive, which is located on the outskirts of downtown Las Vegas,” she says. “It is an event center that was built adjacent to, and connected to, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health – Las Vegas , a research and medical facility. What makes it unique for meeting planners and attendees is that you’re using a gorgeous, state-of-the-art event center, with a beautiful courtyard, but all of the proceeds go toward brain research. That means your group can make a difference while also using a very high-end facility.” Maximum group size is 350 attendees. The preferred caterer list includes celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
A classic alternative for many planners remains the legendary Tropicana Las Vegas, a Doubletree by Hilton. The venue is undergoing a revamp of its 100,000-sf convention center and a face-lift for all 1,470 guest rooms, starting with the Paradise Tower.
Opening in 2020, the $375 million CAESARS FORUM began construction last summer. The project, just east of The LINQ Hotel & Casino, will include a LEED Silver-certified conference center featuring 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including two 108,000-sf ballrooms, and a 100,000-sf outdoor plaza that will connect directly to the LINQ Promenade and to the Las Vegas Monorail.
Meeting planners who want the amenities of Las Vegas without the hustle and bustle of The Strip can opt for the nearby hub of Henderson, NV, just 15-20 minutes from the action and offering self-contained, top-notch meeting infrastructure of its own.
Henderson is home to the Forbes Four-Star, AAA Five Diamond, 390-room M Resort Spa Casino, which offers more than 92,000 sf of meeting and event space, including the 25,000-sf M Pavilion and LUX special event venues.
“I have used M Resort for several meetings,” Lane says. “The most recent was in January. And we have another, a three-night, two-day coming up in February of next year for 350 attendees. What I, as a planner, really like about M Resort is its consistency. We’ve had long-lasting relationships with our sales manager and conference services manager. So they are very familiar with us and our groups, and they really do everything they can to make sure our meetings are successful.”
The M Resort Spa Casino is also perfectly sized for the groups Lane brings to town. “When I bring in a group of 350, we pretty much own the hotel,” she says. “And that is always nice for any group.”
Another thing Lane likes about M Resort is the fact that it offers some nontraditional spaces for food-and-beverage functions. “I also like the meeting space a lot,” she says. “The flexibility of it is amazing. And one aspect of the layout that is nice is that attendees do not have to walk into or through the gaming space if they don’t want to.”
The latest new amenities at M Resort Spa Casino include TopGolf slots and the 16-A Handcrafted Experience — a bar on 16th floor of the property that serves handcrafted cocktails and an eclectic selection of small-plate menu items, which include wagyu beef grilled tableside on a hot lava stone, Australian lamb chops and pan-seared Hokkaido diver scallops. “It has a private space that has beautiful views of The Strip,” Lane says.
Another popular meeting property in Henderson is Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa, which recently completed a $40 million renovation. The 493-room hotel offers nearly 120,000 sf of meeting space, 35 event rooms, 12 breakout rooms and features two championship golf courses.
Although Las Vegas reigns at the heavyweight champion of U.S. meeting destinations, Nevada offers a second option that is less frenetic but still offers much of the glitz and glamour of its better-known big brother. Reno-Sparks is small, intimate and laid back.
The Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority has become more aggressive in the corporate market, stressing that the destination offers excellent meeting infrastructure, including a variety of hotel product that ranges from gaming to nongaming hotels and resorts large and small.
Meeting planners and attendees like Reno for its relaxed atmosphere and ease of navigation.
Hotel options include the 1,900-room Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, a Reno landmark located in the heart of the city. The resort features elegant and comfortable rooms and suites in a resort setting. Grand Sierra offers 11 food-and-beverage options, from a fine dining steakhouse to casual eateries, including a Round Table Pizza Italian restaurant that features gourmet pizzas. LEX nightclub is the premier nightlife venue in northern Nevada.
Grand Sierra Resort and Casino offers more than 200,000 sf of meeting and event space, including 45 meeting rooms and three ballrooms. The Grand Theatre, an ideal venue for general sessions, can accommodate up to 4,000 attendees. A self-contained Nevada Conference & Exhibition Center features 44,115 sf of meeting and exhibit space, including 12 breakout rooms. The resort complex also features a state-of-the-art spa, as well as a bowling complex, a cinema, indoor golf and a driving range.
Another top-quality meeting property is Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, which features 106,000 sf of meeting space, including the 62,000-sf Tuscany Ballroom, as well as four other ballrooms. Among Peppermill’s most unique amenities are an intimate White Orchid Private Dining Room and a 17th-floor, two-story executive boardroom. Peppermill features 11 dining/snack options, including a trio of fine dining restaurants, including Bimini Steakhouse, and four more casual restaurants.
Reno’s largest property is the 4,100-room complex that includes a trio of hotels — Eldorado Resort Casino, Silver Legacy Resort Casino, and Circus Circus Reno, formerly owned by MGM Resorts.
Reno’s public convention facility is the 500,000-sf Reno-Sparks Convention Center, which features 380,000 sf of exhibit space and 120,000 sf of meeting space. Plans are now underway, subject to approval by the Nevada Legislature, to add another 300,000 sf of space. I&FMM