The numbers are in, and once again, the odds are in favor of Las Vegas. According to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA), attendance at meetings and conventions reached a five-year high in 2013 with 5.1 million delegates attending a convention, trade show or meeting. Overall, Las Vegas welcomed nearly 40 million visitors last year, which only serves to reaffirm the city’s popularity. And Las Vegas has been named the No. 1 trade show destination for the 20th consecutive year, according to the Trade Show News Network’s (TSNN) “2013 TSNN Top 250 Trade Shows in the United States.” Las Vegas hosted 53 of the largest shows.
The drawing power of this mecca for meetings is based upon its penchant for continually reinventing and refreshing itself, which means that groups will always find something new to discover no matter how many times they meet in the city. According to the LVCVA, more than $9 billion in projects have been announced or are currently under construction here.
One of the newest developments is Caesars Entertainment’s The Linq, an open-air retail, dining and entertainment venue that has been opening in phases. It is anchored by the newly opened 550-foot tall High Roller, the world’s largest observation wheel that takes visitors on a 30-minute ride to enjoy the view. Each of the 28 cabins holds up to 40 people, and the cabins can be rented out for private events. The Linq faces Caesars Palace and is located between The Quad Resort & Casino and Flamingo Las Vegas.
Adrenaline junkies also will soon be able to test out SlotZilla at Fremont Experience, a new attraction that lets riders take off from a 128-foot, 12-story slot machine-themed platform to soar 70 feet above the ground on a zip line or take their thrills to the next level on the zoom line, 110 feet above the street.
In December, the very hip and stylish Downtown Grand hotel opened just steps away from the Fremont Street Experience. It contains 634 rooms and what is being described as an “industrial chic” casino. Of special interest to meeting groups is the rooftop venue called Picnic, which can host private events for up to 1,500 guests.
In May, The Cromwell Hotel and Casino, a 188-room boutique hotel by Caesars Entertainment, will make its debut. It will feature Giada, a new restaurant concept by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis, and Drai’s Beach Club Nightclub, which will be located on the hotel’s rooftop.
The 390-room M Resort Spa Casino just opened its Villaggio del Sole main pool and entertainment complex for the spring and summer pool season. The 100,000-sf Villaggio del Sole backyard pool piazza features two infinity-edge pools, private daybeds and cabanas, and a main pool deck perfect for outdoor group receptions and networking.
New at Villaggio are Penthouse Patios, each accommodating up to 30 VIPs with lawn area, lounge furniture and recreational game tables. M Resort Spa Casino offers 92,000 sf of conference space, offering views of the Las Vegas skyline.
Labor Day weekend will mark the opening of the much-anticipated SLS Las Vegas, which is being built on the site of the former Sahara. The new mixed-use resort and casino will include 1,600 rooms and suites and 30,000 sf of flexible meeting space. Also in the fall, MGM Resorts will open its new all-suite boutique hotel, the Delano Las Vegas, which replaces THEhotel in Mandalay Bay. The new hotel will bring the style and service of Miami Beach’s Delano South Beach to the Las Vegas Strip and will contain 1,100 suites.
The newly renovated Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton has opened its Sky Villa Suites on the 20th floor of its Paradise tower. Featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, the suites deliver spectacular views of the Las Vegas Strip and are a key part of the resort’s recent $200 million transformation. Tropicana also added two new event venues: the Havana Room and the outdoor Beach Club. The expanded meeting space now totals 100,000 sf.
Tricia McCall, AVP/software specialist for Community Bank of Santa Maria in Santa Maria, CA, plans Western States BancPac User Group meetings. “We used to meet twice a year — once in the Irvine, CA, area and once in the Sacramento, CA, area. We now meet once a year for a 2½-day conference in Las Vegas. Our group grew from being predominantly California-based to a regional group, and I found everyone lives close to an airport offering a reasonably priced flight to Las Vegas. In fact, I live on the central coast of California, and it is less expensive for me to fly to Las Vegas than to drive to either of the previous locations.
“Once in Vegas, if you choose the right venue (I have chosen the Tropicana), you really don’t need a car — everything is centrally located either with walking distance to entertainment or incorporated in your venue.”
She cited another significant advantage of meeting in Las Vegas. “Since moving to Las Vegas, we are able to obtain corporate sponsorships from the companies we want to come make presentations and provide training. In other words, the people we used to have to pay (or beg) to come are now paying us to participate! In return, they get face time with key representatives from almost 40 banks in one shot.”
McCall’s group has been meeting at the Tropicana for years and has doubled in size during that time. She listed the factors that make the hotel a good fit for her event. “The Tropicana is conveniently located in the center of The Strip. If you walk across to the MGM, you can catch the monorail. If you walk across to the Excalibur, you can catch the tram, just to mention a few ways to get around to see the sights.”
Next, she cited the hotel’s service. “The convention staff at the Tropicana treats us like family,” she notes. “Some of the people working there have been there for a lifetime. We are a group of community bankers who have built our business on customer service to be able to compete with the ‘big guys,’ so we appreciate good customer service. Their initial pricing and location got us there, but their service has kept us there.”
She says that the facilities also meet their needs. “With the remodel completed, the venue is attractive and provides everything we need to make our event a success. The food, year after year, has been wonderful. The room setup is always done to our specs, and they have an onsite AV department, so if the mic doesn’t work right or lighting needs to be adjusted, they are a ‘page’ away.”
McCall says that she does send out RFPs to other properties that board members or attendees suggest in their annual critique, but finds that the Tropicana is still very competitive in their pricing. “If another venue’s pricing has been lower, the board has decided to stay at the Tropicana because we know what to expect there, and we know how we will be treated. I think our group will continue to choose the Tropicana. Honestly, it is their contract to lose.”
McCall isn’t the only planner who has seen an increase in attendance by moving meetings to Las Vegas. Gayle Strawn, conference services manager for Franchise Times, plans two financial services conferences in Las Vegas each year. In the fall, her Restaurant Finance Management Conference attracts over 2,000 attendees to participate in workshops led by top financial experts and visit the event’s Finance & Development Mall. Last year, the conference was held at the 2,716-room, Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Wynn Las Vegas and featured Gene Simmons, co-founder of the iconic rock group Kiss, as a special guest. In 2014, the event will move to the 3,933-room Bellagio Las Vegas, a AAA Five Diamond award-winning hotel.
This year the Tower suites and spas at Wynn and Encore received Forbes Five Star awards. Wynn Las Vegas and sister property Encore together offer more than 4,700 guest rooms and 260,000 sf of meeting space. The luxury hotels have 32 F&B outlets boasting two signature chefs, two award-winning spas, an onsite 18-hole golf course, Maserati and Ferrari dealership, 94,000 sf of retail space, two showrooms, three nightclubs, a beach club and more.
Strawn cited two key reasons why her organization keeps the events in Las Vegas. “Las Vegas is an easy city to get to, and our attendance is better in Las Vegas.”
She also plans a Franchise Finance & Growth Conference in Las Vegas each spring that attracts more than 250 attendees. This year, the event is being held at another AAA Five Diamond property, The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, which offers more than 3,000 suites.
“Las Vegas is an easy city to get to, and our attendance is better in Las Vegas.” — Gail Strawn
“We move around to the different hotels to give the conferences a little different feel each time,” Strawn explains. “I have many favorite hotels. Bellagio is wonderful and easy to work with. Also, the Station Casinos (i.e., Red Rock and Green Valley). Each hotel has its benefits.”Jim Ortenzio, general agent for National Life Group headquartered in Montpelier, VT, has held several meetings in Las Vegas for groups ranging in size from 35 to 50 attendees. “They’re incentive and training meetings for our sales organization,” he explains. He has held his events at The Venetian, The Palazzo and The Cosmopolitan.
Ortenzio gave his three top reasons for meeting in Las Vegas: weather, restaurants and attractions. “Weather is self-explanatory. The restaurants are at all of the resorts I mentioned, and you can go into a mall and eat in a Nobu, which I think is very impressive. And then there are the attractions outside of gambling, because we don’t promote the gambling. We promote the shows and the atmosphere that exists in these hotels. The Cosmopolitan had a four-story bar (the Marquee Nightclub) that becomes a dance club. It’s a very social gathering place. What I liked most about The Cosmopolitan is that the footprint is very manageable for a small group. It’s not a sprawling casino.”
While they were at The Cosmopolitan, all of Ortenzio’s attendees had rooms facing the Fountains of Bellagio attraction. “I’m sure I was charged for that, but to be able to look out at the fountain and see a show creates the right environment when people are in their rooms.”
His attendees enjoyed the fountain views so much that he booked his next event at the Bellagio. “I figured I’d up my contributions to these functions by saying, ‘Now you can not only see the fountains, but you are going to be in the place that owns the fountains. The Bellagio comes with the five-star reputation. You don’t have to advertise what that is. People know it.”
He also explains what he likes best about meeting at The Venetian. “It has a great location and the rooms at The Venetian were all suites, so it was an easy sell to my employees. They felt that they had been upgrades, but it was really a standard room.”
Ortenzio books his programs through Lynette Owens & Associates, a site selection and meeting planning firm based in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. “Where needed, Lynette is onsite and where not needed, Lynette makes the arrangements for conference planning and checks in when you’re there and checks in before and after. I’ve been dealing with them for a long time, and they’re great.”
Ortenzio cited one more advantage of meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s easy to commute to. Our people are primarily East Coast, but we have people in the Midwest. There are multiple nonstops. People that need to go out of Philadelphia or the greater New York area have plenty of opportunities.”
In August, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority announced that the Las Vegas Convention Center completed a two-year, $20 million improvement project. Updates to the 3.2-million sf facility include a newly repainted façade (the exterior is now gray instead of mauve), new carpeting and upgraded lighting. Starbucks has expanded its store inside the center and now features the world’s first double-sided counter to speed service. American Express also has established an Open Business Lounge and offers refreshments, free Wi-Fi service, computer and printer access to Open card members.
These improvements will be integrated into the future plans for the Las Vegas Global Business District. According to the LVCVA, the $2.5 billion project “will create an international business destination by incorporating major renovations of the Las Vegas Convention Center, leveraging the World Trade Center designation and developing transportation connectivity through a centralized hub.”
In another first, the LVCVA installed four electric vehicle charging stations at the Las Vegas Convention Center for use by visitors and convention delegates. They were made possible by a $50,000 grant by the Consumer Electronics Association which hosts the Consumer Electronics Show every January at the center. The covered charging stations are provided for meeting and convention attendees as a complimentary service and will be used as a prototype for future stations as demand increases.
The MGM Grand has expanded its “Stay Well” program by dedicating the entire 14th floor of its 5,000-room property to specialized rooms and a lounge designed to enhance guests’ wellness. A total of 171 guest rooms now feature customized lighting that simulates natural daylight, vitamin C-infused shower water and a special coating on bathroom surfaces that breaks down bacteria.
In another unique development, the 1,200-room Palms Casino Resort offers guests a full 24-hour stay no matter what time they check in. When making their reservations, guests simply indicate the time they plan to check in, provide their mobile number, and they will receive a text message one hour before their checkout time.
Planners looking for a more intimate upscale hotel for smaller meetings and receptions will find it at the four-star, four-diamond Vdara Hotel & Spa, located adjacent to Bellagio and Aria Resort & Casino. Last fall Vdara unveiled Silk Road, a 6,500-sf, naturally lit space with floor-to-ceiling windows, foyer, prefunction area and breakout room.
There’s never a shortage of entertainment for attendees to enjoy during their downtime. One of the world’s most iconic rock bands, Guns N’ Roses will return to Las Vegas to complete their second residency from May 21 through June 7. Titled “No Trickery! An Evening of Destruction,” the performances will take place at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
“Jubilee!,” the longest-running show on the Las Vegas Strip, reopened at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in March after undergoing a major transformation. The new show still reflects the original production’s spirit, but the choreography, staging and music have been refreshed for today’s audiences.
A new show named “Panda!” has made its world premiere at The Venetian and The Palazzo. It features a combination of acrobatics, martial arts, music and dance.
Wynn Las Vegas’ “Le Rêve: The Dream” is offering backstage tours and a special “Diver’s Dream” package for guests who are scuba certified. Guests are able to go behind the scenes of the show and see all of the props and special features that take place backstage. Also, those who take part in the diver’s dream package are able to be in the water during an actual performance of Le Rêve to see all the magic underwater.
“O” by Cirque du Soleil has unveiled seven new VIP suites at its theater at the Bellagio. Guests reserving one of these unique, opera house-style suites will enjoy a bottle of champagne or wine, chocolate truffles and the services of a private cocktail server.
Olivia Newton-John launched her “Summer Nights” residency at Flamingo Las Vegas on April 8. The singer, actress, songwriter will take guests on a musical journey through her life and music career.
Among unusual and impressionable venues is The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, which opened in 2012. The facility presents an entertaining and highly authentic perspective on the history of organized crime figures such as Bugsy Siegel. The Mob Museum can accommodate groups from 16 to 400 attendees in the various rooms of the museum including the Courtroom, the Board Room and a complete museum buyout. The museum also offers a teambuilding scavenger hunt activity for groups.
Those looking for more of an artistic experience can head to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art to view its newest exhibition, “Painting Women: Works from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.” The show’s 34 paintings from the 18th through 20th centuries will be on display through October 26.
MGM Resorts and AEG have unveiled plans to construct a $350 million, 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts. Groundbreaking is expected to occur this spring with an anticipated opening date of 2016. The facility is being designed to meet LEED Gold Certification standards.
The ever-changing entertainment scene coupled with continual new development certainly entitles Las Vegas to share New York City’s motto as the city that never sleeps. Most important, it guarantees a new experience no matter how many times planners choose it. I&FMM