Catering to nearly 22,000 meetings annually that draw anywhere from a few dozen attendees to the more than 165,000 who attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) each January, it probably comes as no surprise that Las Vegas was recently named World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination for 2017 by the World Travel Awards — for the fifth year in a row.
Home to three of the country’s 10 largest convention venues and almost 150,000 hotel rooms, the city is built to host. In 2016, Las Vegas welcomed more than 6.3 million meeting and convention attendees. And 2017 is on track to be even bigger, with convention visitor numbers up 5.1 percent for the first 10 months of the year.
But Las Vegas is also designed to entertain, and it’s a winner for delegates, according to Jill Leimbach, director of meetings for the National Association of Credit Management (NACM).
“Las Vegas is typically a popular location for our delegates,” says Leimbach. “Our overall attendance numbers tend to be a little higher when Las Vegas is the host city. It’s also a more expensive location for our association, compared to other destinations. So, for us, we need the extra boost in attendance numbers to be able to afford the higher F&B and AV price tags.”
Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, NACM supports more than 14,000 business credit and financial professionals worldwide. The organization’s annual Credit Congress & Exposition is the largest gathering of credit professionals. For its 120th conference, the group chose Caesars Palace Las Vegas, the hotel that ranked No.14 on Cvent’s 2017 list of the 100 top meeting hotels in the U.S. NACM’s June 2016 conference drew 1,600 attendees.
“We chose Caesars Palace because it was a ‘new’ property for our group,” explains Leimbach. “We met at the Rio Hotel in 2010 and 2013, and our delegates were asking to be back on The Strip. We have a good working relationship with the Caesars family of properties, so we began exploring the possibility of Caesars Palace, and the hotel had ample meeting space to accommodate both our meeting and expo.
“We have been fortunate to work with the same group reservations (housing) coordinator multiple times. Even though we’ve met in different Caesars properties, we were able to request the same contact. It was a win-win for both the hotel and my team, as she is familiar with our group, and we are comfortable with her.”
That team familiarity was important to Leimbach, who notes that almost any venue can present unexpected challenges.
“Even if you have been to a property before and you think you know everything that could be problematic, there is always something unanticipated. Hotels change their rules and policies all the time — it’s important to read and/or re-read the convention services guidelines before you start the contracting process. That way you can discuss and negotiate up front. It’s tough when you ‘don’t know what you don’t know,’ and then it’s too late to work with the hotel on a particular issue.”
All of the NACM meetings and expo could be contained at the Caesars property. The resort offers 300,000 sf of meeting space, including four ballrooms ranging up to the 51,000-sf, pillarless Octavius and Forum Ballrooms, each of which can accommodate as many as 5,555 guests and can be reconfigured into up to 25 separate breakout rooms.
Caesars Palace completed a $100 million renovation of its Palace Tower in fall 2017, the resort’s largest building featuring 1,181 guest rooms and suites. The tower’s 29th floor offers 10 villas ranging up to 4,085 sf, each appointed with more than $1 million in furniture and décor. The Palace Tower renovation is the most recent in a series of new or renovated rooms at Caesars Palace within the past six years, leaving 90 percent of the resort’s room product new or remodeled. This includes redesigns of the Octavius, Julius and Augustus towers, and a total investment of nearly $1 billion.
Leimbach flagged a few issues for planners to be aware of, both at Caesars Palace and in Las Vegas in general.
“Because Caesars Palace is such a large property, it’s important to request sleeping rooms in the towers closest to the meeting space. This is especially important for your staff members,” she added.
“And note that the hotel charges an early check-in fee for guests checking in before the standard time, 4 p.m. — even if the sleeping room is clean, ready and available. This can create a huge bottleneck at the hotel registration desk at 4 p.m. on your peak check-in day. Talk with the hotel about flexibility for check-in days.”
Not surprisingly, resort fees remain a thorny issue.
“It’s one of the biggest challenges with all Las Vegas properties,” says Leimbach. “Resort fees are an added cost that can tip the affordability scale for our members. Being a financial organization, travel costs are extremely important to our group, and sometimes the added resort fee can be the deal breaker.”
Like others, Leimbach recommends working with the team at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) early on.
“Reach out to them, even if you have held events in Las Vegas before and you do not feel you need assistance from a CVB. They can be a great resource.”
Renee Black, principal and senior event producer, planit inc., says Las Vegas is a draw for her clients as well. For the national conference and expo for TD Ameritrade Investools in August 2017, Black worked with MGM Resorts, placing the 1,200-attendee group at the MGM Grand and adjacent Signature at MGM Grand.
“Las Vegas is a very popular destination for this particular group of clients, based on surveys that have been conducted over multiple years,” suggests Black. “Lift and proximity of airport to the conference hotel is perfect for the attendee who is looking to maximize their time and ease of getting to and from airport to hotel room. And MGM is a draw in itself with all of its options at every price point.”
In addition to accommodations at the bustling 4,996-room MGM Grand, The Signature at MGM Grand next door is a great overflow option. Situated in three standalone towers, the hotel offers 1,728 all-suite rooms and a non-smoking, casino-free environment. While The Signature has just 5,000 sf of meeting space, the property is connected to MGM Grand by private walkway, where 600,000 sf of convention space is available.
“Some of our attendees mention how far the MGM convention center space is from the hotel room in walking distance,” says Black, who notes that about 75 percent of her delegates were over 45 years of age, and some of the older attendees require motorized scooters. “But we don’t see this challenge as a fierce one since most people are now looking to get their steps in with their Fitbit. Make it an attendee contest and bring a wellness initiative into play.
“The convention center we used is MGM’s, and it’s attached to the hotel. The massive square footage on the first floor with wide open prefunction space offers multiple options for meeting space needs, food and beverage displays, and an attractive registration area with enough room for foot traffic and little congestion. We have been at the MGM multiple times over the years as meeting planners, and the space is very accommodating — one of the best layouts of any domestic property. The service and the food have always been excellent, and how they utilize their banquet capabilities to create custom menus is a strong point, too.”
Black calls the MGM team “amazing,” and says she could count on all conference objectives and goals to be understood by the MGM team.
“I always felt like we were being listened to, and not told how things were going to go,” adds Black. “I share with all of our clients how impressed I am with MGM, and we love going there every opportunity we can. In particular, Zack Lucevic and Lynda Posgay are hands down the best in the business. I cannot say enough how Lynda is a true professional in every aspect and is pure magic on a program. We can’t thank her enough for her dedication to the client.”
One unique challenge that Black and MGM finessed was coordinating with another major event.
“The day of setup for us was also the day of the Mayweather-McGregor fight,” explains Black. “All kinds of interesting elements came into play, but MGM helped us maneuver through some security, logistics and hotel lodging matters with ease.”
MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas footprint is substantial, encompassing 13 different properties on The Strip, at all price points. Among the company’s projects, Luxor Hotel and Casino recently unveiled the first of its newly remodeled accommodations as the hotel continues the redesign of more than 1,700 hotel rooms in its East and West towers, expected to wrap up this spring. The rooms are inspired by the iconic Luxor’s unique geometric form and feature a crisp, natural color palette and modern, efficient design.
Meanwhile, MGM Resorts is nearing completion on a $450 million project to transform the 21-year-old Monte Carlo Resort and Casino into Park MGM, replete with a brand new 77,000-sf conference facility. Offering both non-traditional spaces and flexible design, Park MGM is designed to fill an unmet need in Las Vegas for small groups, while also offering beautiful spaces for groups up to 5,000 attendees.
The hotel itself will be a two-fer: 2,700 rooms and suites will be part of the Park MGM brand, while 300 rooms will be dedicated to the a boutique concept, NoMad (short for North of Madison). The construction, renovation and rebranding of Park MGM is expected to be completed by mid-2018, with a slew of new restaurants and bars opening as the construction enters its final phases.
Caesars recently announced plans to develop a 550,000-sf conference center in Las Vegas, named Caesars Forum, featuring the two largest pillarless ballrooms in North America. When completed in 2020, it will feature 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, equivalent to more than five football fields, and will be located east of the Las Vegas Strip with bridge connections to Harrah’s, Linq and the Linq Promenade.
The JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa is investing millions of dollars in renovations, and last summer revealed two unique spaces. The Palms Executive Conference Center offers more than 15,000 sf of customizable indoor/outdoor and prefunction space with natural light, including the Parian Room, which can accommodate 50–200 guests, and nine breakout rooms to house 10–100 guests. Just off the casino floor, Cascade provides more than 10,000 sf of indoor/outdoor space with an open floorplan and modern design.
The Strip’s most storied property, the Flamingo Las Vegas, has completed a $6.5 million meeting space renovation, which began in April 2017. A $90 million renovation of 1,270 guest rooms began in August, with completion scheduled for the second quarter of 2018. Caesars describes the new look as “unique, contemporary and retro-chic designs with accents that celebrate Flamingo’s rich history.” The 70-year-old hotel offers a total of more than 3,500 guest rooms and a 73,000-sf Corporate Convention Center and Executive Conference Center.
Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino just completed a $100 million renovation of its 2,496 rooms. Pairing dynamic entertainment and dining offerings, the renovation comes as the resort celebrates 10 years at the center of the Las Vegas Strip, and represents the first in Caesars Entertainment’s Las Vegas portfolio to have all guest rooms completely renovated as part of a 23,000-room renovation program that will be more than 50 percent complete at the end of 2017.
Earlier this year, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas added almost 18,000 sf of meeting and convention space, bringing the venue to nearly 110,000 sf total. The fully functional Business Center has been relocated, and the Artist Ballroom has been expanded to 28,000 sf with ceiling heights up to 22 feet, allowing for eight separate configurations. The resort has maximized its flexibility for meeting planners to customize events — from large, premium trade shows and corporate gatherings to intimate executive meetings and incentive experiences.
And W Hotels Worldwide has launched its first flag in Sin City, taking one tower of the four-year-old SLS Las Vegas to create a hotel-within-a-hotel, the W Las Vegas. The brand’s signature Living Room greets visitors with a nod to both the desert setting and the location’s historic original incarnation as the Sahara Hotel and Casino, while the 289 guest rooms received a refresh by Philippe Starck in collaboration with designer Gensler. A new, 15,000-sf state-of-the-art meeting and event space opened at the W Las Vegas, supplementing 80,000 sf of flexible meeting space available at the adjacent SLS Las Vegas.
M Resort Spa Casino offers attendees a unique perspective with fabulous views from its elevated location overlooking The Strip. The resort features more than 92,000 sf of open and dynamic meeting space along with multiple reception areas throughout the 90-acre property. Venues include the 25,000-sf M Pavilion; 17,400-sf Milan ballroom; and a boardroom and convenient business center. Additional venues include Lux, set high atop the resort offering 7,200 sf of space; Villaggio Del Sole, the expansive outdoor pool and entertainment piazza; Vue, a multifaceted space with a private outdoor terrace; the Signature Room, as well as seven casino restaurants and five bars.
Heading North by Northwest, Reno, Nevada is affectionately called “the biggest little city in the world,” and with 20,000 hotel rooms competing for business, meeting costs average 30 percent below that of comparable destinations (one key to savings: complimentary airport shuttles serve many downtown Reno properties).
Reno is best known today for the region encompassing Reno-Tahoe, the peerless alpine lake that straddles the border of Nevada and California. Combined, Reno and Tahoe offer a one-two punch for meetings aiming to incorporate spectacular natural surroundings as a backdrop. Within a one-hour drive of Reno you’ll find 18 ski resorts, fishing and boating, and mountain biking and hiking trails.
New this year, the former Siena Hotel alongside the Truckee River has been transformed into the 214-room Renaissance Reno Hotel, the first non-gaming, branded full-service luxury hotel in the city’s history. Following an extensive renovation inside and out, the hotel now features upscale restaurants showcasing local flavors and offers 13,198 sf of event space, composed of eight rooms (the largest has a capacity of 650). A full-service spa, fitness center and pool round out the facilities, targeting both business and leisure guests.
Location is a continuing draw for InterWest Insurance Services, which has held their Spring Sales Exchange for more than 15 years at the 422-room Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino — most recently last June.
“We wanted a destination location without having our employees travel too far,” explains Jennifer Garcia, InterWest’s executive administrative assistant. “Lake Tahoe is easy for everyone to get to — Incline Village is close enough to the Reno Airport for our guest speakers to fly in for our event. And the Hyatt is simply the most beautiful hotel around Lake Tahoe. When you hold an all-day event, nothing is better than taking breaks and walking along the beach or having a barbecue cookout dinner on the lake.”
InterWest held almost all events at the resort’s Lakeside Ballroom, which sits right on the lake and encompasses 65,000 sf of meeting space, almost a third of which is indoors.
“If you can do it, I highly recommend using this space,” says Garcia. “We especially like using it for our reception and dinner. However, the Lakeside Ballroom is not connected to the hotel and it’s a little walk across the street. While this can be a bit of an inconvenience, the hotel does offer a shuttle that will pick up down by the ballroom and drive guests back to the main hotel. There are also several cabins you can reserve near the ballroom.”
Garcia says the Hyatt Regency’s chef is one of her favorites to work with and the kitchen is accommodating with special food requests.
“He is great at understanding any special needs we have and is willing to come up with one or two new items for us, especially as we have used the same menu year after year. We use the onsite Lone Eagle Grille for one of our dinners. The food is delicious, the service is outstanding, and the facilities are always well maintained and clean. Whether having a cocktail on the patio or dinner watching the sunset over Lake Tahoe, you can’t beat the view.
“We use other venues for offsite excursions including golf at some of the local courses, such as Grey’s Crossing, Coyote Moon and the Championship Golf Course, as well as mountain biking, hiking and kayaking adventures through Tahoe Adventures. And there is always the world-class spa at the Hyatt,” Garcia adds.
“But if you’re doing your meeting during spring or summer months, take advantage of what the Hyatt has to offer right on their property — there may be no need to send your guests offsite. But pay attention to the weather reports. The weather can be very unpredictable at times which can quickly turn an outside event indoors. I’ve had to rely on the advice of the staff about moving an event indoors, because the weather changes over the course of a day.”
Garcia offers strong commendation for the Hyatt Regency’s meetings team, including Debbie Christie, director of group sales; Kaylen O’Donnell, event planning manager; Sarahbeth Glenn, marketing and events coordinator; and Lindsay Scholl, sales manager.
“It’s great when people you work with year after year become more like friends. They really understand your business and what you’re trying to accomplish. Their attention to detail and service all contribute to the overall outcome of our event, and we couldn’t do it without them.” I&FMM