When it comes to selecting the ideal recurring meeting location for a major trade show and convention, Las Vegas is a no-brainer. After all, they have a wide variety of dining, entertainment and activities to keep attendees engaged year after year.
Just ask Patti Rouzie, vice president of membership and meetings for the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA). “When we look at destinations that can host us, Las Vegas has the largest selection of hotels with the meeting space we need,” Rouzie says. “And it offers so much for attendees — whether it’s entertainment, walking the Strip, great food — and it caters to many different levels of spend. It’s a great destination for conventions.”
The NBWA has held its annual convention at Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel & Casino since 2009, attracting up to 3,700 attendees. With the pandemic cancelling the event for 2020, the NBWA was determined to move forward with its 84th annual Convention and Trade Show this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the event, which took place in late fall, was touch-and-go at several points. “We were full-steam ahead for this year, and then the Delta variant hit in June, and people started to get nervous,” Rouzie says. “But I would get a call every week from Don Ross, vice president of meeting operations at Caesars, and Janell Favaloro, senior catering and convention service manager, telling us what the hotel was doing and helping us through the decision process. The partnership and the continued communication helped NBWA feel confident as we moved forward. In the end, given the protocols we developed, the city’s protocols, and what was in place at Caesars, it was the right thing to do.” She adds, “People wanted to say ‘Hello’ again — they really wanted to be together.”
Rouzie says the association has kept its show under one roof for many years to help foster a more intimate atmosphere. Although attendance dropped to just more than 2,200 this year, Caesars Palace remained an ideal fit for the NBWA. “Caesars Palace has 300,000 sf of meeting space, which allows NBWA the space we need for our events, as well as for other partners that may meet with us,” Rouzie says. She calls the Caesars team second to none. “Because of our long partnership, they are able to anticipate our needs. Once we made the decision to move forward, the team at Caesars took over.”
NBWA’s attendees were required to show proof of vaccination, along with their ID, before arriving at the registration desk. Attendees who had not been vaccinated needed to have a negative COVID-19 test, performed within three days of arrival, and NBWA offered rapid testing on-site throughout the three-day event. “You could not get to our registration desk without passing a checkpoint,” Rouzie says. “We tested about 80 attendees on-site at registration, but we also made testing available for anyone who wanted it, until the end if the event.” The show concluded with no positive tests recorded. She continues, “The Garden of the Gods pool is large enough for our welcome reception, and this year we wanted to be outside and take advantage of that; it’s a perfect reception location,” Rouzie says. “Depending on the hotel tower guests are staying in, there can be a little more of a walk, but really, no one is more than about a five-minute walk to the pool. It’s a great option for an outdoor event.”
Rouzie says Caesars understands NBWA’s priorities for the show floor, which might feature up to 30 different breweries showcasing 10 or more products each — and all of it needs to be kept ice cold. “They’re not only carrying Bud or Miller Light, but every craft beer,” Rouzie says. “They rep breweries from across the country, and there can be over 750 cases of beer with hundreds of different products in all. There are several properties on the Strip that could handle our meeting, but we have been working with some of the Caesars staff for years, and they understand what’s really important to us. Plus, we’re the biggest group in the house, and we’re not competing with another one. At another property, we might be one of two or three large meetings.”
This past summer, Caesars Palace embarked on a multimillion-dollar renovation of its original main entrance, including the resort’s main casino and porte cochère, with redesigned gaming areas and a new lobby bar. The project is expected to be completed by the end of this year. And Caesars’ 8-year-old, hotel-within-a-hotel, Nobu, launched a remodel for all of its 182 guest rooms and public areas to create a more modern, residential feel for the guest experience. That project is also expected to be finished by the end of the year.
A number of large groups returned to business in Nevada during the last few months, including Las Vegas-based Viticus Group, which has been hosting its annual WVC Conference at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for 18 years. This year’s event was originally scheduled for late winter, but was moved to mid fall. Despite the lingering pandemic, the conference still drew 8,231 attendees. “We love the location of the Mandalay Bay, as it is close to the airport, and just 10 minutes from our training facilities,” says Andrea Davis, CEO of Viticus Group, which offers continuing education for veterinarians. “The Mandalay Bay is one of the few properties in town that is able to accommodate a group our size. Also, we really enjoy the relationships we develop with the Mandalay Bay teams — they are always top notch and helpful.”
Davis cites a number of people that stood out during planning. “There are too many to mention, but we are especially grateful for our partnerships
. . . The hotel does a great job, and we have a long-standing relationship with them,” says Davis. She adds that Mandalay Bay’s layout is very easy to navigate, and the facility offers excellent space for signage and advertising. Rooms are centrally located, and Davis finds it easy to move from Mandalay Bay to the Four Seasons Las Vegas or Delano Las Vegas in the same complex, with cool entertainment venues nearby. “For the first time ever, we hosted a concert at the Mandalay Bay Beach,” she says. “It was an awesome event. There were some limitations around stage size, so this limited us a bit with performers, but it all worked out fine. The sponsors loved it so much they are planning to do it again next year.”
Davis suggests that, although Las Vegas has fine weather most of the year, planners may want to consider a back-up plan for the occasional bad weather. As for holding an event during a moment when the pandemic was easing, Davis says Viticus Group received excellent feedback regarding the safety of the event. “The primary reasons appeared to be the thermal-scanning stations we had set-up around the entrances, and the fact we had our contract security team remind people they had to wear their masks since masks were still state-mandated at the time of our event. Overall, people were very compliant with the rules, and we appreciate having the additional safety glass and servers where necessary.”
Several comments Davis made are worth noting for planners considering Las Vegas or Mandalay Bay. “Make sure you have enough coffee stations available — even with a fee — as the line for Starbucks during peak times is 30-plus minutes,” Davis says. “Las Vegas continues to have issues with Uber and Lyft ride-share services, so make sure you are prepared with transportation. It’s one more reason to try to keep events at the property.” But Davis reiterates how grateful Viticus Group is for how well Mandalay Bay handled its conference, “during such extraordinary times,” she adds. “We didn’t hesitate to extend our agreement to 2026.”
Another planner with an affinity for one Las Vegas property in particular is Michael Grant, senior vice president, operations group at RX Global. “We are a significant annual user of the Venetian, with four annual trade shows,” says Grant, who adds that the group is contracted for multiple years. “It’s a high-end, integrated resort with an attached exhibition hall offering a very convenient and elegant destination to host our events. It is truly a city in itself in the center of the Las Vegas Strip.”
Grant says The Venetian Resort Las Vegas was “incredibly flexible” in helping RX Global adjust its 2021 shows to more favorable dates as the destination started to reopen. The Global Gaming Expo took place in mid fall, and attracted 15,000 attendees. “As a Four Diamond resort, the price point might not be for all our attendees and customers, but the Venetian truly offers a prestigious experience, and serves as a draw for most of our guests,” Grant says. “As an integrated resort with an attached exhibition hall, the Venetian is amazingly convenient for networking, receptions and hosted events for our show — all under one roof. They have a superior room product with dozens of great restaurants and bars, as well as entertainment.” And, considering the room product, restaurants and networking opportunities, Grant adds that the package enhances interest for prospective attendees. “It really becomes a marketing draw.”
Grant cautions that the Venetian/Palazzo complex is so large, that an appreciation for the layout and options is essential to ensure a good fit for your group’s needs. “They offer a variety of spaces, including carpeted ballroom space and exhibition halls over five levels,” he says. “There are outdoor pool decks, leased restaurants and other unique function spaces. Familiarize yourself with this extensive property when deciding on spaces, functions and needs.” He also suggests that the sheer amount of exhibition space connected to two hotel towers with 7,000 sleeping rooms on one property presents a “hybrid” contracting element where space and rooms are considered in totality. “It’s important to understand that the more space one requires comes with commensurate room commitments.” Grant adds, “The Venetian is incredibly popular and, as such, optimal dates are a commodity. Allowing for as much advance planning as possible is critical to securing the space and dates you want.”
This past summer brought two important new assets to Las Vegas: the debut of the long-planned, $4.3 billion Resorts World complex, and the opening of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s (LVCC) new $989 million, 1.4 million-sf West Hall expansion. The LVCC’s West Hall features a more contemporary design, with ample natural light and 600,000 sf of exhibition space, including 328,000 sf of column-free space — the largest such exhibition space in North America. An open-air atrium features a 10,000-sf digital screen, the largest digital experience in a convention center in the U.S., and West Hall’s 14,000-sf terrace can hold receptions with up to 2,000 attendees, with views of the Las Vegas Strip.
Informa Markets’ World of Concrete was the first to use the expansion in June, while the following month saw the Association of Woodworking & Furniture Suppliers hold its AWFS Fair at West Hall. The largest woodworking event in North America is held in odd years, and Kim Roehricht, trade show director/assistant executive director, AWFS Fair/AWFS, says, despite many sleepless nights of planning, the organization was grateful to be able to pull off a successful live event in 2021. “We know how fortunate we are, and we also know that not every in-person event has been this fortunate,” Roehricht says. “The newly opened West Hall of the LVCC is an incredible building. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to have a fully produced live event in this venue.” Roehricht continues: “With all new buildings, site visits are important, and in this case we did many, and attended shows that were happening in the building. We wanted to review all aspects of the attendee experience: ease of flow in the building, food, restroom locations, Wi-Fi and cellular capabilities, transportation, lighting, staffing — all of it. These visits and shows were extremely valuable to us for overall planning.”
Planning for AWFS Fair started months before the pandemic rocked the trade show sector, meaning Roehricht and her team were confronting a landscape that shifted regularly. “We put the safety of everyone top-of-mind in every detail of planning,” Roehricht says. “Ultimately, we are the hosts of this event, and our attendees’ safety is the most important priority — and truly nothing else comes close. Adding to the challenge, Las Vegas and Nevada mandates were changing, and rumors of them changing pre-show and while on-site during set up kept us vigilant in each moment.”
AWFS Fair 2021 chose the Las Vegas Hilton at Resorts World as its headquarters hotel. “It’s a short walk to the West Hall of the LVCC,” says Roehricht, who adds the show drew almost 10,000 participants this year. “Resorts World is new and exciting, and delegates that chose to stay here were happy with their experience. A huge draw for our group is that Resorts World honors and awards Hilton points.” Resorts World, which opened in early summer, represents the first ground-up resort development on the Las Vegas Strip in more than a decade, and the largest multibrand deal in Hilton’s history. The Las Vegas Hilton at Resorts World has 1,774 rooms, while the Conrad Las Vegas offers 1,496 contemporary rooms and suites starting at 550 sf and featuring deluxe amenities. The third brand, Crockfords Las Vegas, LXR Hotels & Resorts, has a collection of 236 “ultra-luxury” guest rooms, and highly personalized service is highlighted. The Resorts World complex includes 250,000 sf of flexible meeting and banquet space, including a 23,000-sf, Strip-facing ballroom and terrace with floor-to-ceiling windows, but it’s just a 10-minute walk from the hotel entrance to the LVCC, making it the closest Strip property to the LVCC’s West Hall.
The National Property Management Association (NPMA) was also working on its 2021 National Education Seminar prior to the pandemic, signing a contract in September 2019 to use the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino. For Tara Zeravsky, senior association manager at Meeting Expectations, overseeing the planning, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) was “super easy” to work with. “The process was very smooth, the space was amazing, and the opportunities for attendees in Reno was a perfect fit,” Zeravsky says. “The service that Jen Sanford [executive director for NPMA) and William Franklin [president of NPMA] experienced throughout the process was excellent. Working with the RSCVA and its sales department was extremely smooth — everything the client needed, the group worked to make it happen.”
The 1,621-room Peppermill is a longstanding favorite for meeting planners, offering 106,000 sf of total meeting space, including the 62,790-sf Tuscany Ballroom, which has a 32-foot ceiling and offers drive-in docks. NPMA used the ballroom for all its functions, including a general session, exhibit area and breakouts, save for one off-property event on closing night, held at Reno’s National Automobile Museum, where attendees could mingle with docents amid the dazzling car collection.
NPMA’s annual meeting typically draws 600 to 800 attendees, but with the pandemic curtailing many government employees from attending, in mid summer, just two months prior to the convention, NPMA opted to go with a hybrid format for the educational content. Zeravsky notes this was the group’s first hybrid event, and she was concerned with using an untested A/V team. “I was very hesitant in going in with A/V on-site,” Zeravsky says. “Typically, I like to bring in my own A/V team, but the Peppermill understood our concerns. [T]he assistant director of tech services with the A/V department, and his whole team helped us so much, and their pricing was some of the most reasonable we’ve ever seen. They did a great job.”
In the end, the seminar drew 214 in-person attendees and 166 virtual attendees. “The sales department was great to work with on attrition, helping us to have the best conference we could have given the reduced attendance,” Zeravsky says. “Our convention services managers . . . were also very responsive to requests. And the food at Peppermill is amazing, even the banquet food. You never hear people say banquet food is great, but we had a lot of compliments about it.”
The 2021 National Education Seminar was successful enough that NPMA signed a contract to return to Peppermill in 2024. “The quality of support that we received while we were there means, going into 2024, this is who we’re going to use,” Zeravsky says. “I won’t have to go through the whole RFP process again.” | AC&F |