Sitting at the top of the list as the most popular meeting and convention destination in the U.S., Las Vegas caters to groups both large and small, with some of the world’s biggest and most prominent meetings, trade shows and business conferences returning annually.
The unrivaled amount of meeting space in casino resorts and convention centers, the solid air accessibility from points across North America and beyond, and sizzling entertainment options, make Las Vegas a destination that drives attendance.
Lauren Andrews, vice president of Atlanta-based Meeting Expectations, says Las Vegas has two key elements that always make it a top contender in site selection: A wealth of event facilities and the destination’s draw for attendees. “They want to go to events there,” Andrews says. “The glitz and glam of this city encourages attendees to come in early or stay late to enjoy gambling, sportsbooks, shopping, dining, shows, trips to the Grand Canyon and more.”
Additionally, Andrews notes that the cost of hosting in Las Vegas is advantageous. “Typically, sleeping room rates Sunday through Thursday are below other major first-tier cities. The hotels offer substantial meeting space, including exhibit halls that accommodate groups of 3,000 people, avoiding the need to secure a standalone convention center like you would need in many other major cities.”
For her clients, such as Inspire Brands, the holding company behind the Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins brands, this means the majority of the time rental is waived with a certain food and beverage commitment, reducing overall costs. The 2022 Dunkin’ Brands Global Convention is projected to draw 3,000 attendees later this year to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and Delano Las Vegas resorts, both part of MGM Resorts. Mandalay Bay offers the fifth-largest convention center in the U.S., with 2.1 million sf of meeting and exhibit space. The client had already chosen the location for the Dunkin’ event when Meeting Expectations was brought in to handle meeting management services.
“Along with our other Etherio Group brands, MeetingAdvice and GMI, we have managed dozens of events at Mandalay Bay, so we have established close working relationships with their internal events team,” Andrews says. “Our events management team knows we can always count on them to be strong partners in the execution of our clients’ events. Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins showcase more than 100 culinary items, which requires extensive flexibility from the venue. We’ve partnered with the hotel to identify and secure the needed kitchen space, wet and cold storage, dock space, custom-built freezers for the show floor and other related items to ensure our culinary showcase is a major success.” She adds, “Mandalay Bay and Delano are a great package for a variety of reasons. The sleeping rooms, meeting space and unique evening event space are all located on-site. This makes a planner’s job easier since he or she coordinates details with one venue, rather than multiple. Also, the overall cost of hosting an event in Las Vegas is advantageous. For an event of our size outside of Las Vegas, we could spend over $50,000 just for meeting room rental. At Mandalay Bay, the rental is waived due to our F&B spend.”
Plus, Andrews is counting on MGM Resorts Events to help develop, or bring to life, the creative solutions needed for her client. Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins will bring in a considerable amount of their own food and beverage, and more than 100 custom-made items will be served in the pre-function space, on the show floor during culinary showcases and within exhibitor’s booths. The chefs will need access to loading docks, custom-build kitchens on the show floor, and they’ll bring in water filtration for the coffee.
“This is not a small undertaking,” Andrews says. “We appreciate the flexibility and partnership Mandalay Bay offers each of our clients.” Andrews also notes that Mandalay Bay has a variety of “wow” experiences to leverage during an event, including The LIGHT Vegas Nightclub, which has massive LED screens to offer guests differing experiences; the House of Blues Las Vegas concert venue; the show Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil; Shark Reef Aquarium and more.
Andrews suggests a few considerations to take into account when planning a Las Vegas event: “Factor in 10 to 15 minutes to walk from your sleeping room to the meeting space,” she says. “Send email reminders or push notifications to attendees in the morning to not forget their badge or other important items in their sleeping room — cell phone, laptop, etc. — unless they want to get their steps in for the day. Also, in Las Vegas, the sleeping room rates change daily, with rates higher on Fridays and Saturdays due to the large leisure demand. Rates are lower traditionally on Sundays, but may increase during the week, pending groups in-house or other events in the city that particular week. And don’t forget about the high resort fees that will be added on your group rate. Some are over $40 per day, so this is important to factor in when comparing rates city to city.”
Las Vegas ceaselessly reinvents itself with fortitude, and never more than during the months following the worst of the pandemic. Planners who haven’t been to the city since 2019 will find a destination revitalized.
The $989 million, 1.4 million-sf West Hall expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) has been open a year now, featuring 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 toward the Las Vegas Strip.
Last year also saw the debut of the long-planned, $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas complex, located within walking distance of the West Hall. Resorts World 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; the Conrad Las Vegas offers 1,496 contemporary rooms and suites; and Crockfords Las Vegas, LXR Hotels & Resorts, has a collection of 236 “ultra-luxury” guest rooms. 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. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the hotel entrance to the LVCC, making it the closest Strip property to the West Hall for now.
Resorts World recently unveiled its Las Vegas Convention Center Loop passenger station, providing direct underground access to the LVCC’s North and South halls within minutes in all-electric Teslas. Additional stations are planned by the Boring Company, “when development efforts move forward” on the proposed transportation system, with 55 stops anticipated to eventually form the Vegas Loop through the resort corridor.
Looking ahead to late 2023, probably the biggest project set to open its doors will be the long-awaited, 67-story Fontainebleau Las Vegas. The project, on prized property neighboring the West Hall expansion, had its groundbreaking in 2007. But in 2009, when the building was about 75% complete, the global downturn shut down construction. Last year, Fontainebleau Development and Koch Real Estate Investments returned to complete the idled project.
Tony Yousfi, senior vice president of sales, catering and events, says the resort will take full advantage of its location and upward-thinking design. “Our position on the Strip allows seamless access between Fontainebleau Las Vegas and the expanded LVCC, and we are able to accommodate conventions and conferences with multiple levels and multiple, customizable, indoor and outdoor spaces,” Yousfi says. “Our design makes it easier to navigate to the Fontainebleau Conference Center — multiple levels help ensure that events don’t overlap, and guest elevators take guests directly to the meeting floors. Critically important to planners, we have an in-house team that handles every aspect of the planning and booking process. This means organizers do not have to go through multiple venues or contacts when booking their experience.”
With more than 550,000 sf of customizable indoor and outdoor space across five levels, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer infinite configurations and the most advanced digital amenities in the market. “We have put tremendous focus on design features that allow for multiple interior and exterior branding opportunities, touchscreen technologies, and next-level audio and visual tools supported by dedicated and experienced in-house experts,” Yousfi says. “Fontainebleau Las Vegas will introduce a new brand of hospitality to the Las Vegas Strip, built upon more than five decades of classic beauty and unparalleled service. While we have not yet announced specifics with regard to our offerings — dining, retail, etc. — we are developing a balance of features that takes full advantage of our one-of-a-kind vertical design, our indoor-outdoor flexibility and our reputation for unrivaled luxury.”
Undeniably, Las Vegas sets the standard in hospitality and entertainment, says Patty Kindness, regional director of sales, Las Vegas and Southern California region at PRA. No doubt one of the reasons Las Vegas checks all the boxes for Kindness is the community’s ability to turn on a dime, as she learned for a corporate client’s event she planned for 575 attendees that took place in the summer. “The event was decided upon in April, with only 2-1/2 months to plan. With national hotel demand at an all-time high emerging from the pandemic, and only limited supply, Las Vegas was able to accommodate the event at the five-star Wynn Las Vegas.” She continues, “Wynn Las Vegas boasts 560,000 sf of conference space, complete with turnkey conference services,” Kindness says. “With its world-renowned fine dining, nightclubs and event space, the property was a determining factor for a client’s high-touch event. Challenges mostly stemmed from the short booking and planning window, but the hotel was very accommodating, and the support of PRA’s team made the process seamless and laid the foundation for a memorable experience for the guests.”
The event did incorporate a number of off-site activities, and Kindness says finding suitable diversions can be difficult in the heat of the Las Vegas summer. “Keeping guests comfortable while taking them off-site was integral to the success of event,” she says. “The activities we landed on were held both on- and off-site and included Topgolf, go karting, Meow Wolf at AREA15, as well as a CSR activity of Hearts Hero’s on-site at Wynn, where participants made superhero capes and care packages for local children’s hospitals. The first evening was held on-site at the XS Nightclub, transforming the nightclub space into a cabaret lounge with a distinct art-deco theme.” She continues, “Two additional evenings were held at Skyfall at Delano with a James Bond, 007 theme complete with Bond girls and villains and a Sean Connery impersonator. The event concluded on a high with the final evening at OMNIA at Caesars Palace. The impressive interactive chandelier and silk aerial performers surprised and delighted the audience.”
Existing properties are hardly resting on their laurels. Caesars Palace has launched a multimillion-dollar renovation of the original main entrance, main casino and porte-cochère to create an extravagant entryway, redesigned gaming areas and a new lobby bar. The main entrance to the property is being entirely rebuilt from the ground up, resulting in an arrival experience fit for a Caesar, matching the glamour of the property’s hotel lobby. Once completed, guests will be welcomed by a soaring dome and barreled ceiling over a 15-foot statue of Augustus Caesar. Most of the project is set to wrap up by New Year’s Eve. Also coming to Caesars: Stanton Social Prime, from Chef Chris Santos, a new dining concept set to open this winter adjacent to OMNIA Las Vegas Nightclub. This new restaurant will feature iconic menu items from the original Stanton Social restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side, known for its spectacular sharable dishes featuring prime meats.
Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa in neighboring Summerlin, announced plans to elevate its dining scene, entertainment offerings and gaming experiences with all-new additions to the resort. New concepts underway include the famed Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam, an all-new Greek restaurant, Naxos Taverna, and an oyster bar, as well as a cocktail lounge and adult-only pool. Located on the north side of the resort, the new restaurants will converge to create a dynamic addition to the resort’s restaurant row. Red Rock features a dedicated conference center that included five ballrooms and 15 breakout rooms — 100,000 sf of indoor-outdoor meeting space in all.
The aforementioned Wynn is another Strip icon wrapping up a series of upgrades. Just recently, a new room concept across Wynn Las Vegas and Wynn Tower Suites was completed. The project was the largest and most extensive design evolution ever made to the tower’s 2,674 guest rooms, suites, elevator lobbies and resort tower corridors. The new rooms feature new furniture, fixtures, lighting and artwork, and are intended to provide guests with a sense of escapism. Washrooms have been reconfigured, dressing areas are expanded, and power and data ports, and touchless in-room technologies, have been added. In 2020, Wynn opened a new 430,000-sf meeting and convention expansion, more than doubling the space at Wynn and Encore. And last year, it was curtains up for two new dining venues: A modern day supper club, Delilah at Wynn Las Vegas, inspired by 1950s showrooms and supper clubs of Las Vegas, and Casa Playa, a coastal Mexican concept located adjacent to the Encore Beach Club.
Planners looking for an upscale setting with a central Strip location may want to consider MGM’s ARIA Resort & Casino, as did Toni M. Ebra, director of operations for Educational Symposia. The medical education company provides physicians and health-care workers with symposia to meet continuing educational requirements. The company’s meetings are held around the country, but for the annual Practical Approach to Surgical Pathology held in mid-spring, she looked to Las Vegas, where she has conducted many previous events. “Las Vegas is always a draw for this group of physicians,” says Ebra, who uses only a destination’s top hotels. “There is something for everyone — shows, food, nightlife and an easy in/out airport with plenty of flights. ARIA has a great location being in the center of the Strip, and as one of the top-tier Strip properties, we use this hotel often.” Ebra notes that her groups require a ceiling height of at least 14 feet. “This can be difficult ask for a group of less than 100, but ARIA has spacious meeting rooms with high ceilings and great acoustics — it’s perfect for medical education.”
Although Ebra is a regular in Las Vegas, she has experienced challenges on the back side of the pandemic. “Don’t expect a pre-pandemic experience,” she says. “We had a cocktail hour for the speakers, and it was very hard to find a bar or restaurant that would accommodate 10 people on a Friday night. Real estate and staff is still limited, and you’ll have to pay a premium for what is up and running. I think hotels are still struggling to get their footing — service and staffing levels are not what they were.”
Jeannine Mason, director of marketing communications for Quidel Corporation, says she experienced no problems planning a mid-spring event, also held at ARIA. “It was the perfect venue, and we look forward to returning for future events,” Mason says. “We had attendees arriving from all over the U.S., as well as international, and the location of ARIA made for easy transfers from the Las Vegas airport.”
Quidel Corporation, a San Diego-based diagnostic health-care manufacturer, used the conference facilities at ARIA for its annual sales meeting. “It’s a large conference center with many meeting room options, which easily accommodated our group,” Mason says. “Working with the MGM Events team afforded our group limitless options for décor. Their extensive warehouse provided us incredible inspiration and unique options to decorate the venue specifically for our event and bring the vision of our meeting to life.”
Mason calls the accommodations at ARIA first-class, and the hotel offered spa and restaurant options for the group to enjoy when meeting activities concluded. “The advantage of working with ARIA is the wide range of restaurants and entertainment options right inside the resort. We were able to take over the Jewel nightclub one evening and host a fantastic party with fine food, a comedian for opening entertainment and a live DJ — all coordinated by the great ARIA staff.” Mason continues, “In addition to the many attractions within ARIA, we were able to take advantage of others around Las Vegas, including golf, hiking, horseback riding, helicopter tours and fine dining all over the city. We offered our guests a menu of activities to choose from, and all came back raving about their experiences.”
Las Vegas truly is the destination with something for every meeting planner and attendee. As Ebra notes: “You can’t beat the physical meeting space in Las Vegas — it was built to hold meetings.” C&IT