When people think about Nevada, their minds often turn to gambling and the big casino resorts with a presence in both Las Vegas and Reno. But both cities offer so much more, and that’s why they are hotbeds for meeting planners who are planning conferences or incentive trips.
Attendees in both cities have the opportunity to see Broadway-quality shows or concerts, eat at top-of-the-line restaurants, enjoy first-class golf courses, and in Las Vegas, even get a chance to take in an NHL or NFL game. Plus, there are opportunities in either city to take on some extra time and take a vacation or overnight trip to Lake Tahoe, the Grand Canyon or the Hoover Dam.
Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are the CEOs and founders of American Meetings Inc. and hosts of “The Destination Everywhere” podcast. Together, they have planned hundreds of events in Las Vegas and Reno over the course of their 30-year careers in the industry. “Neither is a wrong choice: Las Vegas for the amount of choices, Reno for the natural beauty — two very unique and affordable options for clients who want to explore the west,” McNeill says. “Reno offers close access to the mountains, as well as great casinos. Las Vegas is about access to world-class hotels and entertainment.”
Nevada is open for business, but masks are required indoors. For large gatherings, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an order creating a mask exception if all attendees are vaccinated.
Mike Larragueta, vice president of sales for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, notes Reno-Tahoe will work to accommodate attendees’ specific needs and concerns as traditional group business returns. “Meeting planners can plan with confidence with new incentives offered across our convention hotels and facilities, and Reno-Tahoe achieved the GBAC STAR accreditation, which verifies our facilities implement best health and safety practices,” he says. “Following the pandemic, we are now offering meeting planners new incentives, such as no attrition and flexible cancellation policies, and keeping our same great offers, such as 10% commission on group bookings, flexible meeting space, walkability, and plenty of destination attractions and amenities for attendees’ downtime.”
Las Vegas is on every meeting planner’s radar. It has tremendous airlift and, in addition, close proximity of the airport to most of the hotel locations on and off The Strip. Las Vegas includes everything from the seemingly ordinary to those things you’d easily describe as being “Only in Las Vegas.” From shows to gaming, all-you-can-eat buffets, skydiving above Lake Meade, pool parties, concerts and more, you’ll run out of time in the city before you run out of things to do and experience.
Also, most of the hotels are large enough to contain large meetings under one roof, and there is a plethora of dining and entertainment options to appeal to any audience. The city is known for its very large meeting spaces, which is great for large groups that would be “city-wides” in other destinations. Smaller groups benefit when these large groups don’t pick up all of their space, and can find some good short-term deals.
Marla Everett, CMP, CMM, CITP, director, consulting solutions at Event Travel Management, who has planned everything from small incentives up to large 3,000+-person conventions in Las Vegas, says it’s important to understand your audience for a meeting held in the city. “Some organizations appreciate the built-in entertainment, endless dining options, etc., that the Las Vegas Strip offers, and other organizations want their attendees to be focused on content and don’t want to lose their folks to the casino from the meeting room,” she says. “There are off-strip hotels that offer the best of both worlds — close enough to the entertainment, but far enough to focus on the meeting during the day.”
Another thing that Las Vegas does very well is the “VIP” experience, with fleets of cars for VIP transportation, private dining rooms, suite upgrades, etc. “If you have a group that needs some special TLC, Las Vegas has the infrastructure to do it,” Everett says. “Hotels have VIP check-in areas, a multitude of suite upgrade options, and provide car service to and from the airport and area attractions. In addition, many restaurants have private dining options, as well as unique menu options.”
Kim Becker, CMP, DES, MBA, president/owner of Emerald Meeting and Event Planning in Louisville, Kentucky, has planned seven events for seven different clients in Las Vegas pre-pandemic. “The biggest pro is increased attendance from an event-sponsor perspective,” she says. “It’s easy, and offers plenty of airline access, has a range of hotel options, great weather outside of the Nevada summer months, and plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained.” She adds, “From a planner perspective, the extent of professionals to work with in this industry is unparalleled, from convention contractors to A/V and lighting techs, to catering to entertainment. Anything you need, it’s there.”
Bennell LaPorte, global event planner for LaPorte & Company, notes Las Vegas is the type of city where even a small event, with fewer than 50 attendees, can still feel grandiose and opulent. “It’s a city that’s all about flash, glitz and everything over the top,” she says. “My experience planning events in the city has ranged from small professional development trainings for teachers hosted at local schools or hotel ballrooms to multi-day, multi-venue book-tour signings, cocktail hours and receptions that welcomed the who’s who of the city.”
Unlike other cities where the onus of coordinating post-conference activities for attendees falls squarely on the event planner, this is not the case when hosting an event in Las Vegas. “With an overabundance of things to do on the Las Vegas Strip and the surrounding areas of Henderson, Green Valley and Downtown, conference attendees can choose their own adventure, thus taking the pressure off of event planners’ shoulders,” LaPorte says. “The options are endless, and the comfortable price point for most things makes it an easy draw for attendees of all budgets.”
Besides the ample options of hotel conference spaces to choose from, one of the things that makes Las Vegas such a draw is the competitive pricing to be found everywhere. From ballrooms to hotel rooms and featured add-ons that help elevate the overall experience for attendees, LaPorte notes one would be hard pressed to find another location that provides as many options for accommodations and entertainment at a price point that would still allow you to remain at or below budget. Some may call Las Vegas “an acquired taste,” but it’s one that LaPorte thinks should be sampled by all. “For those that have never visited, it can at times feel like this unknown universe they’ve only heard about in passing through stories told by others, while those of us that have either lived there or gone before have an understanding of what makes this place so unique,” she says. “Often imitated but never duplicated, this is a city you need to experience for yourself, because stories simply don’t do it justice.”
And an event planning tip is if you’re running a large-scale event and you run out of hotel rooms in the space where your conference or meeting will be held, it’s not a major inconvenience to add additional hotel room blocks at an adjoining hotel that’s within walking distance of the event space. “What’s amazing about Las Vegas is that each hotel has a unique personality and appeal, so regardless of where you house your attendees, it’ll still feel unique to each and every one,” LaPorte says.
Las Vegas manages to keep reinventing itself, and nothing highlights that more than the latest shiny, new venues, such as Resorts World Las Vegas, which opened in early summer, and Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, which opened in early spring.
Resorts World, the first gaming resort to open on The Strip in a decade, offers 250,000 sf of flexible space, six ballrooms, 50 meeting rooms and a 5,000-seat theater. As for food and beverage, there are 40 “experiences,” which include everything from signature restaurants offering fine dining, such as Genting Palace and Brezza, to casual market fare establishments, such as Craig’s and Bites. The expansive resort — siting on nearly 88 acres at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip and boasting 3,506 luxury guest rooms and suites — offers three of Hilton’s premium brands: Las Vegas Hilton, the resort’s full-service brand; Conrad Las Vegas, Hilton’s contemporary luxury brand; and Crockfords Las Vegas, one of the first hotels to debut in the U.S. from LXR, Hilton’s collection of independent luxury properties. The 27,000-sf spa offers plenty of relaxing amenities, and as for gaming, Resorts World will present an unrivaled gaming experience with the most innovative technology in the industry, according to a news release. The 117,000 sf of gaming space features more than 1,400 slot machines, 117 table games, a dedicated poker room and 30 poker tables, plus high-limit areas and a sportsbook. The next-generation casino will redefine the traditional gaming experience by introducing the most technologically advanced casino and gaming operations all within one integrated resort. “Our vision at Resorts World Las Vegas has always been to provide first-of-its-kind experiences across every element of the resort, including gaming. Through our partnerships with best-in-class gaming technology partners, we will offer our guests a fully integrated experience, not just on the gaming floor, but across the entire resort,” Rick Hutchins, senior vice president, casino operations, says in the release. “The Resorts World Las Vegas mobile app will better serve patrons by providing loyalty and personalization based off their preferences for guests enrolled in our Genting Rewards program.”
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, formerly the Hard Rock Resort & Casino, sits just east of The Strip and offers 130,000 sf of expansive indoor event, meeting and convention spaces, as well as a 4,500 person multi-use, state-of-the-art theater. There are 1,504 “chambers” and a dozen eateries, which include Nobu by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Olives by Todd English. As for gaming, the hotel boasts a 60,000-sf Mohegan Sun Casino with all the latest table games and slot machines.
The Reno-Tahoe area is a vast and diverse region of high desert valleys, majestic tree-lined mountains and crystal-clear lakes. Colloquially called the ‘Biggest Little City in the World,’ Reno is continuing to be an up-and-coming destination for outdoor adventurers, business entrepreneurs, and art and culture enthusiasts. The natural surroundings, entertainment, and bustling Midtown and Downtown districts, with breweries, restaurants and nightlife, continue to attract new and recurring visitors. “There’s no other place in the world that can claim the beauty of Lake Tahoe, the action and adventure, the rich history of the Comstock Lode, or the state’s oldest recorded settlement — all within 60 minutes of each other,” Larragueta says.
Visitors love the close proximity to the crystal-clear waters and famous ski resorts at Lake Tahoe, which is only 40 minutes away from Reno. “Reno-Tahoe has everything meeting planners need to achieve business results, from versatile event facilities to team-building events to creative off-site events,” Larragueta says. “With business and leisure activities offered year-round and expanding air service, meetings professionals can receive a first-tier experience in the destination.”
In Reno, meeting space options are endless, with more than 1 million sf of meeting space and 15,000+ hotel rooms to accommodate meetings and trade shows to sporting events and concerts. Some of the top event facilities include the 600,000-sf Reno-Sparks Convention Center, featuring an i-Studio, used to host virtual and hybrid events.
Reno-Tahoe offers a destination with a plethora of both business and leisure activities year-round. “We understand the importance of easy access to entertainment, which is why many of our event spaces offer on-site activities, including upscale casinos and the popular Whitney Peak Hotel rock-climbing wall overlooking the classic Reno Arch,” Larragueta says. “So much of what Reno-Tahoe has to offer is located within 20 minutes of our major properties, giving meeting guests the opportunity to easily explore the outdoor shopping, art and restaurants.”
There are also opportunities for great team-building events, such as private-led street art tours, brewery tastings or outdoor adventures, such as group hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains or skiing the slopes in Tahoe. While meeting planners often flock to Reno, the city lends itself better to smaller groups than Las Vegas.
Bludworth notes there is plenty for people to do in Reno outside of meeting time. “In Reno, attendees can ski and get out into nature during the summer time,” he says. In fact, you can ski, white-water raft and ride a bike all in the same day.”
Michele Sheridan, director of programs and communications for Harman Management Corporation, a franchisee of KFC and Taco Bell, is planning an upcoming seminar in Reno and an incentive trip in Reno-Tahoe for 2023. “When I went to explore the areas, it was an eye-opener. You can find some good quality properties that provide a lot for the attendees to do,” she says. “I was impressed with the Downtown area and how they’re restoring its history. It’s a charming area that I think people will enjoy, and we’re all looking forward to it.”
And in the past year, there have been a record number of direct flight destinations to Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which is now offering 23+ non-stop flights, helping make the destination easily accessible for travelers all over the country.
Caesars Entertainment has numerous options of meeting space and amenities in Reno, such as THE ROW, which offers more than 4,000 rooms and suites with more than 180,000 sf of innovative meeting and exhibition space. There’s also three seamlessly connected resorts: Eldorado Resort Casino, Silver Legacy Resort Casino and Circus Circus Hotel Casino. “So, whether you’re looking to host a large conference, an out-of-the-box event or a meeting that is anything but ‘business as usual,’ we have the perfect venue,” says Don Goodman, director of sales, Reno & Lake Tahoe for Caesars Entertainment. “Groups can treat their attendees with a relaxing day at the Silver Legacy Spa, take a swing on one of Reno-Tahoe’s stunning golf courses or enjoy some fun team building at the all new TopGolf Swing Suite.”
Reno also boasts the Reno Aces Ballpark, the National Bowling Stadium, the National Automobile Museum, the Nevada Art Museum, the Children’s Discovery Museum, the Riverwalk District, Wingfield Park, plus so much more. “The destination alone has so much to offer,” Goodman says. “It gives our attendees an amazing outdoor experience, along with an incredible emerging foodie and entertainment scene — this along with great value and friendly hospitality.”
When a software company that had grown through acquisitions decided to combine multiple different conferences into one larger conference, Everett notes Las Vegas was the only place with hotels large enough to handle the newly combined event under one roof. “It was a huge success because the space was large enough to hold a combined general session and expos, while also allowing business units to hold smaller conferences within the conference and still have connections with each of their target audiences,” she says. In addition, this event had many sponsors, and the hotel meeting space was set up to easily incorporate signage opportunities for sponsor exposure.” Attendees paid for their own travel for this event, and the reasonable airfare and hotel costs helped drive attendance, as well as the ease of getting in and out. “Overall, the ROI of holding one event with greater overall attendance was a huge win for the organization,” Everett says. “Not only did they optimize their budget, but they had a more in-depth connection with their audience.”
AMI produced a national sales meeting for DHL in Las Vegas pre-pandemic, and after-work activities included backstage tours, and meet- and-greets with the entertainers, which McNeill notes was a “huge hit.”
The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) has been planning meetings and conferences in Las Vegas for more than 25 years. “Some of our conferences rotate in and out of the city, while others are permanent ‘residents,’” says Stephanie Dumey, CMP, senior manager, meetings & conferences for the AICPA. “Las Vegas has something to offer everyone. It starts with great lift and easy access in and out of the airport to a wide range of venues. Las Vegas is the type of city where you can accomplish anything, thanks in large part to the high quality of event services and talented professionals available.”
AICPA’s ENGAGE event recently celebrated its fifth anniversary in Las Vegas. It all started in Las Vegas in 2017 with more than 4,200 accounting and finance professionals, speakers, exhibitors and sponsors. “We combined five of our long-standing individual conferences into a five-day, 320-session, nine-track mega event and, wow, did we learn a lot that first year,” Dumey says. “The MGM Grand, Grand Garden Arena and TopGolf Las Vegas partnered with us on a level that far exceeded our expectations right from the start. And we [were] thrilled to be back for the live portion of our hybrid event at ARIA and Park MGM Theatre for our ENGAGE 2021.”
MGM Resorts International has a significant presence in Las Vegas. In addition to ARIA Resort & Casino and Park MGM, other properties in Las Vegas include flagship property MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Bellagio, Vdara Hotel & Spa, Mandalay Bay, Luxor and The Mirage Hotel & Casino, to name a few. The MGM Grand Conference Center offers 850,000-sf of meeting and event space with a 5,500-sf outdoor courtyard.
MGM Resorts touts its Convene with Confidence program as one of the most comprehensive health and safety plans around, saying it’s designed to get businesses back to meeting in person. Convene with Confidence consists of detailed protocols that incorporate health and safety into every aspect of the convention and meeting process. Efforts range from smart planning of the event itself to contactless check-in and increased cleaning schedules of common areas, with special attention paid to high-contact areas such as doorknobs.
Now fully operational within the Convene with Confidence ecosystem are several advancements, including an optional COVID-19 testing protocol that delivers fast results, and allows event organizers the ability to create a perimeter for their events.
In Las Vegas, some attendees like gaming, while others simply spend time poolside or take in a show. “The Cirque du Soleil shows have been popular for years with long runs like ‘O’ at Bellagio and ‘Beatles Love’ at Mirage,” Everett says. “Shopping is available at all price ranges from Ross to Tiffany. Other unique options include helicopter rides and a visit to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.”
There is also a certain energy to the city that can be invigorating for attendees. “If we’ve learned anything in the past year, meetings can go on [virtually], but there is no replacement for the energy of an in-person event, because the emotional connection is stronger,” Everett says. “Las Vegas provides so many spectacular experiences that it also drives that emotional connection and ‘wow’ factor that attendees remember.”
There are a few other cities which offer the variety of hotels, meeting facilities, restaurants, social activities and entertainment options, but Las Vegas is really unique. “If a group has not hosted a meeting there, and they don’t have any perception issues, I think they can’t go wrong, and should expect to see an increase in attendance, which benefits the hosting organization as well,” Becker says.
Dumey notes Las Vegas has an endless supply of activities, and not just for conference attendees. “Our participants often bring family and friends to help them take advantage of the amazing shows, world-class shopping, incredible restaurants and the absolute best people-watching,” she says. C&IT