Everywhere in Las Vegas are tongue-in-cheek exhortations for attendees to “speak easy.” There’s The Mob Museum, which functions upstairs exactly as its name suggests — an exhibit space for the emblems of 1920s crime — and downstairs as an immersive exhibit coupled with a distillery and hidden bar, The Underground. There’s Park MGM’s On the Record, a drinking establishment “hidden” in and inspired by an old record store. Finally, there’s The Barbershop Cuts and Cocktails, located behind what appears to be a janitor’s door at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and winking at the Prohibition era while offering a vast selection of top-flight whiskeys that have never come near a bathtub drain.
It was something of this vibe that attracted one recent attendee group. For a pharmaceutical company’s annual sales meeting earlier this year for 1,200 attendees who required a lot of breakout rooms and ballroom space, “We were kind of torn between Las Vegas and Orlando,” says Laura Loebbaka, account manager, Creative Group Inc. Orlando seemed to make sense given an attendee list that heavily skews East Coast, but the call of Las Vegas won out. “With Las Vegas, there’s still a little bit of excitement: the opportunity to have fun in a work-hard, play-hard location. The weather never fails, either. Even a cool Las Vegas day is a nice day,” Loebbaka says.
She chose ARIA Resort & Casino from among Las Vegas’ contenders, appreciating the meeting space’s abundance of windows and natural lighting. “When people are in sessions all day long, to have that Vitamin D at breaks is always a plus.” Another big plus: “You can access the meeting space without going through the casino; being a pharma company, having to deal with cigarette smoke is an especially negative thing.”
This year, the client wanted to try something a little different, something Loebbaka in her nearly 18 years in logistics planning hadn’t yet encountered: four separate black-tie awards dinners for the four different production divisions. Each event would have its own metallic color scheme: silver, platinum, gold and rose-gold, with the only common elements being simplicity and elegance in linens, flowers, candles: “clean yet beautiful.” The real kicker? All four dinners would happen simultaneously in different spaces within the hotel. Timing was crucial, since the day’s meetings needed to wrap up on time so the rooms could be quickly repurposed for an evening event in a space that would be unrecognizable from a few hours before: “We wanted them to walk in and say ‘Wow.’”
Not only that, but a few high-profile executives needed to be clearly visible at all four events. “It was a hectic evening for our VIPs because they didn’t quite get to sit down and enjoy any one room: salad in one room, dinner in another, dessert in another.” And while this would have been a hat trick even with the most tightly controlled schedule, it was impossible to dictate the amount of time attendees would spend chatting with the VIPs, taking pictures or asking questions, all of which inevitably threw off the evening’s already precarious flow. “We had to be flexible and make it all work,” she says. “It was a delicate dance.”
Before the dinners, a cocktail hour in a ballroom that opened out onto balconies allowed attendees to mingle, and after dinner, they attended a Las Vegas-style blowout with a DJ and confetti cannons. “People really loved the after-party at Jewel. Median age for attendees is around 40, so a private venue to have that Las Vegas fun, but an easy exit when you’re ready to turn in for the night, was great. I would book again in a heartbeat.”
Attendee response was “a little bit split” on the notion of the multiple-venue awards dinner: they liked being with the company leadership, hearing the same message and meeting colleagues they wouldn’t otherwise encounter, but some attendees who’d been meeting as a significantly smaller group for years missed that exclusivity and focus. For leadership, the program was “a success in that they got what they wanted out of it.” On a practical level, it was travel efficient for attendees who supported several product divisions to get all the information they needed in one place. The company is still mulling over whether to repeat this experience, but if they do: “I would choose ARIA again,” Loebbaka says. “As a logistics person, I really need a great partner, someone who thinks, ‘How can we do this together?’ It’s going to be stressful, it’s going to be a lot of work, but let’s have a little fun — ARIA was definitely that great partner.”
She continues, “Make sure that your vision is something the hotel can do well. If there are things a client wants that we can’t do, I want to come back with another solution, and ARIA is very solution focused: ‘Listen, we don’t suggest that, we suggest this instead and here’s why.’ I really appreciate that,” she says. When planning meeting breaks, for example, the F&B director was able to suggest ways to avoid bottlenecks that wouldn’t be obvious to anyone who didn’t intimately know the space and its movement patterns.
To pull together an event with so many moving parts, Loebbaka relied not only on the teams at ARIA and JEWEL, but also local DMCs for entertainment and decor, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which offered attendees a discount code for shows as wells as printed materials with ideas, such as a foodie tour, for enjoying Las Vegas during attendee downtime.
Loebbaka says the experience helped her grow as a planner, and the feel of Las Vegas is part of that process. “Our clients are always looking for something new and different, and Las Vegas is a location with always-forward momentum and unique opportunities. They don’t just rest on their laurels.”
Like Loebbaka, Lisa Burton, CMP, senior vice president, Meeting Expectations was also taken with ARIA’s natural light. “The hotel doesn’t seem as overwhelming as some; you can easily avoid the casino to and from the room to the meeting space,” she says. The 900 attendees from a technology company she convened for a four-day annual sales meeting earlier this year were enjoying their fifth year at ARIA, with a few more years already booked.
Bardot Brasserie, Carbone and the newly opened seafood restaurant CATCH Las Vegas were a few of the on-site restaurants where one department or team chose to have smaller dinners. The main event, a ballroom dinner themed by geographic region — Americas; Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC) — was held at three different off-site locations. A local DMC selected the locations and the tech company’s leadership team visited each: APEX Rooftop Social Club, with its terraced view of the city from the newly renovated Palms Casino Resort; and House of Blues Restaurant & Bar and Libertine Social, both inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
The event ended on a high-energy note with a buyout of ARIA’s JEWEL nightclub for a closing party complete with a talent show, a favorite with attendees. “It’s an international group, and they enjoy having fun for a night after being in meetings for three days, showing a fun side or a talented side. It’s just a fun event, interacting with people they may not see through the year.”
Attendees are happy to return year after year to the hotel because it always feels a little different. “With any program, you’re always tweaking, and at the same venue, you want a new experience each year; making the same, different,” Burton says. “We’re very fortunate to have great industry partners here that really work well with our clients.” To planners considering Las Vegas for the first time, she advises: “Make sure you’re developing the relationships with the people on the property. Las Vegas tends to have fees or price structures that other cities don’t.”
For networking and celebrating the achievements of more than 1,000 West Coast restaurant franchise managers, Mark Genis, vice president and CFO of Eventmakers, settled on The Palazzo Tower at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas for his meeting this year. “There’s no question that The Palazzo offers the highest return on investment, meaning from room rates to group catering to audiovisual and meeting space coupled by the over-and-above amenities the hotel offers, from restaurants to gaming to shopping and spa and pool. There’s no other venue in Las Vegas that can offer great meeting space and group experience and value along with an all-hotel-suite option,” he says. “The best part about the event was everyone was friendly and helpful and engaged. The Palazzo is about the people first, service and results. This is why we are coming back.”
There is one thing Genis will do differently next time: “Eat more desserts at Grand Lux Café!” The Palazzo’s cafe bakes signature desserts on demand, so even attendees who don’t subscribe to the adage “life is short, eat dessert first” must choose dessert with their entrees. House treats include: a sundae constructed from house-made doughnuts topped with vanilla ice cream, banana, coffee sauce and sugared peanuts; fresh apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel; and a box of a dozen warm chocolate chip pecan cookies.
After 2020, attendees at this property will likely get a first look at the MSG Sphere at The Venetian, a giant dome-shaped affair that promises a high-resolution, high-tech, completely immersive experience that can accommodate nearly 18,000.
For the annual Mercedes-Benz dealer meeting earlier this year, 700 attendees turned up for a two-night stay at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, organized by Hans Lupold, department manager, special events for Mercedes-Benz USA. “We are repeat customers and never forget how special Wynn and Encore are. It’s like coming home with so many familiar staff members who have such pride and take such care with us,” he says, citing the “incredible staff and iconic luxury design giving guests a true five-star experience at very competitive pricing. Both the sales team as well as the event management team made the planning and execution of the event effortless,” he says.
The event entailed one full day of meetings, some small private dinners at different restaurants, two large catered dinners, a luncheon and two breakfasts. “The Wynn team knows us, so we shared what meals we needed and then let Wynn’s culinary team create a fantastic welcome dinner buffet befitting the futuristic setting in the ballroom, which our decor team transformed,” Lupold says. “The second night we had a pool party by the Wynn pool with the best barbecue ever, the steaks were so tender. During both dinners we had a fantastic DJ who kept the energy up and our guests entertained. Everybody was raving about the service at Wynn as well as the food. I have never received as many positive comments on the hotel staff, service and accommodations.”
Mercedes-Benz is planning a large golf event at the Wynn Golf Club this fall, he says. “An extra day or night to add a fun activity or an entertainment element would be great.” Once known as the Desert Inn Golf Club, the club will debut a new, 18-hole championship Tom Fazio course in October, featuring dramatic changes in elevation, desert trees and oases of water.
Elsewhere on the golf front, Topgolf Las Vegas at MGM Grand Las Vegas offers all-inclusive packages that include games, food and drinks for up to 250 attendees. The Rooftop Terrace, which features sofas, small tables, fire pits, a private bar and a stage along with its views, can accommodate 175. Planners can also buy out the entire space, which offers various potential configurations. At M Resort Spa Casino Las Vegas, the Topgolf Swing Suite lets attendees pretend-play at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, among other notables courses. Those who don’t fancy golf can play virtual hockey, baseball or dodge ball.
Sports of every stripe are taking Las Vegas by storm — and not just in the form of sports betting. The city has marshaled its forces in recent years to welcome sports teams and create top-of-the line properties to house them. The newly named Allegiant Stadium, future home of the NFL’s Oakland (soon to be named Las Vegas) Raiders, is expected to open in fall 2020; the Las Vegas Ballpark, with a capacity of 10,000, is home to the Las Vegas Aviators triple-A baseball team; and the T-Mobile Arena is what the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights now calls home. Attending a home game is now on the list of possibilities for meeting attendees, but not all their sporting activity has to be passive.
Those mesmerized by the vertiginous shenanigans of Cirque du Soleil — whose live-action, tech and multimedia-laden thriller, R.U.N, begins this fall at Luxor Las Vegas — can now try to safely mimic some of those stunts themselves. The Strip’s first zip line, FLY LINQ Zipline, launches the intrepid from the top of The LINQ Hotel + Experience, sending them swooping 12 stories over the open-air mall LINQ Promenade and landing close to the bottom of the High Roller. Attendees can choose to fly seated, backward or superhero style alongside nine of their closest colleagues. They can buy pictures of themselves taken in flight and, with a 1 a.m. closing time, can even opt for night flying. Once the 550,000-sf CAESARS FORUM conference center opens in 2020, it will be steps away from this action. Also happening at the Promenade is lifetime gig for comedian and hometown hero, Jimmy Kimmel, who recently opened his Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club at The LINQ Promenade. The opening celebration drew not only other celebrity comedians, but a cross-section of representatives of what makes Las Vegas, Las Vegas: sports analyst, Bill Simmons; celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay; and Oakland Raiders owner, Mark Davis. Planners with groups of 450 or less can buy out the bi-level, 8,000-sf space, where food is casual and drinks are named after people Kimmel especially likes.
For those who prefer their zip lining off the Strip, SlotZilla Zipline’s ‘view to a thrill’ is over downtown Las Vegas. And at SkyJump Las Vegas, the coasting happens over Las Vegas Boulevard as part of the offerings at The STRAT Hotel, Casino and SkyPod, a rebranding of the Stratosphere hotel with a fuller emphasis on all things elevated. To get up high without quite so much nausea, their Top of the World steakhouse offers attendees a gently rotating dining experience of a full turn every 80 minutes, and the possibility to enjoy drinks later at 107 SKYLOUNGE, named for the number of stories one ascends to the top. Also on the road to rebranding is Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, which reportedly plans to close in spring 2020 and re-emerge as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas that fall.
From the ashes of the former Las Vegas Club and Mermaid Casino on what is now the Fremont Street Experience open-air mall downtown — the 777-room Circa Resort & Casino will rise sometime in late 2020 at current estimation. Also still under construction at the 87-acre site that was once the Stardust is Resorts World Las Vegas, a China-themed resort that will include two towers and provide sleeping quarters for more than 3,000 attendees. Several regions of China will be represented among its dining offerings when it’s expected to open in late 2020. In the meantime, meeting groups can partake in authentic Chinese food at the recently opened Red Plate in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The menu focuses on traditional techniques given a modern flair, and includes hot pot, dim sum, Peking duck and fresh seafood.
Next up for the massive Las Vegas Convention Center District project is to add 1.4 million sf that will include outdoor space and an atrium, projected to be ready “in time to welcome CES in 2021,” according to the LVCVA website. Later, the existing 3.2 million sf will be quietly overhauled, with an expected completion date in 2023. The LVCVA site estimates that the finished project will eventually bring in “more than 600,000 new visitors each year.”
As part of MGM Grand Conference Center’s expansion to 850,000 sf, completed earlier this year, the entire second floor, 40,000 sf, is devoted to Stay Well Meetings, a concept named after Deepak Chopra. The concept involves offering attendees a space with purified air, natural or natural-seeming lighting, nutritious food and aromatherapy to help them feel motivated. The Mirage will also provide the Stay Well treatment in seven of its meeting rooms. At the newly opened Park MGM, the 7,000-sf Ideation Studio was designed to spark innovation among very small teams of up to 24, with much thought given to each of the four distinctive layouts. For small seminars, the Madison Meeting Center could also fit the bill.
What began in 1986 as a way to boost tourism in a notoriously slow month has become an annual celebration of all things classic car and rock ’n’ roll: the weeklong extravaganza known as Hot August Nights in Reno, nearly 500 miles away from the Las Vegas action. Most major venues in Reno and Sparks participate in the annual event. For NAPA Auto & Truck Parts, based in Sparks, spending time among the classic cars and the people who keep them running was a no-brainer. Katie Finley, marketing manager for the company, assembled a group of 200 attendees to mingle and enjoy, including hosting a dinner at Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. She says of the hotel that it was “one of the best experiences I have had in Reno. They offer a wonderful spa and pool for guests not having to be in meetings the whole time. I got a chance this time to go to the pool and the arcade with my kids.”
The other attendees seemed to enjoy it, too. “The night we had the dinner, we had rave reviews from everyone about how good the food was; how well the Atlantis attended to everyone. Everyone said they had a fabulous time.” While at Atlantis, her group was included in hula hoop contests, tricycle races, and, on different days, a pie-eating contest and a jelly doughnut-eating contest. Because the spaces are linked by a transparent enclosed walkway, attendees can walk from one of the resort’s 824 rooms across to the 600,000-sf Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
The convention center is a 15-minute drive from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which offers free shuttle service to many of the area hotels.
The 1,900-room Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, Reno-Sparks’ largest property, with 200,000 sf of meeting space, was one of the sponsor hotels for Hot August Nights. The resort’s Grand Theatre can accommodate up to 4,000 attendees. The Eldorado Resort Casino is part of The Row complex that connects through indoor walkways with Silver Legacy Resort Casino and Circus Circus Reno. Together, The Row properties offer: more than 60 restaurants, bars, lounges and nightclubs, more than 4,000 rooms and more than 180,000 sf of meeting space.
Eco-friendly Peppermill Resort Spa Casino also got in on the fun, showing classic music videos on an outdoor screen and offering plenty of space for the daily “show and shine” car displays.
When Hot August Nights are over, the resort, with its more than 1,600 guest rooms, including the 600-room, all-suite Tuscany Tower, is entirely powered by two geothermal wells — 4,000 feet beneath the resort. All its heat, including the hot water for the three-story, 33,000-sf Spa & Salon Toscana, emanates from this source.
Hot August Nights’ partner hotel, the Whitney Peak Hotel, features a Base Camp Climbing Gym with a 7,000-sf bouldering park, 11 meeting rooms, including the 5,125-sf Whitney Peak Ballroom, and more than 20,000 sf of event space that can host groups up to 400. C&IT