When ConferenceDirect decided to host its annual partner meeting at CAESARS FORUM in Las Vegas, they were looking for a locale that offered something for everyone and a place that would leave attendees with a memorable experience. And then the pandemic hit. While ConferenceDirect had to postpone — twice— due to coronavirus restrictions, they were eventually able to host the event recently, and Las Vegas and Caesars Entertainment did not disappoint.
In fact, CAESARS FORUM, the $375 million, state-of-the-art conference center that opened last spring and features 550,000 total sf of space able to accommodate 10,000 attendees, proved to be the ideal location to meet all of ConferenceDirect’s needs. As Don Ross, vice president meeting operations — Las Vegas Region, Caesars Entertainment explains, Caesars pays careful attention when observing the health and safety protocols currently in place in Nevada, which allowed the nearly 150 ConferenceDirect participants to enjoy a seated, face-to-face reception with restaurant-quality catered small bites and libations under the illuminated High Roller Observation Wheel. “We partner with planners to find out what they want to accomplish and help them executive wonderful events. Now with the pandemic, we simply have to help them navigate the COVID-19 protocols we have in place, while also being a bit more creative in fulfilling their goals,” Ross says.
Until recently, the meetings and events held at Caesars were somewhat small, but as the health and safety protocols now allow up to 250 people to gather, Ross and his team are finding new, creative ways to setting up meeting spaces to ensure attendees’ safety. “We have always taken food safety and sanitation very seriously at Caesars,” Ross says. But the pandemic has taken their protocols to a whole new level as the Caesars team finds new and innovative ways to serve food and beverages to ensure no cross-contamination occurs. “While all the hotels and venues are certainly competitors, we have all come together as one during this pandemic to learn from each other and find the ‘best practices’ to be able to open back up and meet the needs of the visitors to our venues,” Ross says.
One of the keys to the success of ConferenceDirect holding the event was being able to collaborate with Caesars and having them help understand what the government regulations were, says JJ Wills, senior vice president, marketing programs and business development at ConferenceDirect. “It was really reassuring to have so many different safety programs in place to allow our attendees to get the most out of the meeting,” Wills says.
ConferenceDirect partnered with 42Chat, a company that offers artificial intelligence chatbot programs for use in events and other environments. The company’s HealthShield program allowed ConferenceDirect attendees to answer a series of health screening questions on their mobile device before they could enter the meeting space.
If they had failed in any of the questions, ConferenceDirect and Caesars had a system in place to separate that attendee from others and provide them with the help they may need. “Luckily, we didn’t have any issues and the event was a great success,” Wills says.
Stephanie Glanzer, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, says MGM Resorts has recently expanded upon its robust companywide Seven-Point Health and Safety Plan by developing a program specifically for groups called Convene with Confidence. “The program represents everything we’ve learned about health and safety with an increasing focus on utilizing technology and innovation to not only provide a better guest experience, but a safer one as well,” Glanzer says. Convene with Confidence consists of detailed protocols to incorporate health and safety into every aspect of the convention and meeting process, including virtual site inspections, creative catering options, and venue arrangements that meet all physical-distancing requirements. Most notably, however, is the optional on-site rapid testing MGM Resorts is offering so attendees can enjoy their events with a little peace of mind.
“We partnered with biometric secure identity company CLEAR to leverage its new Health Pass technology — something not seen before in our industry,” Glanzer says. Event attendees verify their identity on an app, answer health questions, get a temperature check and take an on-site rapid COVID-19 test that provides results within 20 minutes. “This is truly revolutionary for our industry and we hope it will inspire more confidence and the ability to continue the recovery of the events and meeting industry,” Glanzer says.
Socially Distancing in Las Vegas
Kimberly Gora, founder of KG Consulting & Event Agency, also has planned everything from intimate affairs for 10 to galas of thousands in Las Vegas. For Gora, Las Vegas is known for its variety of hotel, dining and entertainment options and experiences, and has always been a “one-stop shop” for meetings and events. Gora says whether a group is wanting to come for conferences, trade shows or social occasions, Vegas has the diversity that keeps it as a top destination. “Las Vegas is always one step ahead when it comes to the latest and greatest, and that includes safety, health and the uniqueness of what makes Vegas, Vegas,” Gora says. “The area continues to offer amenities that groups cannot get anywhere else, especially under the perplexity of these times.”
As Gora further explains, the events industry and Las Vegas have been proactive in creating safety measures, working with companies on PPE and distancing for events. “We have come together to ensure guests are safe and comfortable to come back and meet together in person,” Gora says.
Phelps Hope, certified meeting planner and senior vice president at Kellen, has managed both corporate meetings and conferences in Las Vegas. Most recently, and prior to COVID, these events, ranging from 250 to 5,000 attendees, have included conferences in the education and fundraising sector, the air and ground logistics industry, and the food products manufacturing trade arena. “Las Vegas is one of those destinations that drives an immediate opinion when asking any of our client member bases,” Hope says. “It all depends on the cultural make-up of our attendees and what their preferences are. ”
Because Las Vegas is a vital location for gaming, conventions, meetings and tourism, Hope expects Las Vegas will have a faster recovery than most destinations, especially if international travel is still a quarantine issue. “When meeting planners resume planning events in Las Vegas, it is important that they know their attendee profiles and whether Las Vegas is an option for the majority of participants,” Hope says. “Also know your ‘must have’ concessions and your areas of flexibility before you reach out, as Las Vegas is always willing to negotiate.”
Christy Williams, CEO of Elevanta, agrees that Las Vegas is a great venue to hold events post COVID due to the large spaces available in most Las Vegas venues. Elevanta manages several annual events that take place over the course of a few days that include trade shows, educational programs and often celebratory events. And the company has found that Las Vegas is ideal. “We are holding an event at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in June 2021, and have been pleased with the discussions with the hotel in preparation to ensure all safety protocols are followed,” Williams says. “Las Vegas is a convention town. The venues are highly experienced in hosting these types of functions, which gives us great confidence in their ability to deliver what they promise. Additionally, our attendees like it because it’s a fun town with several options for activities outside the event schedule. There is truly something for everyone in Las Vegas.”
As Williams further explains, Las Vegas provides a unique opportunity to compare several properties within close proximity to guarantee you are receiving the best space, rates, concessions and amenities for a program. “Once you find a great hotel partner, you can often form long-term relationships with them and potentially book several years in advance,” Williams says. “Prime space tends to book early; however, due to COVID-19, there are opportunities available for the next couple of years.” As such, Williams thinks organizations should trust in their hotel partners and begin working on options to help their members to once again meet in person and experience the amazing benefits of collaboration, education and celebration at their chosen Las Vegas property.
Las Vegas is constantly evolving to feature the latest and greatest in hospitality industry offerings, so the city has a built-in ability to adapt and embrace change. As John Schreiber, CEM, vice president of business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) explains, hosting groups is what the city was built to do, and what it does best. “We have a lot of space, which will be helpful with social-distancing recommendations, and because our resorts are relatively new, they offer an ideal learning and business environment equipped with the latest and most innovative business technology,” Schreiber says.
The LVCVA recently launched the citywide Meet Smart, Vegas Smart campaign, which encourages visitors to be smart and responsible to help the destination confidently get back to business. The campaign webpage also includes a variety of resources, from information about the Las Vegas Convention Center’s GBAC STAR accreditation — considered the gold standard for safe facilities — to accurate, timely information about COVID regulations in the state, links to the COVID Trace App and more. “With most of our resorts now reopened, Las Vegas also remains a great value proposition with something for every taste and budget,” Schreiber says.
In addition to having enormous venues by which groups can sufficiently spread out, Las Vegas can tout that it already has more hotel rooms and square feet of convention space than any other U.S. destination, which is beneficial to bringing meetings and events back with appropriate social-distancing measures. And while COVID-19 has halted or slowed construction and development in other parts of the country, many entities in the Las Vegas area have forged ahead. For example, early this year, the completion of the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium — home of the NFL’s Raiders — was much celebrated. The facility offers a preeminent place for football and other sporting events, and also boasts more than 10 event spaces, state-of-the-art technology and unique experiences — including hosting dinner on the 50-yard line or receptions overlooking the entire Las Vegas skyline.
Additionally, the city’s Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall expansion and the Convention Center Loop, the city’s underground transportation system, are both on track for completion by the end of this year. What’s more, Wynn Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment and World Market Center Las Vegas have added substantial meeting and exhibit space this year — offering even more options for meeting and event planners.
Recently, Circa Resort & Casino opened its casino, sportsbook, Stadium Swim, and some of its food and beverage concepts, and will debut guest rooms and suites at the end of the year. What’s more, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, part of Curio Collection by Hilton, will open its first Las Vegas property early next year in the former site of the Hard Rock Hotel. Ideal for events during the COVID-19 pandemic, the outdoor event lawn at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas turns an open space into an exciting entertainment venue for one-of-a-kind functions, including concerts, private events and a space for guests to engage in resort activities. The event lawn connects seamlessly to The Manor, a new indoor event space at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas which opens out to the resort pool and The Promenade.
Perhaps one of the most talked about new venues, opening next summer, is Resorts World Las Vegas, the $4.3 billion integrated resort under construction across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Las Vegas Convention Center. The property will be a tech-forward, innovative, inclusive resort that will feature a 3,500-room casino resort and will offer meeting space for groups and events of almost any size. The venue’s Lily Ballroom will provide stunning views of the Las Vegas Strip through floor-to-ceiling windows attached to a spacious terrace, which is just right for private events. Its 100,000-sf event center will offer larger groups a pillar-less space with flexible configurations for many different types of functions.
Glanzer stresses that Las Vegas is still the vibrant, fun destination it has always been with a wide range of luxurious accommodations, incredible dining options, relaxing spas and pools, and beautiful attractions. “We’ve been so encouraged to see our guests enjoying the Las Vegas experience while also following health and safety measures throughout our resorts as they take advantage of the elements we’ve put in place to ensure a safer visit— such as hand-washing stations, mobile check-in and virtual queues at restaurants and pools,” Glanzer says. “While Las Vegas may look a little different in the short term, we believe that Vegas done safely is still Vegas.”
Some things may look a little different right now to Las Vegas visitors due to the commitment to health and safety protocols. “From the moment they land at McCarran International Airport to the hotel, to the meeting venue itself, this will look modified,” Schreiber says. “But financial and insurance professionals will still find the world-class experiences they have come to expect from Las Vegas.”
From unparalleled dining, shopping and spas to the return of entertainment — with limited audiences — visitors will find a commitment to using PPE, social distancing and practicing personal responsibility along with Las Vegas’ exceptional service and hospitality standards. “The city has put great efforts into creating safe and comfortable meeting environments, and we can provide fresh perspectives on how events are evolving in the new frontier of in-person meetings,” Gora says. “Even in uncertain times, one thing is certain — people still want to gather and be together; but for the time being, we will all have to look at events a little differently.”
Reno-Tahoe Looking Up
The Reno-Tahoe area is also looking to bounce back strongly from the shutdown, and hopes planners and attendees soon return as venues open up.
Caesars Entertainment, Inc.’s THE ROW, in the heart of Reno, has been popular at this destination for years. It runs the length of six city blocks, linking the Eldorado Resort Casino, Circus Circus Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino. Attendees seeking great food and entertainment can find it at THE ROW, which offers 25 restaurants, 23 bars and lounges, 12 entertainment venues, and eight nightspots. Also, there are more than 4,000 luxury rooms and suites; 227,000 sf of casino space, with more than 2,500 slot machines and 84 table games; and Reno’s only Topgolf Swing Suite.
With the recently added The Spa at Silver Legacy, THE ROW also offers attendees a top-notch relaxation experience at northern Nevada’s newest luxury wellness retreat.
At Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe Hotel & Casino, also a Caesars property, recently wrapped up room renovations as part of a $41 million total investment. The popular resort now offers 519 redesigned guest rooms in the Tahoe Tower, in addition to the balcony suites that were upgraded in 2018, as well as the new Gordon Ramsay HELL’S KITCHEN Lake Tahoe.
Other popular venues include Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, which offers 200,000 sf of meeting and convention space; Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, which offers 50,000 sf of flexible meeting space; and Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, which offers 106,000 sf of meeting space. I&FMM.