Las Vegas: The Meeting Planner’s Best Friend
By Derek Reveron
Heavyweight meetings destination Las Vegas is like a prizefighter who knows he can never rest on his laurels if he wants to keep winning titles.
The way Las Vegas sees it, having more than 150,000 hotel rooms, more than 11 million sf of meeting space, and hundreds of resorts, casinos, nightspots and entertainment options isn’t enough. That’s why the destination has more than $7 billion in current and proposed development projects.
These include Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Convention Center, MGM Resorts International’s The Park and Topgolf Las Vegas. Aria Resort & Casino is expanding its convention center; Caesars Entertainment Corporation plans to upgrade more than 4,800 hotel rooms at four Las Vegas properties; and Steve Wynn and Wynn resorts are proposing a new lake resort called Wynn Paradise Park. In addition, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s Las Vegas Convention Center District project includes expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“Planners can let Vegas do the work of providing the glitz, glamour and ‘wow’ — attendees will walk away with unforgettable experiences that planners didn’t even have to allocate budgets for.”
— Mike May
Such projects will help Las Vegas keep its ranking as the No. 1 trade show destination. Las Vegas topped the Trade Show News Network’s “2015 TSNN Top 250 Trade Shows in the United States” list for the 22nd consecutive year. Las Vegas hosted 54 of the largest trade shows held in the U.S. last year, accounting for about 22,000 meetings and 5.9 million attendees.
Las Vegas is popular partly because it offers so much that makes life easier for planners. “Vegas is an adult playground and, in many ways, a planner’s best friend,” says Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, president and chief strategist at Strategic Meetings & Events, a Bernardsville, New Jersey-based meetings and incentives firm. “Las Vegas truly has something for everyone in terms of meeting space, pricing and caliber of property. Lift is second to none.”
In addition, Las Vegas is a top fine-dining destination. “It is transforming into more of a culinary and entertainment hub rather than just gambling,” adds Lamagna. “Las Vegas allows planners to bring groups with discriminating palates who also have a hunger for live shows and concerts. The city has celebrity chefs and a collective wine list that is staggering.”
Some of the newest restaurants include the Italian eatery Carbone at Aria Resort & Casino, the restaurant’s first domestic expansion outside of New York City. Other restaurants include Rivea at the Delano Las Vegas; Salute, which offers cuisine from Southern Italy at Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa; and Harvest, a farm-to-table restaurant at Bellagio.
Meeting Off The Strip
Popular meeting properties include the 800-room AAA Four Diamond Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa, the crown jewel of Station Casinos. The Red Rock, located 10 miles off The Strip in Summerlin, was the just-right property for a three-day business meeting with about 300 attendees that CliftonLarsonAllen, a Milwaukee-based professional services firm, held last year.
CliftonLarsenAllen chose the Red Rock after reviewing a handful of off-The-Strip properties. “Although The Strip has fabulous properties, we preferred to be off-Strip,” says Lisa Jeans, project manager, executive team and firm-wide travel manager. “The Red Rock is a luxury resort offering everything a meeting planner looks for in a resort, but doesn’t have all of the distractions of The Strip.”
In addition, says Jeans, the Red Rock is the ultimate self-contained resort. “We actually prefer to stay on-property for our events, and with all the Red Rock has to offer, it makes it easy,” she says. “The food and beverage quality is incredible. The size, location and condition of meeting facilities and rooms are excellent. The service is second to none.”
Most of all, adds Jeans, the Red Rock offers excellent bang for the buck. “The value received was incredible,” she says. “The room rates you are able to get in Las Vegas are the best rates you can find in a convention-conference city — $75 to $100 per night less than other convention-conference cities during peak times. The Red Rock also made me feel like I was their only client during the planning process, which is invaluable as an event planner.”
So far, the Red Rock is the only Las Vegas property that Jeans’ company has used for its principal business meeting. The company plans to return to the property in January for a client meeting. “We are averaging one meeting every other year at the Red Rock,” says Jeans.
Choosing the Right Property
Las Vegas has suitable properties for every type of group. However, because Las Vegas is such a unique destination, it’s important to match the meeting with the right property that meets the company’s objective.
Making a good match requires planners to consider each group’s expectations and needs for experiencing Las Vegas. “For high-end clients, we are looking at Wynn, Encore, Bellagio, Venetian, Four Seasons, etc.,” says Mike May, president of Irving, Texas-based Spear One, a meetings, incentives and events planning firm. “Another consideration is podium power. For incentive travel programs, where we are trying to motivate participants to earn a trip, we might consider a new or trendy property like the Cosmopolitan.”
Overall, Las Vegas is perfect for certain types of meetings. “In my opinion, the best types of meetings to host in Las Vegas are larger product launches, customer user groups and trade shows,” says May. “Internal sales kickoff meetings are an interesting paradox. The mega-hotels are fantastic for accommodating such large groups, but may not be the best match for more buttoned-up corporate cultures.”
Planners booking small groups in Las Vegas have uniquely different considerations. “Small meetings can get lost in Vegas, so I’d caution those groups to look for intimate environments, or possibly lose attendees,” says May. “If you are a smaller group, consider a boutique property like the Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay or the newly rebranded Nobu Hotel in Caesars Palace.”
The demographics of a group — including age, gender, education and regional origin — are also a key in choosing the right Las Vegas property. “Many groups would like to be in the heart of The Strip action, but that isn’t necessarily the right fit for everyone,” says May. Groups looking to cover educational content might want a property farther away in the Henderson area, so attendees won’t lose focus.”
Some planners want The Strip itself to be part of the meeting experience. “We hired a company to produce a three-hour teambuilding event that focused on critical thinking, strategic planning, teamwork and ingenuity,” says Lamagna. “There were actors placed throughout The Strip to interact with the group (if they were clever enough to find and recognize them based on descriptions). Even people who rolled their eyes when they found out they had to participate came back excited, happy and better for the experience.”
To Meet On The Strip, or Not?
Planners should balance choosing whether to be on The Strip with other considerations. “Sometimes we want a gambling-free hotel, and sometimes we want to be a big fish in a little pond,” says Lamagna. “Other times we want to allow attendees to feel the true magnitude of the space so we are a small group in an enormous space.”
Lamagna cites other key considerations: “If Vegas is chosen for its location and its abundance of space rather than what it has to offer in entertainment, then off The Strip may be the better option,” says Lamagna. If you are limited on your budget and allow attendees to have nights on their own, then The Strip is more strategic.”
Age of the group also should play a determining role. “Millennials value fresh food, place a lower emphasis on gambling and prefer newer spaces,” says Lamagna. “My Gen Xers and above enjoy and often expect to be in a more traditional casino because it’s their definition of the Vegas hotel experience.”
Because of competition among hotels and pricing, planners have a choice of properties to match their budgets. “Room rates aren’t always the best narrowing factor in Las Vegas — a city where large hotels and great rates are a dime a dozen,” says May. “Rates are usually very reasonable, especially mid-week and as long as you watch out for resort fees, which are usually high — $20 to $35.”
On the other hand, May adds, entertainment for incentives can be pricey. “When planning for incentive travel programs, we usually like to account for high personal spend on shopping, gaming, food and beverage with a room credit for winners and guests,” says May. “No one wants to be surprised with a high incidentals bill at the end of an earned getaway.”
Multiyear deals, when appropriate, can add even more value. “They give a planner the peace of mind that their event has a home for a few years out and, if working with the right partner, allows you to keep pricing a year or so behind current rates,” says Lamagna. “Vegas never goes out of style, and given its ever-changing options, attendees have something new to experience each time they return — much more so than other cities.
New and Noteworthy
The 1,504-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas is currently expanding its meeting and convention space from 80,000 sf to 110,000 sf. The expansion, which will debut in winter 2016, includes an additional 2,000 sf of prefunction and registration space; and an additional 18,000 sf of meeting and convention space in the Artist Ballroom, which will total 28,000 sf. Among the 40 existing meeting spaces are Muse Hall, Artist Hall, Festival Hall and the Studio Collection, which feature Higher Frequency, a program offering customizable sensory meeting packages that are designed to deliver “an immersive rock ’n’ roll experience” to enhance the impact of the event. Beyond the meeting space, Hard Rock also features special event venues for corporate groups, including the music venues The Joint and Vinyl, as well as lounges and the Breathe Pool.
MGM Resorts International recently unveiled The Park, a vibrant outdoor dining and entertainment district celebrating the beauty of the surrounding desert landscape and offering visitors a new way to experience the Las Vegas Strip. Located between New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts, The Park is designed as a social gathering space where guests can experience stunning design elements, a fun culinary lineup boasting great indoor/outdoor environments, iconic art and playful entertainment.
The Park serves as the gateway to the new T-Mobile Arena. The 20,000-seat venue also offers a wealth of event spaces for rent that fit both large and small gatherings.
Wynn Las Vegas and Encore together have 260,000 sf of beautiful and unique settings for any size meeting or convention. Amenities aplenty, Wynn also offers Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers, a music spectacular featuring a reinvented collection of songs and dances. Voted “Best New Show” in Las Vegas, ShowStoppers brings a vibrant and talented cast of 66 singers, dancers and a full orchestra with dazzling scenery and costumes to the intimate Encore Theater.
Wynn’s most recent news is word that a new entertainment destination — named Wynn Paradise Park for now — built around a first-ever recreational lake concept has been proposed by the chairman and CEO himself — Steve Wynn. Subject to approval by the company’s board of directors, the new destination will take the place of the golf course and is expected to include a 38-acre lagoon surrounded by premium meetings and convention space, a 1,000-room hotel tower, a small casino and extensive dining and nightlife.
“We have a chance to reinvent Las Vegas and make the whole venue an entertainment attraction…an idyllic beach paradise surrounded by white sand beaches,” stated Wynn in an announcement. “People come to Las Vegas from all over the world to live large and have a good time, and we can dish up an irresistible entertainment attraction.”
The proposed lagoon will be lined by a white sand beach and boardwalk, and feature an array of daytime activities including waterskiing, paddleboarding and parasailing. At night, the space will transform with an elaborate fireworks display that is launched from the center island and surrounding areas.
The park will add 260,000 sf of premium meeting space with unobstructed views of the waterfront, spacious guest rooms with a separate bedroom, living room and balcony, and a variety of restaurants, including an expansion of the current Country Club restaurant.
Wynn also is developing Wynn Plaza, an expansive retail complex featuring nearly 80,000 sf of luxury retail space. Debuting fall 2017, the complex will augment the existing luxury retail collection currently showcased at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore as well as bring the shopping experience to the high traffic area bordering Las Vegas Boulevard.
Caesars Entertainment Corporation announced plans to upgrade more than 4,800 hotel rooms this year at four of its Las Vegas resorts. These resort upgrades include the transformation of the original tower at Caesars Palace to create the Julius Tower as well as the refurbishment of the resort’s Augustus Tower. Additional room upgrades will include Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Paris Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas.
Caesars Palace also offers an amazing casino and meeting space experience. Its 300,000 sf of meeting space is comfortably set apart from the casino area, yet remains within easy reach of attendees. Caesars Palace offers a large range of flexible venues with countless configuration options to suit groups of all sizes. In addition to traditional meeting venues within Caesars, the site’s 4,100-seat Colosseum boasts one of the world’s largest LED screens, a perfect location for presentations that really “wow.”
Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s properties — Flamingo Las Vegas, The Linq Hotel & Casino and Caesars Palace — introduced a new integrated self-check-in program that includes email, text, Web and mobile apps as well as new check-in kiosks. Arriving guests use the kiosks to verify IDs and take payment information. The kiosk then provides a printed key if the room is ready, or an alert to return when the room is available. Other Caesars properties will soon offer the system.
To meet the ever-growing needs of convention managers and attendees, the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Convention Center recently completed its expansion with the opening of the 70,000-sf Oceanside Ballroom. The $70 million expansion includes 350,000 sf of new exhibit space, a 20,000-sf foyer and underground parking. Mandalay Bay also completed the final phase of its resort-wide remodel of more than 3,000 guest rooms and suites. Created by the MGM Resorts International Design Group, the redesigned rooms and suites feature refreshing color palettes and modern designs in three distinct collections.
Tropicana Las Vegas, a DoubleTree by Hilton, recently opened its new pool club, Sky Beach Club. The South Beach-inspired club is designed for 21-and-over guests and features bikini-clad servers, two luxury pools, VIP cabanas, two bars and a DJ booth. A-list celebrity hosts, top live music acts and beer pong are also part of the Sky Beach Club.
The pool opening follows a $200 million transformation that included the 55,000-sf Trinidad at Tropicana Las Vegas, and 1,469 updated guest rooms and suites with new furnishings and amenities. In addition, guests can enjoy beach houses styled after Miami penthouses and oceanside beach houses.
The transformation also added a new conference facility featuring more than 100,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space that includes a 25,000-sf ballroom and is divisible into 38 breakout rooms.
MGM Grand’s Skylofts is personalizing the guest experience at every touch point, from pre-arrival to departure. Skylofts features a personal concierge who asks upcoming guests a series of questions prior to arrival to ensure room, mini-bar and travel preferences are met. Those choices are then documented and saved so when the guests return, everything is as if they never left.
The Venetian, The Palazzo and Sands Expo complex offers more than 2.25 million sf of meeting and convention space and one of the world’s largest pillar-less ballrooms at 85,000 sf, plus 298 meeting, conference and boardrooms. Adjacent to The Venetian and The Palazzo Congress Center, the Sands Expo offers 1.9 million sf of meeting and show space.
The all-suite Venetian and Palazzo offer the largest standard suites on The Strip, starting at 650 sf. Prestige at The Palazzo offers 225 Prestige suites that provide exclusive amenities such as champagne check-ins, personal concierge and access to a 12,000-sf private lounge where enhanced weekend offerings include nightly wine tastings and live piano music.
Guests can enjoy their downtime at The Venetian and The Palazzo with the resorts’ exquisite restaurants from celebrated chefs, including Bouchon by Thomas Keller, Carnevino by Mario Batali and Cut by Wolfgang Puck; relaxing spa and fitness at Canyon Ranch SpaClub; world-class shopping at the Grand Canal Shoppes; and entertainment from artist headliners along with new shows, which include “Baz – Star Crossed Love” and “Puppet Up! – Uncensored,” a spontaneous, off-the-cuff comedy with the unmatched talent and creativity of Henson puppeteers.
SLS Las Vegas, a Tribute Portfolio Resort, features 1,613 guest rooms in three distinct towers — Story, World and Lux — ranging from luxurious 325-sf rooms to penthouse suites spanning 3,300 sf. SLS Las Vegas delivers more than 80,000 sf of indoor-outdoor event sites, including a 9,000-sf ballroom, and 30,000 sf of dedicated meeting space. Fifteen flexible meeting rooms are perfectly suited to host events of all sizes from corporate luncheons to extravagant soirées. The property boasts a salon, spa, fitness center as well as a collection of acclaimed restaurant and nightlife brands.
Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino offers a unique blend of amenities and excitement with table games, slots, restaurants, and more than 225,000 sf of meeting space and the world’s largest race and sports SuperBook. The property features entertainment options in the International Theater and the Westgate Cabaret. Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino is currently undergoing a $100 million renovation that will encompass every square inch of the property including the addition of 300 timeshare villas, the all-new International Bar, a fully renovated pool deck, 1,200 remodeled Signature Rooms and more.
Blue Man Group, comedy, theater, rock concert and dance party all rolled into one, is back in Las Vegas at the specially designed Blue Man Theater at Luxor Hotel and Casino. It is an unbelievable multisensory experience showcasing new music, new design, new technology and a new finale to wow the entire audience.
The Mob Museum of organized crime and law enforcement has extended operating hours to include “museum after dark” programs that allow visitors to view objects, photos and documents normally not on display. In addition, “Moe-Bot,” a telepresence robot, allows guests to virtually visit the museum’s displays and get interactive guided tours via a desktop computer or mobile device.
In the area of technology, Las Vegas has introduced a new travel app to help visitors get the most out of their destination experience. The app, WhereToVegas, provides an online map of trendy events, locations and entertainment. The app determines popular hot spots by tracking online conversations about Las Vegas experiences and ranking them.
Sports entertainment facility Topgolf Las Vegas is a four-level, climate-controlled, 105,000-sf venue boasting 108 hitting bays, five bars/lounges, luxury suites and private event spaces. Also, it has two pools accompanied by LED-illuminated daybeds, cabanas and lounge chairs. The venue’s elevated cuisine features classic comfort food, locally sourced products and internationally inspired flavors. The new facility can accommodate more than 3,000 guests, stage a 900-person concert/performance space with 300 video screens and a 28-by-200-foot video wall behind outfield targets. Groups are invited to try their hand at the patented Topgolf game — an especially appealing teambuilding program.
More Convention Space
The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Convention Center now can attract larger and additional corporate, incentive and association groups due to the completion of its $70 million expansion, including the recent opening of the 70,000-sf Oceanside Ballroom.
The project also includes 350,000 sf of new exhibit space, and a 20,000-sf foyer and underground parking. The convention center now has more than 2 million total sf and more than 900,000 sf of contiguous exhibit space. The resort-wide expansion also includes redesign of Mandalay Bay’s 3,211 guest rooms and suites.
Aria Resort & Casino is expanding its LEED Gold-certified convention center by adding 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space on four levels. The $154 million expansion will include indoor/open-air spaces and a glass-enclosed venue with views of The Park and T-Mobile Arena. The expansion, scheduled for completion in February 2018, will increase Aria’s total meeting space to about 500,000 sf.
Aria now offers 38 meeting rooms and four ballrooms with one totaling 51,000 sf and divisible into 10 meeting rooms. Two other ballrooms are divisible into eight rooms of 38,000 sf each. Another ballroom offers 20,000 sf of space.
The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino houses one of The Strip’s most opulent conference centers, which features more than 600,000 sf of meeting space and more than 380,000 sf of event space on three levels. Choices include rooms of all sizes and configurations, including a 92,000-sf ballroom, and the 100,000-sf, 17,000-seat Grand Garden Arena.
The Strip’s popular convention facilities include the Mirage Hotel & Casino’s Mirage Events Center, which offers 170,000 sf of event space, including 90,000 sf of pillar-less space divisible into three 30,000-sf sections. Each section can further divide into three spaces of 6,500 to 10,000 sf. Additional space includes a 40,000-sf ballroom.
One of The Mirage’s newest amenities is The Still, an 8,000-sf upscale food bar with 22 televisions. The food will be prepared in a refurbished Airstream trailer that was transformed into a fully functioning kitchen.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. leads a group of investors planning to build a $1 billion domed stadium on 42 acres near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, according to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The stadium would be home to the university’s football and perhaps a National Football League franchise, the report says.
Long term, the Las Vegas Convention Center will add 600,000 sf of exhibit space and renovate the existing 3.2 million-sf facility within eight to 10 years under the Las Vegas Global Business District master plan. Shorter term, Las Vegas will get additional meeting space (although the exact amount has yet to be determined) when the China-themed Resorts World Las Vegas opens in 2018. The facility will feature 6,600 rooms, a 5,000-seat theater and a 175,000-sf casino.
Las Vegas, more than most destinations, makes life easier for meeting planners. As May put it, “Planners can let Vegas do the work of providing the glitz, glamour and ‘wow’ — attendees will walk away with unforgettable experiences that planners didn’t even have to allocate budgets for.”
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