Even during a recession, hosting a meeting in Las Vegas means never having to say you’re sorry.
That’s the word out of Vegas.
“We’ve been impacted, as any other meeting destination has, and we’ve also been fighting unchecked rhetoric from Washington D.C., as to where meetings should or should not go,” said Chuck Bowling, executive vice president of sales and marketing with MGM Mirage, which owns 10 resort properties on the Las Vegas Strip. “But in terms of productivity, face-to-face meetings provide so much better return on investment than any kind of phone or conference calls. And Las Vegas is a great meeting experience.”
Bowling’s declaration may come as a bit of a surprise to those who know Las Vegas more for its blackjack tables and star-studded shows than as the backdrop for business deals and conferences. The state of Nevada’s 1931 decision to legalize gambling did pave the way for a former Mormon fort to become “Sin City,” and the city’s tourism bureau still promotes Las Vegas as a destination for wild nights and clandestine getaways. These days, however, the 37 million people who visit each year are as likely to come for a performance of The Lion King at Mandalay Bay as they are for a high-stakes poker tournament on the glittering Las Vegas Strip – which, thanks to a quirk of state law, isn’t actually in the city of Las Vegas at all, but an unincorporated district called Paradise.
There’s a reason Las Vegas rents more convention space than any other U.S. city, or that industry powerhouses like the International Consumer Electronics Show, which attracted 110,000 attendees in January, keep coming back. The 5.8 million delegates – about 12 percent of the city’s visitors – who take part in meetings and conventions each year may arrive with visions of slot machines and magic shows, said Michael Goldsmith, director of convention sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority. And it’s for that very reason business travelers come prepared to work and to network.
“A lot of the attractions are available at night, whether it’s fine dining in a restaurant, shopping or going to a show,” Goldsmith said. “Attendees spend more time on the trade show floor in Las Vegas because they know other things will be available after traditional business hours.”
The most anticipated new show in town isn’t Better Midler or Cher but MGM Mirage’s City Center, an $11 billion, 16-million-square-foot city-within-a-city scheduled to open in December. While other “mega-resorts” along the four-mile Las Vegas Strip look and feel like theme parks for adults, City Center aims to be the Strip’s first true neighborhood, a network of high-rise towers with its own fire station, grocery store, and power plant in addition to the 61-story Aria Resort, the 57-story Vdara condo hotel, a shopping mall called the Crystals and a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza based on the life and music of Elvis Presley. The Aria Resort will feature 300,000 square feet of meeting space, including 36 meeting rooms and four ballrooms ranging from 20,275 to 51,560 square feet.
Other new properties include the 390-room M Resort, Spa, and Casino with 60,000 square feet of meeting space; and the Hard Rock Casino’s new 490-room Paradise Tower, part of a $750 expansion which also includes 60,000 square feet of exhibition space. In August, The Monte Carlo transformed its top floor into the exclusive Hotel 32. Guests travel from McCarran International Airport in a limousine, pass the front desk – no check-in required, of course – and travel upstairs in a private elevator. There they’ll find a room arranged to their tastes, with any of 12 types of pillows and a refrigerator stocked with their favorite foods and beverages.
Las Vegas continues to be the home of the big meeting, hosting the nation’s 200 largest conventions each year in 9.8 million square feet of convention space, according to Tradeshow Week. Yet the city’s range of venues also allows smaller events to shine. Even its largest venue, the 1.7 million square foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center, does most of its business with smaller group, according to MGM’s Bowling.
“Our property is the fifth-largest convention facility in the U.S. We do meetings on a very large scale better than anybody in the U.S. and, quite frankly, in the world,” Bowling said. “We do on average 100 meetings a month – and of those, 80 percent are 150 rooms a night or less.”
Gaming continues to be a big part of Las Vegas’ appeal, and 85 percent of those who visited in 2008 spent time at the tables. But the city’s casinos are hardly its sole attraction. Las Vegas’ cuisine has improved by several orders of magnitude since the days of the all-you-can-eat buffet, making the city one of four in the United States to earn a place in France’s Michelin guides. Some restaurants, like Bellagio’s Fix, double as meeting venues. Others let select attendees get into the act. At Caesar’s Palace, for example, restaurateur Bradley Ogden welcomes small groups into his kitchen for a private cooking lesson.
Spa treatments have become a popular incentive both with meeting guests and the spouses, family members or friends they bring with them, as 35 percent of convention visitors did in 2008. The truly privileged can enjoy a candle-lit pedicure at The Palms’ AMP Afterhouse, which serves just one person or couple at a time. Mere mortals can content themselves with making it snow in the desert at Caesars Palace’s Qua Baths and Spa, where visitors to the Arctic Room sit in an igloo-shaped room while snowflakes flutter down on them.
“Just about anything you can imagine,” said Alicia Malone, public relations manager for leisure with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, “Las Vegas can do.”
LAS VEGAS CONVENTION CENTER
Built and maintained by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the vast Las Vegas Convention Center combines more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space and 114 meeting rooms capable of seating 20 to 2,500 guests. The center is close to McCarran International Airport – so close, in fact, that passengers on several airlines can check their bags at the convention center up to 12 hours before a flight. 3150 Paradise Road, tel 702 892 9711, www.lvcva.com
MANDALAY BAY CONVENTION CENTER
When it opened its doors in 2003, the Mandalay’s 1 million square feet of exhibit space made it the largest meeting venue on the Las Vegas Strip. The center, part of the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, includes the nation’s largest pillarless ballroom – a 100,000-square-foot “mega-ballroom” – as well as breakout space to accommodate more than 75 simultaneous meetings. 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S., tel 703 632 7777, www.mandalaybay.com/conventions
SANDS EXPO AND CONVENTION CENTER
At 2.25 million square feet, the Sands Expo and Convention Center provides more meeting space than the entire cities of San Fransisco, San Diego and Phoenix combined. Together with the Congress Center at the adjoining Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino, the Sands regularly hosts 20 percent of the nation’s largest trade shows and corporate events in meeting halls ranging from 1,320 to 380,000 square feet. 201 Sands Ave., tel 702 733 5556, www.sandsexpo.com
At just over 11 years old, Bellagio is probably too young to be called a “grande dame,” but Steve Wynn’s 3,933-room crown jewel, modeled on the villas of Italy’s Lake Como, has already mastered the airs and graces of some of the world’s great hotels. In addition to numerous meeting facilities – including the 30,000-square-foot Tower Ballroom and 45,500-square-foot Grand Ballroom – Bellagio provides planners with a variety of alternative venues, from its 1,170-square-foot exhibition Tuscany Kitchen to the resort’s Gallery of Fine Art, which can accommodate up to 250. 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S., tel 702 693 7111, www.bellagio.com
RIO HOTEL & CASINO
Each of the 2,500 guestrooms at the New Orleans-themed Rio Hotel & Casino is a suite of at least 600 square feet. The resort’s 160,000-square-foot conference center has its own dedicated parking and passenger drop-off areas. The real advantage, however, is the resort’s membership in Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s Entertainment, which allows planners to coordinate activities at the Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Imperial Palace or Paris resorts. 3700 W. Flamingo Road, tel 866 746 7671 www.riolasvegas.com
WYNN LAS VEGAS
After launching the era of the Las Vegas mega-resort with The Mirage in 1989, billionaire Steve Wynn followed suit with Treasure Island, Bellagio, and eventually the 50-story, 2,716-room Wynn Las Vegas. The resort features every luxury a visitor could want, including an 18-hole, par 70 golf course and the 75,000-square-foot Wynn Esplanade, with the only Manolo Blahnik boutique outside of Manhattan. The resort’s 223,000 square feet features floor-to-ceiling windows, 18 meeting rooms and two ballrooms ranging in size from 25,000 to 50,000 square feet. 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., tel 702 770 7000, www.wynnlasvegas.com
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