. Las Vegas Comes of Age | Successful Meetings

Las Vegas Comes of Age

From hosting national political debates to a downtown renaissance, change is coming to Sin City

Paris Las Vegas

MEET - IPEC Las Vegas
Opened this summer, IPEC is a freestanding meetings and events facility with more than 20,000 square feet of space, suitable for groups of 50 to 720. These include a 5,000-square-foot foyer with soaring 29-foot-high ceilings and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, six conference rooms, state-of-the-art A/V and Wi-Fi, a 2,500-square foot kitchen, and on-site parking.

PLAY - OMNIA Nightclub

The host of this year's SITE NITE event at IMEX America, the 75,000-square-foot OMNIA Nightclub that opened at Caesars Palace in May has an ultra lounge, massive main club, and an outdoor terrace with amazing Strip views, among other spaces. It can accommodate groups of 200 to 4,500 and has A/V and lighting suitable for top international DJs like Calvin Harris.

STAY - Wynn and Encore Luxury Suites
Wynn Las Vegas and Encore have opened some of their top high-roller apartments and villas to paying guests and corporate hospitality. The Wynn Fairway Villas offer views of the Wynn Golf Course -- the only one on the Strip -- private balconies, massage rooms, and living rooms seating eight.

If you were staying at the Wynn Las Vegas during the IMEX America trade show in October, you noticed that it was also playing host to the first Democratic presidential debate, in which Hillary Clinton finally managed to break past Vermont phenom (and U.S. Senator) Bernie Sanders, who has been punching above his weight for months.

But that's not the only presidential debate that will be held in Las Vegas during this election cycle. On Oct. 19, 2016, the final -- and thus most important -- presidential debate will be held at the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus. And Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), wants to make certain that no one misses what the decision to hold both the recent Democratic primary debate and that vital presidential debate in Las Vegas says about Las Vegas' value as a meetings destination.

"The presidential debate is a platform that shouts the importance of face-to-face meetings," Meyer says. It also, he adds, gives "the perception that Las Vegas is a serious destination. If we can have the future president here to debate, you can have your meeting or convention here. This removes any question or concern that companies shouldn't hold meetings here."

That question, of course, arose during a presidential town hall meeting on Feb. 9, 2009, when the president warned bankers that took public bailouts, "You can't get corporate jets, you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas, or go down to the Superbowl on the taxpayers' dime." In the wake of these concerns, public companies of all kinds cancelled meetings and events in Las Vegas, costing the city tens of thousands of room-nights and more than $100 million in revenue in short order.

President Obama visited Las Vegas many times after that remark -- often to a frosty reception -- but the meetings, incentives, conventions, and events (MICE) industry is doing quite well there now, regardless. All the talk these days is about growth, both on the Strip and off.

In August, Las Vegas welcomed 3.6 million visitors -- 530,000 of them convention attendees -- for a total of 28 million visitors through the first eight months of the year. Convention attendance is up 3.4 percent in 2015.

One of the biggest projects had its official launch on Oct. 22, when the LVCVA went before an economic development task force appointed by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to formally make the case to fund a major renovation and expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, growing it from 3.2 million square feet to 5.7 million square feet, as part of the $2.3-billion Las Vegas Global Business District project.

This project's initial goal would be the 55-year-old convention center's first major expansion in a decade. The first phase would include 750,000 square feet of exhibition space and 187,500 square feet of supporting meeting space, as part of an 1.8-million-square-foot expansion. The plan would  then be followed by a full renovation of the existing convention center and more additions to the facility.

During this time, the LVCVA would be working on the creation of a business and entertainment neighborhood around the convention center. There's also the possibility of a major monorail expansion associated with the project.

The project really began in February, when the LVCVA bought and shuttered the old Riviera Hotel & Casino (its iconic sign has been preserved at the Las Vegas Neon Museum). The 26-acre site "will give the convention center a Las Vegas Boulevard address," Meyer says. That Strip-front access will make it easier to develop the 191-acre area around the convention center into a real neighborhood, which will in turn "start attracting more businesses," he says.

Of course, this is a long-term project, Meyer says, noting that even renovating the existing Las Vegas Convention Center will have to wait until the new addition is built. "Realistically, we are looking at an eight-year program," Meyer adds. "There is not even an architectural rendering yet."

In fact, the plan was only formally presented to the governor's Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee on Oct. 22, and the Committee isn't scheduled to make its recommendations until mid-2016. Of course, the LVCVA's $180-million-plus purchase of the Riviera in February, which it shuttered in May, does suggest a certain degree of confidence by the LVCVA, even if it isn't showing all its cards.

High-Tech Nevada
Tesla's New Battery Factory in Reno May Charge Up Las Vegas

It may be on the other side of the state from Las Vegas, but electric car maker Tesla's decision to build its 10-million square foot, industry-changing, car- and home-battery plant in Reno, NV, is reverberating far beyond the state's smaller gaming destination.

The Gigafactory, as the still-under-construction plant is called, is anchoring a move to turn Reno into a center of high-technology manufacturing and development. Among other investments, Gov. Brian Sandoval's Office of Economic Development is funding a drone research center in the Reno area, and working to attract tech firms like Apple and Amazon to the area.

The same thing is happening in Las Vegas, says Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). A key part of the state's interest in creating a $2.3-billion Las Vegas Global Business District project centered on the Las Vegas Convention Center is the fact that the LVCVA is also a World Trade Center (WTC) member, in partnership with the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs one of Las Vegas' largest tradeshows, CES. In mid-October, the Las Vegas WTC signed an agreement with another science and technology minded WTC based in Seoul. A month earlier, Nevada was one of five states to sign an accord with China to promote sales of renewable resources, as well as clean energy and water technology.

"These types of activities really help with economic development," Meyer says. "We are seeing more scientific meetings [in Las Vegas], particularly in solar energy and renewables."

As clean energy -- whether it's solar or wind energy collection, or battery powered cars and homes -- relies on batteries to store that power for later use, Meyer notes.

With its high profile, "Tesla is opening the door for us to attract more technology firms," he adds. "It is a watershed moment for the state."

Downtown Looks Up
Downtown Las Vegas and the Fremont Street area have long been overlooked by meeting and convention planners, but that seems to be changing, Meyer says. "Downtown is really exciting," he says, noting that the LVCVA recently took a high-profile group of event marketing firms on a site inspection during a recent familiarization trip. "A lot of leaders down there are committed to the idea that downtown is a destination in and of itself. There has been a major investment in properties, a lot of new businesses opening, and a much younger vibe."

Much of this renaissance can be traced back to tech entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, who brought his online shoe and clothing brand's headquarters to the struggling neighborhood several years ago and has since invested some $350 million of his own money in the area. His Downtown Project has been investing in restaurants, nightlife, and entertainment venues in the area, as well as several dedicated meeting and event spaces, and seeking -- with growing success -- to attract other investors to the area.

One of The Downtown Project's venues that has been attracting buzz among planners who have ventured there recently is the Downtown Container Park, an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment venue constructed from repurposed shipping containers.


The LINQ outdoor dining, shopping,
and entertainment district was
the first project to bring the
outside into Vegas experience
The LINQ outdoor dining, shopping, and entertainment district was the first project to bring the outside into Vegas experience

The Venues Group, by contrast, was attracted by what's happening downtown. It recently opened The Venue Las Vegas, a 38,000-square-foot special-event facility in the Fremont East Entertainment District. With a maximum capacity of 2,700, it features nine flexible event spaces, including a main-floor ballroom and a rooftop bar and lounge overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. Other downtown venues that have drawn meeting and event planners' interest for several years are the Mob Museum, which has spaces suitable for 30 to a full-buyout 500, and the Neon Museum, which can host guests of up to 75 indoors and 400 out among the exhibits. And the LVCVA has been highlighting a string of restaurants and bars opening in the area all year.

Hotels in the area have been following suit in their efforts to attract meetings groups and events, says Meyer. He notes that "the Downtown hotels have also formed a co-operative marketing group and are working on a brochure for meeting planners and incentive buyers."

Cirque du Soleil Debuts Teambuilding Workshops For Groups
Cirque du Soleil is moving from the Big Top to the boardroom: As of Oct. 1, the Québec-based performance group is offering "SPARK Sessions" for VIP groups in Las Vegas, drawing on the talent and exeprience of its many shows in residence there.  Exclusive workshops custom-built for corporate groups, the sessions are designed to stimulate creativity and innovation by harnessing Cirque du Soleil principles and best practices.

"This is the first tme we've opened our curtains to groups," said James Guilford, SPARK program manager at Cirque du Soleil. "We tailor each session to that specific group's needs."

"SPARK Sessions are our way to bring people into the Cirque world and create some of the most interactive and educational teambuilding experiences in the world right on stage," Guilford said. "It's our hope that SPARK Sessions ignite innovation, curiosity, and creativity."

Cirque du Soleil is offering two types of SPARK Sessions:

Learning Sessions for larger groups illustrate how Cirque du Soleil fuels innovation, maintains operational excellence, and nurtures creativity in employees. Sessions include a tailor-made tour providing exclusive insights and sneak peeks; an interactive panel discussion staffed by Cirque du Soleil experts; and a demonstration of the theatre's technical abilities.

Teambuilding sessions are more in-depth, and limited to 40 participants. "We're only doing 20 per year. These groups work with our trainers, artists, coaches, and techs to train and perform a mini-show onstage. We can dial it up or down for all ages and fitness levels." -- Matt Alderton

--Matt Alderton

Out of Doors
One trend that will accelerate in 2016 is the growth of outdoor spaces on the Strip. Caesars Entertainment was first, opening The LINQ, an outdoor dining, shopping, and nightlife venue anchored by the 550-foot High Roller observation wheel, last year. Its offerings include restaurants like Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen & Bar, Hash House A Go Go, and The Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery.

In part this is an accommodation of reality, says Meyer, who notes, "It is silly to think people want to be on property 24 hours a day anymore. Millennials, Gen Xers, even Boomers are more active these days." Of course, the fact that the casino resorts are getting more of their revenue from dining, entertainment, and groups than gaming is likely another big factor.


The Park, MGM Resorts International's
new outdoor dining, shopping, and
entertainment zone "will be a hub of
energy" on the Strip, says Michael Dominguez,
the company's senior vice president
and chief sales officer
The Park, MGM Resorts International's new outdoor dining, shopping, and entertainment zone "will be a hub of energy" on the Strip, says Michael Dominguez, the company's senior vice president and chief sales officer

MGM Resorts International has already opened -- partially, anyway -- The Park, an eight-acre "neighborhood" connecting its Monte Carlo Resort and Casino and New York-New York Hotel and Casino properties. It features an open-air plaza, live entertainment, restaurants, retail, and nightlife options. When completed in April 2016, it will also be home to a 20,000-seat arena that MGM is building in partnership with AEG, which operates facilities including the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles and the O2 entertainment district in London.

The LED-covered arena will provide Las Vegas with a concert venue suitable for any major city, says Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer of MGM Resorts International. It will also be an important addition for very large meetings and conventions, Dominguez adds, pointing to the 20,000-employee Cisco GSX (Global Sales Experience) meeting it hosted in 2015. "Now, we will have a facility large enough to bring a group that size together," for major speakers and keynote sessions, he adds. "The Park is going to be a hub of energy."

That arena will be getting a mini-me sibling in 2017, MGM Resorts announced recently: Monte Carlo Resort and Casino is adding a 5,000-seat theater with dynamic seating to allow rapid configuration changes.  

MGM has also invested in a pair of large festival venues at either end of the Strip: the 15-acre Las Vegas Village on the south end of the Strip near Mandalay Bay and the Luxor, and the 33-acre Las Vegas Festival Groups on the north end, near Circus Circus.

New In Town 

Las Vegas is rolling out some exciting new offerings in the coming months


After a top-to-bottom renovation, Caesars Entertainment's
newest center-strip property, The LINQ Hotel and Casino's
2,253 guest rooms are ready for occupancy
After a top-to-bottom renovation, Caesars Entertainment's newest center-strip property, The LINQ Hotel and Casino's 2,253 guest rooms are ready for occupancy

Change and reinvention are a constant in Las Vegas, be that finding entertainment in the open air or treating Downtown Las Vegas with a newfound respect. It also means that the hotels and casinos that are mainstays of the Strip today may be gone -- or at least reinvented -- tomorrow. Here's a look at what's new in town.

The Tropicana Las Vegas, which renovated its rooms and pool, and expanded its convention facilities to 100,000 square feet as a part of a $200-million top-to-bottom overhaul during the past four years, was sold to Penn National Gaming for $360 million in August. Penn National owns 27 gaming and racing facilities in 17 states, including the luxury M Resort Spa Casino on the Strip.

The 1,500-room Tropicana, which now has a Miami-influenced décor, still plans further renovations, including a $20-million technology infrastructure upgrade scheduled to occur within the next year, and a longer-term plan to add new retail space and food-and-beverage outlets, overhaul the casino, and possibly add more rooms. Next spring, it will join Penn National Gaming's Marquee rewards loyalty program.


The Tropicana, which recently underwent
a $200-million renovation, was sold to
the owner of the M Resort Spa Casino
The Tropicana, which recently underwent a $200-million renovation, was sold to the owner of the M Resort Spa Casino

Mandalay Bay has added a $70-million, 350,000-square-foot expansion to its existing 1.7-million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center, bringing it to 2.05 million square feet, including 900,000 square feet of exhibition space. This makes it the fifth-largest facility in North America by both total square footage and exhibit space, according to MGM Resorts International. The expanded exhibition space will allow for the conversion of an existing 70,000-square-foot hall into a carpeted, divisible ballroom. The company also expanded its rooftop solar panel array to a staggering 28 acres, with an annual production of about 3.4 million kilowatt hours -- enough to power 1,300 homes.

Mandalay Bay has also begun a $100-million project to renovate all of its 3,000 guest rooms and suites. Featuring bold colors and a vibrant, modern style, the rooms will be finished by next spring.

The all-suite Encore Resort at Wynn Las Vegas has embarked on a renovation project that will encompass all of its 2,034 suites. The refresh includes new furnishings, floor coverings, in-room technology, and décor, as well as custom bed linens with an extremely high thread count of 507. All TVs will be replaced with the latest 4K 55-inch, high-definition TVs, and integrated USB/power ports will be added to desks and nightstands, as will your-mother-can-use-it-simple touchscreen environmental controls covering temperature, lighting, curtains, and the alarm clock.

Caesars Entertainment has wrapped up the top-to-bottom, $223-million overhaul of The LINQ Hotel & Casino, which has 2,253 guest rooms, including 244 suites, two loft-style penthouses, and 25 poolside cabana guest rooms. The colorful, Millennial-targeted property abuts The LINQ outdoor dining and entertainment venue, and offers a variety of tech-friendly features, such as text-based check-in, an automated valet-retrieval system, and free Wi-Fi throughout the resort. A 15,000-square-foot spa features Himalayan Salt Caves to help alleviate congestion, asthma, and sinus conditions. The 20,000-square-foot Vortex outdoor event venue is centered around a digital light pillar that is part of the property's entry décor, and the connected, 18,000-square-foot Blox ballroom, which offers floor-to-ceiling windows.

The Bellagio has wrapped up a remodel of 403 suites, completing a four-year, $165-million renovation of all 3,933 guest rooms. The Bellagio Tower suites feature high-end furnishings with lacquer and exotic woods. It has more than 200,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, with three ballrooms -- the largest being the 45,500-square-foot Grand Ballroom -- as well as 47 meeting rooms.

Uber, Lyft Roll into Vegas … Finally
In Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, and dozens of other U.S. cities -- even small ones like Green Bay, WI, and Toledo, OH -- meeting attendees in need of transportation can pull out their smartphones and e-hail a ride, quickly, cheaply, and conveniently. In one of the nation's top convention destinations, however, mobile devices have heretofore been powerless, leaving many attendees stranded in sometimes endless taxi lines at hotels and convention centers.

That changed in September when the Nevada Transportation Authority finally granted permits to ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft, allowing them to operate legally in the "Silver State" nearly a year after a judge banned Uber's attempted entry. That followed legislation this summer that subjected the firms to state oversight. In October, Clark County set rules that will allow the firms to pick up and drop off at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport.

For now, Lyft is operating only in Las Vegas, while Uber is in both Las Vegas and Reno. The latter is offering its lowest-cost UberX service -- whereby drivers pick up passengers in their own vehicles -- as well as UberXL SUV service.

-- Matt Alderton

VIPs led by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Genting Chairman K.T. Lim [two center figures] officially broke ground for the $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas project in May

 The Northern Strip 
Despite a flashy and high-profile groundbreaking on May 5 with Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Genting Group Chairman and CEO K.T. Lim, there still isn't much new to report about the $4-billion, China-themed casino resort being built by the Malaysian gaming giant, best known for the massive Resorts World Sentosa casino/resort/theme park in Singapore. At the time, the company released a statement promising that Resorts World Las Vegas will feature "rich cultural attractions, varied cuisine, and jaw-dropping entertainment from China's many diverse regions and ethnic groups," as well as "an infinite variation of entertainment themes from the longest continuous civilization in the world."

With the opening of the first phase now planned for mid-2018, the heart of Resorts World Las Vegas will be a 1,000-room hotel tower, which will eventually grow to four towers with a combined 3,000 rooms and suites. The size and nature of the phase-one meeting facilities are not yet clear, but a 4,000-seat theater is planned, and a 1-million-square-foot convention center is scheduled for a later stage of development.

Initial amenities are expected to include a 100,000-square-foot casino, which will grow in later phases; a "retail village" with more than 15 outlets; an aquarium; an observation deck with a view down the Strip; and approximately 30 dining and nightlife facilities, as well as a main bar featuring live entertainment and a main showroom. Future additions reportedly include a water park, a movie theater complex, a bowling alley, and a "new, still-to-be-determined large-scale attraction."

Another new luxury resort is reportedly planned nearby, on a site across from the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. Called the Alon Las Vegas, the resort is currently set to have two hotel towers with nearly 1,100 rooms, as well as 85,000 square feet of meeting space including a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, and 500-seat theater. A large upscale retail venue, nightclub, spa, and pool area are also in the works, according to plans filed with the county. Opening is expected to take place in 2018.

The owner of northern Strip newcomer SLS Las Vegas, Sam Nazarian's SBE Entertainment Group, is reportedly in talks to merge with boutique hotel pioneer Morgans Hotel Group, according to a wide variety of sources, including the Wall Street Journal. Morgans' brands include Delano, which runs the all-suite Delano Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The merger has come under attack from a Morgans investor, so the timing of any deal is uncertain.

Blue Man Group has expanded and enhanced the Behind the Blue tours it offers for groups. The 90-minute tours take participants onstage and behind the scenes for a sneak peek into the world of Blue Man Group. A crew member will welcome participants onstage, give them a history of the world-famous act, and show off the set and props used. Then they will take their seats for a Q&A session with a crew member during the soundcheck, and stay for the show.

Blue Man Group is also relocating from the Monte Carlo to its original home at Luxor, while current Luxor headliner, the Jabbawockeez dance crew, moves into its new theater at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in early November.

In September, work began on the $30-million, 100-acre supercar racing complex, called SPEEDVEGAS, which will feature a 1.5-mile lighted, banked racetrack with 12 corners and a half-mile straight, as well as a 20,000-square-foot indoor meeting and event space with rooms that can host up to 1,000. A large fleet of cars will include several models of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches, as well as the Audi R8, Mercedes AMG GT-S, and Nissan GTR, among others. It is scheduled to open in March 2016.

Las Vegas Convention Center (currently 2.3 million sf); Sands Expo and Convention Center (1.8 million sf); Mandalay Bay Convention Center (2.05 million sf)

12 percent  

Pinnacle Awards Go To:

 Las Vegas CVA
 Aria Resort & Casino
 Bellagio Resort & Casino
 Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
 The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
 Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
 MGM Grand Las Vegas
 The Mirage
 New York-New York Hotel & Casino
 The Venetian/The Palazzo
 Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort

Off the Strip
In October, The D Las Vegas, a three-year-old property with 692 recently renovated rooms, unveiled an 11,000-square-foot meeting and convention space with all new A/V and high-speed Wi-Fi. The 12-floor space includes the 6,000-square-foot Detroit Ballroom, which can handle up to 300 people, and the Traverse City Patio, an outdoor space for groups of up to 100 overlooking the Downtown Las Vegas Event Center. Eight 500-square-foot breakouts overlook the colorful Fremont Street Experience.

Another property gaining attention is the Downtown Grand Las Vegas, a 629-room property opened in 2013. It has a 35,000-square-foot rooftop pool deck that can accommodate 1,200, a 2,500-square-foot ballroom, and 850-square-foot conference room.

Downtown is not the only off-Strip area of Las Vegas where things are happening. About 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, the Suncoast Hotel and Casino has completed a refresh of its 388 guest rooms, overhauling the hard and soft goods and bathroom fixtures to create a stylish and modern look that reflects the beauty of its location, near the 200,000-acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Red Rock attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, offering more than 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, and picnic areas. The Suncoast has 25,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, a Pure Salon & Spa, and 95,000-square-foot casino.

The neighboring Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, with 796 rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space, is wrapping up a $35-million renovation that included the creation of four new restaurants and the overhaul of its 25,000-square-foot Spa at Red Rock. Next year, it will host the Incentive Research Foundation's Annual Invitational event.

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the November 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.