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Nevada Is Having One of Its Best Years Yet—Major Event Reports From Las Vegas, Reno and More

U2 opening night at the Sphere

Menisha Moses, Destination Toronto’s media relations manager, business events and trade, chose the right year to attend her first-ever IMEX America this October.

“It was also my first time in Las Vegas,” said Moses, post-show. “IMEX 2023 was an absolute feast for the senses and Vegas was the perfect platform for a conference full of energy and excitement. I spent a whirlwind two days connecting with colleagues on and off the show floor, exchanging ideas and enjoying great local cuisine.” 

Highlights included Destination Toronto “carving out space as a thought leader” during the “A Voice 4 All” education sessions, along with over 100 client meetings and two virtual sessions for media attendees, the latter delivered by Moses herself. 

“It was a fascinating experience to see all sides of the meetings industry come together to focus on collaboration, not competition,” she said.

Her experience and sentiments align with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s (LVCVA) new “You’re Not Invited” campaign. 

Presented by LVCVA Chief Sales Officer Lisa Messina and Vice President of Destination Sales Rebecca DeLuca at the show, the campaign champions the destination’s “unrivaled creative energy, optimism and ambition” for business decision-makers “looking to spark something extraordinary” while “uninviting mediocrity and the expected.” 

IMEX America’s organizers and participants clearly got the memo. Propelled by palpable excitement and energy, the show’s 12th edition was the largest yet, with results to match. 

Everywhere you looked, it was bigger and better. London + Partners brought a record 29 co-exhibitors to the show. Visit Atlantic City reported heading back east with an impressive haul of RFPs and new business leads with follow-ups. Racking up more than 11,000 steps each day, I heard stories of optimism and success across the show floor.

For Las Vegas, it’s full speed ahead with an unprecedented post-IMEX run of major events that are collectively poised to prove just how extraordinary the Vegas “spark” can be in catalyzing, energizing and driving innovation, engagement and record outcomes. With game-changing developments also taking place in Reno and Tahoe, Nevada is redefining the future of meetings.

Las Vegas Readies for “Calendar Crush”

NFL Super Bowl Press Conference
NFL Super Bowl Press Conference. Credit: David Becker

Preceded by the 25,000-plus-attendee Global Gaming Expo, IMEX America was far from the only Vegas group action in mid-October, with thousands of other delegates attending multiple concurrent shows all over town alongside throngs of tourists. While that’s standard operating procedure year-round for the LVCVA and resort partners, the parade of a dozen-plus mega-events closing out 2023 and kicking off 2024, called a “calendar crush” by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is monumental.

The annual five-day Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) automotive aftermarket tradeshow at publication time was expected to bring 100,000-plus attendees to the Las Vegas Convention Center from October 31 to November 4. Early December sees the annual 10-day National Finals Rodeo, which attracted 173,350 visitors in 2022. Vegas closes out the year with “America’s Party” for 300,000-plus people on New Year’s Eve, followed in early January by CES. Last year, the blockbuster global tech show attracted 115,000 attendees with an exhibition footprint 70% larger than 2022. Another titan, World of Concrete, closes out the month.

Amid all else, Vegas is hosting the Pac-12 Conference championship football game, inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament, collegiate Las Vegas Bowl—and the two biggest jackpots, the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix and Super Bowl 58. Returning to Vegas for the first time since 1981, the three-day Formula One experience in mid-November is poised to be the biggest event to date in Vegas. 

Barely visible in professional sports a decade ago, Vegas is now a city of champions, including 2023 Stanley Cup winners the Vegas Golden Knights and the Las Vegas Aces, who just won their second consecutive WNBA crown.

For years, you could not say “NFL” in the same sentence as Vegas. On February 11, 2024, Vegas hosts its first-ever Super Bowl—and from an event planning and hosting perspective alone, a singular experience awaits (see Q&A and accompanying video interview with Sam Joffray, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Super Bowl 58 Host Committee).

Just how does Vegas do it?

[Related: In the Huddle: Q&A with Sam Joffray, President and CEO, Las Vegas Super Bowl LVIII Host Committee]

Staying Grounded While Reaching for the Stars

Las Vegas Convention Convention Center
Las Vegas Convention Convention Center. Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau

In further discussing the “You’re Not Invited” campaign, Messina explained how the “light, energy and passion” that delegates find in Vegas “make you feel that you can tackle and achieve great things.”

That essential emotional element of the Vegas experience is expertly cultivated. Vegas takes nothing for granted and rests on no laurels in perpetuating its standing as the entertainment, meetings, sports and increasingly, innovation capital of the world. Complacency and status quo have no home here. Vegas single-mindedly pursues excellence; its truest rival may just be itself.

Fearless capital spending powers Vegas forward. As reported by the Nevada Resort Association, some $20 billion went to current or planned major tourism-related capital investment projects in Southern Nevada last year, with another $3 billion in Northern Nevada. With tourism generating more than $90 billion in state-wide economic activity in 2022, the investments produce outsized returns.

This September, the Wall Street Journal named the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) No. 1 in its ranking of the nation’s top 30 convention venues. The Venetian Convention and Expo Center and Mandalay Bay Convention Center ranked third and seventh, respectively. Scoring was primarily weighted on venue size and quality, including total square footage, amount of exhibition space, number of meeting rooms and proximity to a major airport. Other considerations included walkability, weather, dining, entertainment and hotel offerings.

Notably, all three are currently investing for continuing success. Following the $1 billion West Hall expansion in 2021, the 4.6 million square foot LVCC, which generated $2.2 billion in economic impact last year, is now renovating its legacy campus. Announced at IMEX 2023, The Venetian Resort Las Vegas will undertake a phased $188 million renovation of its 2.25 million-square-foot Convention Center, one of the largest meeting facilities in the world, between 2024 and 2026. The 2.1 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center, host venue for IMEX 2023 and again next year, is scheduled to complete a $100 million remodel in 2024. 

Continual investment ensures that Vegas meets demand, expands planner options and creates new excitement. 
This November, the $780 million Durango Casino & Resort debuts in southwest Las Vegas. In December, Fontainebleau Las Vegas ushers in a new era of luxury to the North Strip. Located across from the LVCC’s West Hall, the 67-story tower vertically stacks 3,644 hotel rooms, 550,000 square feet of versatile indoor-outdoor space and world-class amenities including 36 dining concepts.

Located at Venetian Las Vegas, the Sphere exemplifies how all new investments, complementing their primary purpose, are designed for groups. Named one of “200 innovations changing how we live” by TIME in its round-up of the best inventions of 2023, the $2.3 billion venue debuted in late September with a 36-show residency from Irish rock legends U2 and regular showings of acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky’s breathtaking Postcard from Earth movie

Seating 17,600 with standing room for 20,000, the Sphere immerses audiences with visuals and sound from the world’s highest resolution LED screen, a wraparound wonder in 16K, along with 4D physical and environmental effects, and speakers with beamforming, wave field synthesis technology. For corporate presentations, general sessions, product launches and other group programs, the Sphere and its programmable 580,000-square-foot LED exterior offer truly futuristic possibilities.

Another example is Formula One’s $500 million, three-level, 300,000-square-foot paddock building, which will be available for events at non-Formula One days year-round.

[Related: Las Vegas Sports Tourism Is a Total Team Effort]

All Vegas Stakeholders Support the Mission 

“The crux of the Super Bowl story is in the combination of resources, partnerships and know-how that Las Vegas and Caesars Entertainment brings to creating flawless experiences,” said Kelly Gleeson Smith, Caesars Entertainment’s vice president of sales, meetings and events, in conversation at IMEX America. “Vegas supports the 300,000-plus fans that come here for the Super Bowl every year. Our available high-quality hotel rooms far exceed any prior host city, and along with all major attractions, celebrity chef restaurants and amenities, are within convenient reach of Allegiant Stadium. I anticipate this will be one of the best Super Bowls the NFL has ever seen and will change the future of the game.”

In this tight-knit community, everybody wins by working together. 

“Formula 1 and the Super Bowl bring Las Vegas unprecedented access to a diverse international audience like never before for live events, especially when factoring in the advancement in media technologies,” said Don Voss, vice president of hotel sales and marketing at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, which is leveraging its prime Strip location with Western-themed Gilley’s restaurant as an official “Las Vegas Strip Circuit” venue and by offering media and staff room blocks through the LVCVA for the Super Bowl. “These events represent the best opportunity for immediate growth.”

Transforming the Strip and other streets into the 3.8-mile Formula One circuit, along with rerouting buses and transportation routes for Strip workers, is an epic $560 million civil-planning and engineering undertaking. “This is one of the most aggressive programs of construction and design I’ve seen, certainly in Vegas, as well as [in] sports,” Terry Miller, project manager for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, told the Hollywood Reporter.

“Twenty years ago, I could not have imagined where we are today,” said Stephanie Glanzer, chief sales officer and senior vice president for MGM Resorts International, which is a founding partner of the Las Vegas Grand Prix and along with other major resort operators was instrumental in securing the Super Bowl bid. “We are set up to undertake these major projects and host these successive mega-events because our very identity is about saying that we can and will meet any challenge, no matter what.”

[Related: Leading Resorts in Las Vegas Talk Major Event Excitement and Future Meetings Outlook]

Reno Ups Its Game in Big Ways

Reno Grand Sierra Resort property expansion
Reno Grand Sierra Resort property expansion. Credit: Grand Sierra Resort

In September 2023, Outside named Reno the happiest place to live in America. Contributing factors included Reno’s affordability, abundant outdoor recreation opportunities, thriving dining and craft beer scene and diversified economy.

Those same attributes make “The Biggest Little City in the World” a happy place for groups as Reno’s continuing evolution into a multi-sector business hub has catalyzed commensurate growth in meetings, events, and conventions. 

Sporting events are an increasingly major play. Supporting venues include the Reno Sparks Livestock Events Center, home of the Reno Rodeo and other equine events, and the 78-lane National Bowling Stadium. The recently renovated 600,000-square-foot Reno-Sparks Convention Center and Reno Events Center also flexibly accommodate athletic competitions. Home of the Triple-A baseball Reno Aces, the 9,000-plus capacity Greater Nevada Field is a fun option for group outings and special events.

In 2021, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) studied the feasibility of bringing indoor track back to Northern Nevada. Finding minimal competition throughout the West and opportunities for significant economic activity, the study suggested that indoor track competitions could generate up to 24,000 room nights in year one and up to 50,000 room nights by year two. 

In June 2023, the RSCVA board approved the acquisition of an indoor track. Serving as the University of Nevada’s home track, the investment, suitable for all levels of competition, is expected to host meets as early as November 2024.

Another feasibility study, by Synergy Sports, projects that more than 40,000 athletes and spectators could visit the region for 10-plus annual meets by 2029.

This October brought more landscape-shifting news when Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort (GSR) announced plans to infuse approximately $1 billion into the 140-acre property over the next decade. Representing the largest private capital investment in Reno’s history, the visionary project is centered on a cutting-edge, 10,000-plus capacity arena designed to host concerts, special events, basketball games and other sports. Other plan elements include an entertainment district, cutting-edge golf facility and new 800-room hotel tower.

“The vision is to transform GSR into a destination where community, sports and entertainment come together,” stated property owner Alex Meruelo, whose portfolio includes SAHARA Las Vegas, in a release. Meruelo and University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s former governor, also announced a possible partnership to make the new arena home of the university’s men’s basketball team.

Presently offering more than 1 million square feet of versatile space and 15,000-plus hotel rooms destination-wide, Reno’s expanding group infrastructure includes Colorado-based developer Jacob Entertainment’s transformation of the former Sands Regency into J Resort. The phased project anchors other exciting new event-capable projects such as downtown’s 20-block Neon Line District and 6,000-capacity Glow Plaza Festival Grounds. 

[Related: How Investment in the Reno Tahoe Region Is Changing the Meetings Game]

Lake Tahoe Leaps Ahead With New Developments

Tahoe Blue Event Center. Credit: Brad Scott for Visit Lake Tahoe
Tahoe Blue Event Center. Credit: Brad Scott for Visit Lake Tahoe

Billed as “the Unmeeting Destination” for “informal meetings without the rules, format and constraints,” Tahoe South, now Visit Lake Tahoe, finally has its long-sought convention center with the September 2023 opening of the Tahoe Blue Event Center.

Passed in 1997, the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority (TDVA) Act put the destination on course to build a convention facility. It took hurdling a series of challenges, from economic setbacks to the pandemic, but funded by room tax and with land donated by Edgewood Tahoe, the project was approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) in 2020.

Situated in the parking lot of the former Montbleu Casino Resort (now Bally's Lake Tahoe Casino Resort, offering 14,000 square feet of space), the highly configurable multi-use venue is home ice for an approved expansion ECHL hockey team owned by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. Named for exclusive sponsor Tahoe Blue Vodka, the arena, seating 4,200 people for hockey and other sporting events, is expandable to 6,000 seats. The venue offers 50,000-plus square feet of versatile group space overall.

Project champion Carol Chaplin, president/CEO of Visit Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, told a local news outlet that “this benefits us all.” Hosting an anticipated 125-plus midweek and shoulder season events each year, the venue is expected to generate $60 million in economic impact for the region.

The center got off to a hot start with the meeting of the National Association of State Park Directors, followed by Lake Tahoe Comic Con, World Wrestling Entertainment Supershow and Pitbull, with a full calendar of bookings ahead.

Symbolizing the center’s commitment to sustainability, “Surfaced” is a 700-pound outdoor sculpture depicting a bald eagle, Lahontan cutthroat trout and Ponderosa pine tree that internationally recognized artists Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikov crafted from 450-plus pounds of submerged litter removed by non-profit Clean Up The Lake’s 72-mile scuba cleanup of Lake Tahoe in 2022. Funded by more than 135 contributors and a $100,000 matching donation from Tahoe Blue Vodka, the clean-up extracted more than 25,000-plus pounds of garbage from the lake.  

Read this next: The Dynamic Culinary Scene in Nevada Is a Treat for Groups

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.