For Las Vegas, its greatest visibility in the meetings industry comes from global conventions like CES, the National Association of Broadcasters’ NAB Show, the automotive industry’s Specialty Equipment Market Association’s SEMA Show, fashion giant MAGIC Market Week and IMEX America. Yet, these and other peer events are the tip of a giant pyramid of some 22,000 annual conventions and meetings.
Delving deeper into the stack reveals a universe of gatherings as diverse as humanity itself. As my sister, Christiana, once shared after six years as restaurant manager at the five-star Four Seasons Las Vegas Hotel, “People from every walk of life and every conceivable group, association and organization under the sun meet in Vegas.”
Providing powerful testament to the mission of the Meetings Means Business Coalition, here is a taste of the wide world of group action, past and present, that makes Vegas the place to meet.
Set to Stun
Long before confirming its place as a leading global convention city, Las Vegas was setting bold new frontiers for groups.
Founded in 1934 by Arizona carnival barker Clyde Zerby to capitalize on the workforce and tourists associated with the construction of the Hoover Dam, the boisterous Wild West-inspired Helldorado Days festival played a critical marketing role in sustaining Las Vegas before its boom years.
Eventually becoming more family-friendly, this annual celebration thrived through the decades before fading away in the 1990s. Since revived and now managed by the Colorado-based Professional Bull Riders organization, the 2017 edition of the Las Vegas Helldorado Days Rodeo & Parade took place last month at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds.
In 1952, seven years before the original Las Vegas Convention Center opened, Flamingo Las Vegas hosted the inaugural meeting of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Atom Bomb Watchers. Organized by the Atomic Energy Commission and partners, the event was in support of local “atomic tourism” associated with detonations at the Nevada Test Site, some 50 miles away.
Last year, the 26-acre Riviera Hotel site was demolished and cleared to create new outdoor exhibition space for the emerging Las Vegas Convention Center District. In 1968, the Riviera’s parking lot was used to display 34 airplanes at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots’ Association convention—having taxied there from McCarran via the Strip with a police escort.
In 1979, one year after CES started its 50-year run, Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Venetian and Palazzo resorts, co-founded the Computer Dealers’ Exhibition, or COMDEX. Once boasting the highest attendance of any tradeshow in any industry, “Geek Week,” which ended in 2003, was at the vanguard of the city’s currently unrivalled 23-year run as North America’s tradeshow leader.
While the International UFO Congress convention, which met in Laughlin, Nev., from 1991 to 2011, has since relocated to Arizona, this August sees the return of the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention for its 16th edition. After celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary last year, the 2017 edition, hosted by Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, includes scheduled appearances from nearly 100 Star Trek stars, including original cast members Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, William Shatner and George Takei.
Otherworldly in its own right was Las Vegas’ hosting of the third and final presidential debate last October. Underscoring both how serious Vegas has become as an event stage and its A-to-Z range and capabilities, the debate, held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center, attracted more than 71 million TV viewers and generated an estimated $114 million in publicity for Las Vegas and the university.
From iconic ’70s band KISS rocking the Laughlin Event Center this April to the Budweiser Clydesdales parading down the Strip before the Super Bowl (and relaxing at off-Strip South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa, which hosts 280 event days each year at its Arena & Equestrian Center), spectacles and surprises are a way of life in Vegas.
This January, some 30,000 attendees from 35 countries and a record 800 stars participated in the annual AVN Adult Entertainment Expo. Hosted by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas for the sixth consecutive year, the show was among the first to book the property’s new 18,000-square-foot convention space expansion.
In 2011, some 800 “merfolk” from as far away as Australia gathered at the off-Strip Silverton Casino Lodge for the inaugural Mermaid Convention and World Mermaid Awards.
Also in costume and more are the participants in the annual Reel Awards and Tribute Artists Convention. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in Vegas this year and fourth at Downtown’s Golden Nugget Casino, this publicly accessible event features a Hollywood-style awards show, seminars and other programs recognizing talented impersonators and tribute artists.
The matrimonial arts are celebrated at WPPI’s (Wedding & Portrait Photographers International) annual week-long Wedding & Portrait Photography Conference + Expo, the industry’s premier event. Launched in 1980, the show’s 2016 edition, at the MGM Grand Convention Center, drew over 12,000 registered attendees and over 200 exhibitors.
WPPI moves to the Las Vegas Convention Center in March 2018.
Billed as “the original worldwide roller derby convention,” RollerCon is its own mini-study in Las Vegas convention history. Launched in 2005, the annual five-day event in July has convened, in sequence, at Downtown’s Union Plaza, the Imperial Palace (now the Linq Hotel & Casino), Tropicana Las Vegas, Hooter’s and the Riviera, before settling into the Westgate Convention Center.
Other unique entities on the Vegas circuit include the International Pizza Expo, the world’s largest pizza industry show fresh off its 33rd edition this March; Sports Licensing & Tailgate Show; and Digital Signage Expo.
Taking 250th spot on the Trade Show News Network’s (TSNN) 2016 rankings, the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, produced by Marijuana Business Daily, met last year at The Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino. Founded in 2012, the show has grown from 402 delegates and 2,200 net square feet of exhibits to 9,000-plus delegates and 45,640 square feet of space for 323 exhibitors.
Whatever the harvest, meetings, and Las Vegas, mean business.