With the shift on from “attending” to “actively participating” in meetings and leaving informed, inspired and with stories to tell, Las Vegas can spark wonder, engagement and dialogue like few other places.

Take, for instance, the escalation from 25,430 guest rooms in 1970 to just shy of 150,000 today—with industry-leading 89.1 percent occupancy citywide last year. Or that in 1975 the dominant group hotel was the 2,108-room MGM Grand (now Bally’s), with 219,157 square feet of space. Today, it’s the Venetian and Palazzo resorts, with 7,000-plus suites and 2.3 million square feet of space combined.

Vegas stories always fascinate—including what’s next.

Pillars of Innovation

In 1955, the Nevada legislature proposed a convention center for Las Vegas. While criticized locally as the “white elephant in the desert,” the convention center broke ground in 1957, its billboard proclaiming, “There’s millions to be made.”  

Debuting in April 1959 with the World Congress of Flight, the UFO-shaped Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) did not exactly soar at first. In that first year, the city hosted eight conventions attended by 22,519 delegates.

The billboard should have read “billions.” In 2016, the destination welcomed 6.3 million delegates to nearly 22,000 meetings and conventions, delivering $12.4 billion in economic impact.

There’s plenty of room—and market share—to grow.

In 1978, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) became the first major convention to headquarter in Las Vegas. This January, the four-day blockbuster turned 50 in style, setting new records in exhibit space, attendance, start-up companies and more.

April 2017 pre-audit numbers from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the show’s Arlington, Va.-based owner and producer, reveal that the 2017 edition of the world’s largest innovation showcase featured 4,015 exhibitors utilizing 2.6 million net square feet of exhibit space, including 600 start-up companies. Just north of 184,000 people, total attendance included some 60,000 international delegates representing 158 countries, regions and territories.  

Could CES top 200,000 delegates? Speaking at a pre-2017 CES press conference, CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro thinks so, a dazzling prospect as fellow mega-shows like CONEXPO-CON/AGG also grow in square footage and attendance every year.

Affirming that Las Vegas is “always listening to our customers,” Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) CEO Rossi Ralenkotter joined Shapiro earlier this year in opening the new site for the $1.4 billion expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Together, they cut the ribbon on the 26-acre Diamond Lot, which includes 20 acres of outdoor exhibit space and 3,100 parking spaces.

Allowing CES and other top shows to expand is just one of the projected returns on the investment; others include significant job creation and major incremental economic impact.  

Creating the Las Vegas Convention Center District (LVCCD) when completed, the four-phase project encompasses an estimated seven-year timeline. With the 26-acre former Riviera site now cleared, the stage is set for a new 600,000-square-foot exhibit hall facility, part of an overall 1.4 million-square-foot expansion that will include meeting rooms, prefunction space, service areas, parking and permanent outdoor space.

More meeting space will be added during Phase 3, which is focused on renovating the existing 3.2 million-square-foot convention center. The final phase, covering “future improvements,” will be based on completion of Phases 2 and 3.   

Cutting-edge technology is part of the upgrade package, including last December’s property-wide installation of one of the nation’s largest Neutral-Host Distributed Antenna Systems. Equivalent to 14 cell towers, the system, adaptable to next-generation 5G cellular technology, can serve 100,000-plus delegates simultaneously, with faster download speeds than most corporate networks.

Resort Tactics

Eventually, the LVCCD will create more of a connective hub for the north Strip area, presently pocketed with swaths of open land and dispersed properties.

With Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino; SLS Las Vegas (where the new Foundry offers 20,000 square feet of highly customizable space); Las Vegas Festival Grounds; the new Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino; and Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower forming one broad group zone to the north, the LVCCD’s Strip-facing extension will bring it closer to a beguiling set of assets.

While the rusting $2.9 billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas tower still wants for a buyer, Circus Circus Las Vegas across the street remains a steady budget performer for MGM ahead of its 50th anniversary next year.

The neighboring $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas project appears to be moving ahead, albeit still slowly, while next door the proposed $2 billion redevelopment of the 35-acre former Frontier site as Alon Las Vegas has reportedly been abandoned.