The Las Vegas and Southern Nevada market is a singular study in innovation and adaptability, entrepreneurship, capital investment, branding and sales and promotion.
The economic synergies are profound and choreographed to perfection. Globally ranked meetings and tourism industries. Airline seats and hotel beds. Construction and hospitality jobs. Gastronomic supply on an astronomic scale. Huge festivals and events. A-list entertainment and major league sports. Art and culture. Technology and the future.
Las Vegas means business—and it all depends on people. The big wheels are the visionaries past and present who built, and continue to build, Vegas.
Some 245,800 people operate this nonstop regional enterprise, 65,000 of them directly supporting meetings and conventions. Within this human construct, relationships, partnerships and collaborations connect and energize the moving parts.
Daily face-to-face interactions in Vegas work like a giant brain, forming countless impressions and ideas.
The result? In 2017, Vegas realized more than $9.3 billion in economic impact from meetings and conventions alone and logged an all-time high convention visitation of 6.6 million business travelers.
Here is some face time with people powering the Las Vegas scene.
William Foley and the Vegas Golden Knights
In 2015, hopes were rising that the under-construction Las Vegas Arena could attract the city’s first-ever major league sports franchise. Securing rights to an NHL expansion team, businessman William Foley led a season ticket drive to test local interest in the opportunity.
In June 2016, two months after the renamed T-Mobile Arena opened, Vegas was awarded the NHL’s 31st team. In November 2016, Foley introduced his Vegas Golden Knights with two ambitions: Make the playoffs in three years and win the Stanley Cup in six.
Call it the Rink of Dreams. Early concerns about attendance over 41 games at the 20,000-seat venue were put to rest at the emotional sold-out home opener, where the team helped honor the 58 victims of that week’s mass shooting.
Then these instant hometown darlings produced the most successful debut season of any major league U.S. team in history. After winning their division, the Golden Knights hoisted a banner honoring the 58 dead, and retired the team’s number 58.
As of press time, this “Vegas Born” team of self-styled “misfits” had swept the L.A. Kings and sank the San Jose Sharks to reach the Western Conference finals. They could win the Stanley Cup. And they are everywhere, from Fremont Street fanfests to the pre-game Fan Frenzy in open-air Toshiba Plaza.
Bellagio Patisserie even created a life-size chocolate sculpture of veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Credited with driving business to the T-Mobile Arena, boosting tourism and giving Vegas a unique new national identity, Golden Knights hockey is a must for group outings.
Cirque Du Soleil
Launched in Las Vegas with still-running Mystere at Treasure Island in 1993, this world-renowned artistic entertainment company has been the toast of the town for 25 years. The company currently offers eight branded shows in Vegas, plus Criss Angel in MINDFREAK LIVE! and the recently acquired Blue Man Group. And, yet more entertainment via a strategic partnership with the Golden Knights.
Commenced in the team’s inaugural season, the three-year deal exemplifies the marketing and experience synergies in Vegas. Integrated programs include designated “Cirque du Soleil” nights featuring on-ice performances during the intermissions, performances of the national anthem, artist participation in pre-game parades and fan interactions in Toshiba Plaza.
This season, the team spent an off-ice recovery day cross-training with Cirque du Soleil artists and coaches at MGM Grand’s KA Theatre, including gymnastics, pyramid-building, aerial skills and juggling.
“Cirque du Soleil has been a leader in Las Vegas’ live entertainment landscape for 25 years, and a huge factor to our success has been our ability to evolve with the city and develop unique partnerships,” said Lou D’Angeli, vice president of marketing and PR for Cirque du Soleil’s Resident Shows Division. “The Vegas Golden Knights have been an incredible partner who have provided us fun opportunities to speak to more diverse audiences.”
Donald Contursi, Lip Smacking Foodie Tours
Relocating to Vegas from his native Chicago at 18, Donald Contursi took his University of Nevada, Las Vegas business management degree and went to work—doing double server shifts at Planet Hollywood. Scaling the hospitality ladder, he peaked as the No. 2 salesperson at STK Steak inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Seeking reinvention, he turned his passion for the Vegas culinary scene into an award-winning tour concept that combines top Vegas restaurants and their signature dishes with a curated VIP insider experience.
Launched in April 2015, Lip Smacking Foodie Tours is now the top-rated group activity and dining experience in Vegas on Yelp! and TripAdvisor.
Featuring star venues like MR CHOW at Caesars Palace and premier Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan on his diverse day and nighttime programs, Contursi continues to host major corporations, conventioneers and international delegates such as 140 Singaporeans on a M.I.C.E Matters expedition.
“Planners seek memorable times for their clients, and no other Vegas dining experience provides the unique opportunity to eat, drink and converse with different people at a series of stops,” he said. “And as we keep evolving, we can accommodate up to 250 guests on three concurrent tours.”
Multi-Michelin star British chef, restaurateur and TV personality Gordon Ramsay’s passion for Las Vegas began at multi-Michelin star French chef Alain Ducasse’s Mix restaurant (now his Rivea) on the 64th floor of THEhotel (now Delano Las Vegas), located within the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino complex.
Arriving a decade-plus after the celebrity chef wave triggered by Wolfgang Puck, Ramsay, inspired by Ducasse and the mesmerizing Strip views, set his sights on Vegas.
Partnering with Caesars Entertainment, Ramsay today has five Vegas concepts and three in Atlantic City, part of his 33 restaurant, seven Michelin-star global empire.
Opened in January 2018, his latest Vegas venture is Hell’s Kitchen, after his hit TV show. Showcasing the Caesars’ relationship, the season 17 finale of Hell’s Kitchen featured top executives including company President and CEO Mark Frissora and Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner as contestant Michelle Tribble won the Hell Kitchen’s head chef position.
Located at Caesars Palace, the $10 million stand-alone restaurant attracted 25,000-plus reservations out of the gate. Seating for 300-plus guests includes two chef’s tables and private dining room.
Sir Richard Branson
Displayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas is the “Key to the City of Las Vegas” presented to Elvis Presley in 1970. Announced in March 2018, the keys to the property are going to another star performer: Sir Richard Branson.
The British billionaire and partners will relaunch the property as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas in late fall 2019. The significant “reconceptualization and revitalization” will include 1,504 “chambers” and suites; numerous meeting and convention spaces; and world-class restaurants, lounges and bars, including new nightlife venues and the brand’s flagship Commons Club.
Serving Las Vegas, Virgin Atlantic (Branson jet-skied in the Bellagio Fountains to celebrate the airline’s 10th anniversary in Vegas) is part of his global Virgin Group. And Branson keeps shooting for the stars with ventures including Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic, and near the hotel, the test site for Virgin Hyperloop One, his partnership with Elon Musk to develop hyper-propulsion systems for passengers and freight.
Will he bring space travel to McCarran and Vegas? Anything is possible.
Meeting planners and even delegates may know the major players who shape the Las Vegas scene. Familiar LVCVA faces include Rossi Ralenkotter, Chris Meyer and Cathy Tull. Visible sales mavens include the two Michaels, Dominguez and Massari, of MGM and Caesars, respectively.
The owner-developer front includes Sheldon Adelson of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Phil Ruffin of TI (Treasure Island), Derek and Greg Stevens of the D Las Vegas and other Downtown properties, and Station Casinos’ CEO Frank Fertitta III, whose third cousin Tilman Fertitta owns the Golden Nugget.
Then there’s Sam Nicholson. As founder and President of Las Vegas-based Grand Canyon Development Partners, Nicholson may be less visible in the public eye, but he and his team have led the design and construction of multiple Vegas landmarks.
These include The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Grand Bazaar Shops of Las Vegas, Paris Las Vegas, Luxor Hotel, The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Trump International Hotel and Green Valley Ranch.
His latest work includes two future-shaping projects: the new Raiders football stadium and revival of the stalled Fontainebleau as the Drew Las Vegas.
One of Vegas Seven’s “Intriguing People 2018,” Nicholson also devotes his energy to pro bono work on behalf of the community, including children’s health, youth leadership development, and domestic violence victims.