Our city features more live entertainment in a single day than any other in the world, and that excitement brings visitors and delegates back time and again,” said Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, celebrating 45 years with the bureau in 2018.

The excitement includes what’s coming next. Marking 24 consecutive years as North America’s tradeshow leader, Las Vegas is underway with a new development wave that will elevate group possibilities to unprecedented dimensions. With some $10 billion currently in play, investment in Vegas’s future is exuberant—but rational.

Continuing its post-recession boom, Southern Nevada presently outpaces national economic growth. Jobs came back, with sustained growth. And the cranes are swinging to meet demand. In January 2018, Morgan Stanley, which represented the LVCVA in the purchase of the Riviera Hotel—cleared for Phase 1 of the Las Vegas Convention Center District—reported that “current convention footprint is at peak utilization, making it hard for operators to attract incremental convention business.”

That won’t be an issue much longer. Initiated in 2006, the four-phase, $1.4 billion District headlines at least eight expansions that by 2020 will boost the destination’s convention footprint from 11 million square feet to some 14 million square feet.

Targeting readiness for CES 2021, Phase 2, now underway, introduces at least 600,000 square feet of new  exhibit space to the District. For North Strip anchors like Westgate Las Vegas Resort Casino, which has stood by the convention center since 1969, the coming new business wave promises dynamic days ahead.

The same goes for the length of the Strip and beyond. With all eyes on the future, a truly defining moment for Las Vegas meetings and conventions is underway. As LVCVA Vice President of Sales Chris Meyer stated: “We have begun a new era—and that era is very much group-focused.”

Serious Business

“We haven’t seen development on this scale for a while,” Meyer said. “Vegas is adding more than 3 million square feet of new convention space. It’s a little daunting and very exciting. While meeting the needs of our tradeshow clients, this scale-up is actually for smaller groups, which constitute about 80 percent of our market.”

Subtract the 600,000 square feet in expanded exhibition space and what’s left is around 2.4 million square feet of new space for the smaller end of the market—not counting other projects like the Madison Square Garden Company’s MSG Sphere performance venue, new Esports Arena Las Vegas at Luxor and proposed new downtown expo center.

“Groups of 500 or less are our bread and butter,” he continued. “Even for the smallest group programs, there are now substantially more options and possibilities.”

That includes attracting underserved markets, such as medicine and healthcare.

“We’ve never quite had the requisite supply of breakout rooms for programs such as continuing education,” Meyer continued. “Now we will.”

Growing international business is a continuing strategic priority. “With most delegates flying to Vegas, keeping the airline development pipeline fresh is key,” he said. “This purposeful strategy sets us apart from other destinations. And we just welcomed Eurowings, with twice-weekly nonstop service from Munich.”

The new route is expected to generate some $33 million in business for Las Vegas.

“Uniquely serious about group market development, we invest in ensuring that people can do serious business,” Meyer said.

Higher Elevations

Meyer called the meeting space experience at ARIA’s new 200,000-square-foot convention venue one of “surprise and delight” and “a new way of presenting business theater.”

For owner MGM Resorts International, this and other 2018 expansions—which include the executive Madison Meeting Center and Ideation Studio at rebranded Park MGM, and MGM Grand Conference Center’s 250,000-square-foot expansion—elevate the company’s group footprint to some 4 million square feet.

“We are meeting group demand with venues scaled for every level of the market,” said Chief Sales Officer Michael Dominguez, speaking at ARIA’s new Cypress Executive Lounge.     

Geared for high-level strategy meetings, this high-tech space incorporates a 30-person conference room with Cisco whiteboard screens, an abundant pantry, three private suites and a library-style study.

Blossoming like the proverbial hothouse flower, Caesars Entertainment’s multitiered future-forward plan began with room renovations at multiple properties such as Caesars Palace, Harrah’s Las Vegas, and the Flamingo Las Vegas, which also saw a major convention space enhancement.

Next comes new event space at CAESARS FORUM and an immersive entertainment experience named Kind Heaven, to be located at The LINQ Promenade.

These next-generation innovations are destined to redefine the Center Strip experience—and elevate Caesars’ place in Vegas overall.      

As Chief Sales Officer Michael Massari pointed out, though, Vegas is less a chariot race and more about interdependent partnerships and collaborations. “On larger scale projects especially, we all have to work together,” he said, referring to the LVCVA, his competitors and the hospitality community.

“In what other industry are you constantly partnering with your competitors? It’s always been part of the Vegas culture—we implicitly trust each other.”

Strip Views

Three beacons along the Strip—Treasure Island (TI), The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Tropicana Las Vegas—are maximizing opportunity in the new Las Vegas. Acquired by Phil Ruffin in 2009, TI has rare status as a single-owner Vegas property. Turning 25 this year, the 2,664-room resort, with 30,500 square feet of meeting and convention space, is strengthening its already advantageous group position.

“We have always offered an excellent solution for smaller groups of 20 to 1,000 as well as overflow accommodations for the largest conventions at the Sands Expo across the street and nearby Las Vegas Convention Center,” said Don Voss, vice president, hotel sales and marketing. “The District expansion and other multibillion-dollar projects will undoubtedly provide us with a multitude of new opportunities.”

Reflecting “our confidence in the group market,” investments include last year’s $6.5 million expansion.

“Nearly doubling our convention facilities, this allows us to host larger meetings and those requiring multiple breakout rooms,” Voss said. “Our success continues to be in offering high quality yet affordable solutions for groups aiming to feel like a bigger fish in a smaller pond compared to larger Strip convention centers and luxury resorts.”  

In continuous reinvestment mode, TI is also renovating its largest suites, enhancing smaller suites and guest rooms, and adding a high-tech sports bar and lounge.

“Longer-term, we are confident that the LVCVA’s ongoing efforts to attract more international visitors and convention delegates will ensure a strong group market for future years,” Voss said.

Unique concepts and constant evolution keep groups coming back to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

“We are committed to staying relevant for our group customers,” said Kurt Wuebbenhorst, vice president of sales. “That includes creating immersive environments for socializing, networking and having fun.

"For example, moving beyond the standard welcome reception, our ‘Gastronaut’s Tour’ offers attendees craft beer and locally sourced food in a gastro-pub setting," he added.

Featuring private terraces and unparalleled Strip views, the Cosmopolitan’s multi-tower design facilitates easy vertical access from guest rooms to function areas.

“No long walks—just one push of the elevator button,” he explained. “Expansive common areas built into the meeting spaces also allow more time for social interactions and networking opportunities.”

Creating fresh experiences for its many repeat customers is a priority. New arrivals Momofuku, Mile Bar and Zuma have expanded the Restaurant Collection at The Cosmopolitan, and delegates can look forward to the “bold new design and bright accents” of the guest room renovation set for completion this year.

The customer voice is also key.

“Our enhanced digital signage, interactive catering menus and sustainability initiatives resulted directly from meeting planner feedback,” Wuebbenhorst said. “Unique innovations include our playful, highly knowledgeable chatbot Rose. Keeping attendees informed, entertained and connected with each other and with us, this interactive resource represents the seamless and memorable experiences that set us apart.”  

Continuing a six-year run of meetings and conventions uplift, Tropicana Las Vegas is primed to leverage its location at the Strip’s evolving southern end.

“No destination reinvents itself like Las Vegas, and we are excited about the new wave of major changes,” said Gavin Mealiffe, vice president of sales. “With access to major highways, the airport and new NFL stadium, our location puts visitors close to the action and all the city has to offer. Anticipated compression at this end of the Strip will likely impact our occupancy, and hopefully guest frequency.”

With 1,470 rooms and suites, 100,000 square feet of meeting space and as a DoubleTree by Hilton property, the attractiveness of Hilton Honors reward points, the property provides an affordable destination for small to midsize programs.  

“We are relatively small by Las Vegas standards, but that allows for more focused attendee interaction and intimate networking time on property,” Mealiffe said.

“And we are actively working with our corporate development team to take advantage of the acreage and property layout to stay competitive.”

Recent investments include celeb chef Robert Irvine’s Public House restaurant and upgraded resort pool.