Next-generation artificial intelligence and augmented reality solutions. Flying cars, hyper-pixelated 8K televisions and a controversial robotic massager.

The reveals at CES 2019, the 180,000-plus attendee blockbuster tech show that powers up Vegas’ convention calendar each January, are pushing frontiers like never before.

The same goes for Las Vegas itself, which is fast becoming its own showcase for daring new realities.

“Innovation is one major focus for 2019 and beyond,” shared new Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Steve Hill during a conversation about Vegas’ future at IMEX 2018. “Others are enhancing access to and around the destination and attracting future multi-generational business and convention customers.

"All three tie to each other as part of a broad set of development initiatives," he added.

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Vegas is breaking exciting ground on multiple fronts.

“We are at the cutting edge of transportation technology, for one, providing the opportunity for economic development and enhanced visitor experiences,” said Hill, who in his prior role as the first director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development was instrumental in attracting Tesla, Lyft and other innovators to Nevada. “At a higher level, Las Vegas is one of only around 40 permanently globally connected cities worldwide. We want to capitalize on that.”

Adding more than 3 million square feet of new convention space, Vegas’ $12 billion-plus meetings and conventions industry is expanding in all directions.

From new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, to new experiences, such as the Strip’s first zipline, so is the diversifying economy.

Here is a wide-spectrum look at the Vegas of tomorrow, taking shape today.

Imagination and Innovation Drive Las Vegas Meetings Forward

For Las Vegas, in reinvention mode since day one, innovation is the key to staying ahead.

Signature moves include the phased expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center District. Adding 1.4 million square feet to the current convention facility, including 600,000 square feet of new leasable exhibit space, Phase 2 incorporates wow factor design and technology.

“Applying innovation into the convention center is important going forward, both for providing a fun, easy and attractive Vegas experience and for greater efficiency,” Hill said. “Focal areas include improving load-in and load-out methods, to consolidate more concurrent shows.”

Phase 2 of the Las Vegas Convention Center District expansion is slated to open for CES 2021. Phase Three, the complete renovation of the existing 3.2 million-square-foot facility, is aiming for a 2023 opening date.

Las Vegas Convention Center District, Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau
Las Vegas Convention Center District, Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau

Ceremonially breaking ground in September 2018 for scheduled completion in fiscal 2021, MSG Sphere may be Vegas’ most radical innovation ever.

Co-developed by the Madison Square Garden Company and Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the billion-dollar technology-driven multipurpose arena, located adjacent to The Venetian, promises to “create experiences that haven’t been imagined, let alone seen.”

Crystal-clear audio can be beamed to individual sections or seats, with full customization capabilities such as different languages for international conferences.

Concertgoers will “feel” the show like never before, with bass-driven vibrating floors. Massive, fully programmable LED screens inside and out create a universe of visual possibilities.

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Hill anticipates that the 18,000-plus-seat venue, with its own Las Vegas Monorail stop and elevated pedestrian bridge connection to the Sands Expo Center, will be “reason alone to come to Vegas.”

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is leveraging innovation to drive guest engagement via its pioneering SMS-based virtual concierge, Rose.

Launched in January 2017, this sassy chatbot, playfully reinforcing the Cosmopolitan brand, provides a range of room, concierge and guest services, plus marketing promotions.

Automatically handling virtually all text message conversations with guests, she is delivering impressive ROI. According to a 2018 case study from technology provider Zingle, Rose has “significantly increased guest satisfaction rates” and inspired 39 percent more spending from guest users than non-users.

Upgraded in 2018 to operate on artificial intelligence and Natural Language Processing, Rose’s improved contextual understanding now allows her to fulfill more unique guest requests.

Other upgrades at the luxurious Las Vegas resort include boosting the complimentary Wi-Fi network, now the fastest on the Strip with nearly unlimited download speeds above 100mbps.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Credit: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Credit: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas also completed the full remodel of its 3,033 Chelsea and Boulevard tower guest rooms. Highlights include the newly redesigned Reception Suites, ideal for small meetings and receptions. All rooms are equipped with tablets that provide a range of interactive guest services, from restaurant reservations to temperature controls.

Also introduced in 2018, the new fast-casual Block 16 Urban Food Hall includes hideaway mezcal bar Ghost Donkey.

In the early 19th century, Spanish traders crossing the Mojave Desert discovered ancient artesian springs that had sustained life for millennia in the area. Calling them “Las Vegas” (“the meadows”), they gave the unlikely future desert destination its name. Opened in 2007 as Springs Preserve, Vegas’ birthplace today is a unique showcase of sustainability innovation.

Spanning 180 acres west of downtown, the Springs Preserve site offers nearly 150,000 square feet of versatile group space, including the LEED Platinum-certified Desert Living Center, 250-capacity open-air Springs Amphitheater and 156-capacity Big Springs Theater.

Built by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Solar Decathlon Team, DesertSol is an intimate, award-winning venue overlooking the Preserve’s trails and gardens. Year-round event programming includes Mardi Gras Las Vegas, Brews and Blues, and Dia de Muertos.

Transportation Improvements Underway Across Vegas

Innovation is also setting a new course for Las Vegas’ transportation future.

McCarran Field launched in December 1948 with 12 daily flights and 35,000 first-year passengers. Today, offering direct service from 130-plus U.S. and international cities, McCarran International Airport operates 950-plus daily flights and served a record 48.5 million passengers in 2017.

This capacity-pushing growth has rekindled talks of building a second major airport. The target site is reportedly open land near the California border, about 30 minutes from Las Vegas.

High-speed rail is also back on track.

Last year, Miami-based Brightline opened the nation’s first high-speed intercity route, connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. In November 2018, the company partnered with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group to become Virgin Trains USA.

Brightline Las Vegas
Brightline Las Vegas

Plans for a national network include linking Las Vegas and L.A.

Increasing traffic congestion is increasing pressure on new mobility and access solutions.

In summer 2018, an advisory panel of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada recommended construction of a light-rail system connecting McCarran, downtown, the University Medical Center and other stops.

Less hopeful are proposals to extend the Las Vegas Monorail.

The hottest advances in transportation are happening in downtown’s Innovation District, which was reated in 2017 as a testing ground for future “smart city” technologies.

Highlights to date include last year’s pilot of autonomous electric-powered shuttlebus service, which provided 32,000 rides. Some 30 self-driving BMWs (with a safety driver) from partners Lyft and Aptiv attracted 25,000 ride-shares.

In fall 2018, Lyft transformed a parking lot at Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street into the Lyft Art Park, a dedicated ride-share location featuring games and art installations.

Lyft Art Park, Credit: Jeff Heilman
Lyft Art Park, Credit: Jeff Heilman

Autonomous vehicles are putting Vegas on the national start-up map, along with artificial intelligence, drones, blockchain and “Internet of Things” technologies.

In 2018, CES included Innovation District partners in its inaugural Smart City Marketplace. Major market sectors, meanwhile, include healthcare, education and logistics. UNLV was just classified as a top-tier research institution.

Google has announced plans for a $600 million data center in Henderson.

“For companies looking at Nevada, there is no better showcase than our globally connected city,” Hill said. “Customers come here—you don’t have to go to them.”

Las Vegas Aims to Capitalize on Professional Sports

Vegas’ fast-expanding sports economy is another major arena of opportunity.

In its November 2018 “Southern Nevada Sports & Entertainment Outlook” study, the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance identifies professional sports as “a key component of the cultural factors contributing to global cities.”

From the Vegas Golden Knights’ electrifying 2018 Stanley Cup final run to the anticipated 2020 relocation of the Oakland Raiders, major sports are dynamically expanding Vegas’ “Entertainment Capital of the World” brand.

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Other professional teams include the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces and Las Vegas Lights of the United Soccer League. Minor League Baseball’s Las Vegas 51s are now the Aviators.

Slated for completion in April 2019, the Aviator’s new 10,000-seat Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin includes plans for an adjacent 267-room hotel.

UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is reportedly planning to build a 1,700-seat arena next to its Vegas headquarters.

With boxing, college athletics, esports, NASCAR, rodeo and rugby extending the portfolio, groundbreaking new marketing and promotional partnerships factor into the mix.

In November 2018, Caesars Entertainment announced a 15-year partnership with the Raiders and under-construction 65,000-seat Las Vegas Stadium.

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In January 2019, following sponsorship agreements with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, Caesars also became the first-ever “Official Casino Sponsor” of the NFL. Meanwhile, MGM Resorts has signed official sports betting sponsorship deals with the NHL, MLB and NBA, and a gaming deal with the New York Jets.

Leveraging these agreements stands to:

  • significantly boost brand awareness;
  • attract customers across multiple business lines, meetings included;
  • enhance customer experiences;
  • and boost economic output destination-wide.

Nevada’s Cannabis Industry Drives New Event Business

Legalized in July 2017, Nevada’s booming cannabis industry is another visitor magnet, with mind-bending group potential.

Relocated from Rio Las Vegas to the Las Vegas Convention Center, the 2018 Marijuana Business Conference attracted a record 1,100 exhibitors from 60 countries and 25,000-plus attendees, up 250 percent from 2016.

Opened fall 2018 in the Fremont Street Experience’s Neonopolis complex, the immersive Cannabition Cannabis Museum playfully offers “unforgettable short-term memories.”

Cannabition Cannabis Museum, Las Vegas, Credit: Jeff Heilman
Cannabition Cannabis Museum, Las Vegas, Credit: Jeff Heilman

Exhibits at the Cannabition Cannabis Museum include the 24-foot-tall “Bongzilla,” the world’s largest bong, and late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s 1973 Chevrolet Caprice “Red Shark” from the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Programs include guided tours and event buyouts, with a full bar and 9,000 square feet of space for up to 500 guests.

Opened last year as “the world’s largest cannabis dispensary and entertainment complex,” Planet 13 features interactive attractions and 16,500-plus square feet of retail space.

Phase 2 plans for the Planet 13 facility may include event space.

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