November 9, 2010

Nevada knows a thing or two about catering to a diverse spectrum of groups. The state boasts an ever-changing tourism infrastructure, including stellar meeting venues; loads of diversions, ranging from golf and ski outings to fun performances; and the ability to accommodate any group of any size with any budget.

Indeed, due to the recent stumbling economy, state representatives report a particularly affordable time for group bookings.

With a bottom line that will please planners and amenities and activities to keep a smile on attendees’ faces, Nevada continues to be a major meetings player in the West.

Las Vegas Area
Put simply, according to Michael Goldsmith, senior director of convention sales at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), Las Vegas was developed to host events, from corporate board meetings to the largest expos in the world. The city’s resorts, he says, have invested billions of dollars into providing the most diverse facilities, amenities and service, and the options for meeting planners are seemingly endless, no matter what their budget or requirements.

"Coming off of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the meetings industry has changed," he says. "Planners are much more conscious of budget and return on investment for their events. With that in mind, planners can get more value for their investment in Las Vegas than ever before. Our hotel partners are working hard to provide planners with the great experience they have come to expect from Las Vegas at an incredible value to the organization."

Some recent developments, in keeping with the city’s ever-evolving meetings portfolio, include rebranding efforts, new properties, the addition of amenities and renovation projects.

Perhaps the biggest news is the Dec. 15 opening of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which will bring 2,995 guest rooms and 150,000 square feet of meeting and convention space to the city, plus on-site amenities including a spa, three unique pool experiences, a multilevel integrated nightclub, an eclectic lineup of new-to-market retailers and signature restaurants like Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill.    

"One key feature when planning an event at The Cosmopolitan is the access to meeting space from the guest room elevators. Open your elevator door and you are in the meeting space. It’s quite simple," says Arthur Keith, general manager of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. "We have a specialized executive conference space geared for groups of 10 to 200."  

Keith adds that the hotel also provides a "curated" conference experience that makes each meeting unique. A "conference curator" is assigned to work with meeting planners to create an event that touches on each of the senses so every event is customizable.

Other major newcomers that have recently opened include The Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, Trump International Hotel and Tower Las Vegas and CityCenter, unveiled last December by MGM Resorts International (formerly MGM Mirage). CityCenter, an urban community filled with fine art, fantastic architecture and high-tech meeting spaces, is home to the 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino, which boasts 300,000 square feet of meeting and prefunction space; the 392-room Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, with more than 12,000 square feet of function space; the 1,495-suite Vdara Hotel & Spa, with more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space; and Crystals retail and entertainment district. 

MGM Resorts International’s portfolio encompasses several additional meetings favorites in Las Vegas, including Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, The Mirage, Monte Carlo and New York-New York, among others.

Major enhancements are also taking shape at other Las Vegas properties.

Meeting space at Bally’s Las Vegas, a Harrah’s Entertainment property, is currently being upgraded to incorporate a classic and modern flair. All of the meeting rooms will be updated with new carpet, fixtures and wall coverings. The space is expected to be finished by early 2011.

Bally’s Las Vegas, as well as Caesars Palace, Flamingo Las Vegas, Harrah’s Las Vegas, Imperial Palace, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood and Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, have been deemed official "No Resort Fee Zones" by Harrah’s Entertainment, the first major casino operator on the Las Vegas Strip to completely remove such fees.

Meanwhile, South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa announced a two-phase expansion of its casino and restaurant offerings, and as part of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s $750 million expansion, the property recently opened HRH Beach Club, doubling the existing pool area to encompass five acres.

Tropicana Las Vegas is scheduled to complete a $165 million phase one transformation by April, including a redesigned facade, all new rooms and suites, and new amenities, including Biscayne Steak, Sea & Wine. The Tropicana’s conference center transformation is already finished, with more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space to accommodate up to 3,000 people.

Additionally, Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower is unveiling numerous enhancements, including the recent renovation of more than 900 guest rooms.

Las Vegas is also developing its cultural attractions. The LVCVA’s Goldsmith points to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which is expected to open in 2012, and the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, also known as the Mob Museum, which is expected to open in 2011 at Tropicana Las Vegas.

Plus, one of the most underrated aspects of Las Vegas is the vast amount of activities in the surrounding area. 

"From the Grand Canyon to Hoover Dam to skiing at Mount Charleston just north of the Valley, Las Vegas has a tremendous amount of outdoor and adventure activities available within a short drive," Goldsmith says, adding that planners can choose from activities such as river rafting adventures on the Colorado River and hiking in nearby Red Rock Canyon. 

Located in close proximity to the Las Vegas Strip and McCarran International Airport, Henderson is chosen by planners for its accessibility, affordability and tranquil appeal, according to Edward Kirby, national sales manager at the City of Henderson Deptartment of Cultural Arts and Tourism.

"Henderson allows convention delegates to focus on meeting and business objectives," he says. "Additionally, Henderson offers amenities that can rival any big city."

Henderson is currently offering a complimentary reception promotion for planners who book a meeting—with a guarantee of a minimum of 50 rooms booked—at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Casino & Spa, The M Resort Spa & Casino (which opened last year) or Aston MonteLago Village Resort.

Henderson is also home to the Lake Las Vegas Resort community, where groups can convene at Loews Lake Las Vegas and Aston MonteLago Village Resort. Meanwhile, Dolce Hotels and Resorts has been selected by Village Hospitality LLC to rebrand and manage the former Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas, which closed in May. Dolce plans to open the new property in the first quarter of 2011.

Joining area resorts and situated only minutes from the Las Vegas Strip is the Henderson Pavilion, which accommodates groups up to 2,500 or more and is the largest outdoor theater in Nevada, Kirby says.

"A variety of meeting planners schedule conferences around special events," he adds, citing concerts at the Henderson Pavilion and events ranging from a St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Festival to the Super Run Classic Car Show.

Attendees will also enjoy a golf outing at one of Henderson’s seven championship golf courses, making sushi at Sushi and Sake Skool, or making wine at Grape Expectations Nevada School of Winemaking.

West of downtown Las Vegas and near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is Summerlin, another resort community well equipped for gatherings, with properties such as JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort and Spa and Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa.

Laughlin’s location, unique venues and consistent affordability are what make it a perfect group destination, says Meg McDaniel, senior manager regional sales for extended destinations, a regional office of the LVCVA.

"Laughlin is strategically located at the southern tip of Nevada, bordered by Arizona and California," she says, adding that it’s an easy 90-minute drive from Las Vegas and only 4.5 hours from Phoenix or Southern California. "Laughlin has consistently been the meeting planner’s affordable option, including complimentary valet or garage parking and no resort fees."

Laughlin remains a popular location for regional association meetings and reunions, given its location in the tri-state region of California, Arizona and Nevada lends itself to a central meeting point.

From small corporate board meetings up to 1,900 theater style, "regardless of size, any group will feel like they own the place," McDaniel says.

After the meeting, groups enjoy visiting nearby Oatman, Ariz., a gold mining town with a colorful history. Planners might also arrange jet boat rides down the Colorado River to visit the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, or outings to the Classic Car Collection at the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino.

Tucked away in the picturesque Virgin River Valley, Mesquite is only an hour from Las Vegas and 30 minutes from St. George, Utah. The resorts here, McDaniel says, are eager to provide personalized service for any size group.

"Golf groups and sports teams dominate the group business for Mesquite," she says. "Not only is this destination host to regional and national competitions, social groups enjoy the availability of courses and fields, plus the convenience of a smaller destination."

The CasaBlanca Resort & Casino is an area standby for meetings, as it hosts groups of 20 to more than 3,000 people. And the Eureka Casino Hotel recently opened its newest meeting space for groups: the Aquarium Room, which holds 100 guests for a reception or 60 guests seated. This space joins the Grand Canyon Ballroom, which accommodates up to 200 people.

Mesquite is strategically located among spectacular canyonlands, including Valley of Fire State Park, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, for groups interested in an afternoon away from the meeting room.

It’s also a great place for a golf tournament, and a visit to the Oasis Gun Club accommodates up to 150 people for trap, skeet and clay shooting competitions.

Located 35 minutes from McCarran International Airport, Primm boasts affordable facilities that make it an attractive location for budget-conscious planners, McDaniel says.

The Primm Valley resorts—Buffalo Bill’s Resort & Casino, Primm Valley Resort & Casino and Whiskey Pete’s Hotel & Casino—are all connected by a complimentary monorail and attached to Fashion Outlets’ 100 designer retail stores.

"Groups enjoy the easy access from Interstate 15, intimate properties, convenient inter-property transportation, packaging hotel, spa and golf facilities, entertainment and shopping amenities," McDaniel says.

When the meeting has convened, the group will enjoy shopping, defying gravity on the Turbo Drop and golfing at the two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses.

From world-class ski and golf resorts to Lake Tahoe’s spectacular beauty nearby, two white-water parks and world-class spa treatments, there is an abundance of options to round out meeting agendas in Reno, according to John Leinen, vice president of convention sales at the Reno–Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA).

"More than $1 billion has been invested in the destination over the past few years, and the investment continues," he says.

Leinen cites several hotel-casino properties that have undergone upgrades, including the Peppermill Hotel Casino, which recently unveiled a new all-suite hotel tower and a 62,000-square-foot ballroom as part of a $400 million expansion and renovation; the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, which recently underwent a $100 million expansion; the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, which recently completed a $90 million transformation; and the Silver Legacy Resort and Casino.

Downtown Reno, Leinen adds, is also experiencing growth and redevelopment thanks to the Reno Aces, the hometown AAA baseball team.

"The Freight House District, adjacent to Aces Stadium, has become a popular tourist destination and local favorite with year-round dining and entertainment," he says.

Great for any budget, Reno’s meetings portfolio also includes the Reno Events Center, the Reno Livestock Event Center and the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

"During one of the worst economic times in the nation’s history, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport is recovering flights faster than any other medium or large hub airport in the country, according to statistics compiled by the Air Transportation Association," Leinen says.

When the business portion of the meeting has concluded, attendees enjoy visits to the National Bowling Stadium for some friendly competition, and the National Automobile Museum, where groups can view 220 vintage and collectible cars and hold off-site gatherings for up to 1,200 people.

Lake Tahoe
Jason Neary, director of sales at the North Lake Tahoe Visitor and Convention Bureau, and Mike Frye, sales and events manager at Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, representing South Lake Tahoe, agree that one of the many reasons groups love meeting in Tahoe is its natural beauty.

"The amazing setting also offers limitless recreational options, with golf, tennis, hiking, biking and boating in the summer, and skiing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides and more in the winter," Neary says, explaining that in addition to beauty and recreation, Tahoe is blessed with an abundance of lodging options—from rustic cabins to lake-front cottages to five-star mountainside luxury. "There is truly something for every group with any budget."

Like many of its Nevada neighbors, Tahoe is also focusing on value.

"Let’s face it," Neary says. "The entire country is a ‘value destination’ this year and Tahoe also has some great deals. For folks really looking for a bargain I’d suggest our off-peak shoulder months of April, May, November and December."

North Lake Tahoe continues to invest millions in property and facility renovations to maintain its ranking as one of the country’s best meeting and conference destinations, Neary adds.

The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Casino & Spa is currently in the final design stage of a $12 million guest room renovation that will take place in 2012. The resort also broke ground on a Lakeside Ballroom renovation in November.

The Crystal Bay casino corridor on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore is poised for a significant transformation, with plans to break ground in spring 2011. The project includes a new green hotel that will feature 300 hotel rooms. Also planned within its pedestrian village are dining, meeting space, public parks and underground parking.

Among North Lake Tahoe’s other meetings-friendly venues are the Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino in Crystal Bay.

Easy access and convenience are selling points in South Lake Tahoe, which sports the South Shore Express shuttle system to and from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

"Cars are not needed once you’ve arrived," Frye says, adding, "We are the only destination that has national park beauty, all the recreation everyone else has, except surfing, plus we have gaming and headliner entertainment."

Planners are easily sold on South Lake Tahoe, in large part because they know attendance will be up if the meeting is in Tahoe.

"We executed a planner FAM in June that made it possible for key planners to experience the South Shore firsthand," he says. "Hotels have booked five meetings from the visit."

Top meetings properties in South Lake Tahoe include Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, MontBleu Resort, Casino and Spa, and Horizon Casino Resort.

Carson City
Carson City is a small historic town boasting state-of-the-art technology that can accommodate the needs of any meeting, according to Janet Jones, group sales manager at the Carson City CVB.

"Meetings can be held in historic buildings from the 1860s to modern conference centers or championship golf courses," she says.

Jones points to options such as the Courtyard Marriott, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express, all built over the last three years; the Plaza Hotel and Conference Center; the Gold Dust West Hotel/Casino Resort; the Brewery Arts Center; and St. Theresa’s Church, which is now a performance hall. 

"We also have a number of excellent venues for team-building meetings," she adds, citing white-water rafting outings along the Carson River. "For a unique meeting or excursion, we have the V&T Railroad, which will take the group from Carson City to Virginia City along the original V&T track through old mining establishments, mills and cemeteries from the 1860s. Wild horses are often seen along the tracks in the backcountry."

Elko is touted as affordable and friendly with a small-town charm, according to Tom Lester, convention and tourism manager at the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority (ECVA), who adds it’s a place groups enjoy visiting more than once.

"For example, the 18th Annual Will James Society Gathering was held in October," he says. "Due to the overwhelming support from the local community and the ECVA, they will be holding their gathering next year in Elko. In the 18 years of the gathering, they have never returned to the same city that hosted it from the previous year. We take pride in what we do, helping to make each meeting in Elko a memorable one."

Located in the northeastern corner of Nevada at the base of the Ruby Mountains between Reno and Salt Lake City, Elko has a number of meetings-equipped facilities, including the Elko Convention Center, which recently opened the Jade Garden Events Patio for outdoor events.

Scheduled for completion by fall 2011, a new Marriott will feature 84 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 100 people, joining other group-friendly hotels such as the Red Lion Hotel & Casino, Hilton Garden Inn Elko and Stockmen’s Hotel & Casino.    

Before and after meetings, attendees enjoy taking in the beauty of the area via excursions along the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, which boasts spectacular vistas and wildlife viewings through the glacially carved canyons of the Ruby Mountain Wilderness.

Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings West.

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About the author
Carolyn Blackburn