BBT rolls the dice as Tom Newcombe finds out the strengths of the city’s MICE scene
“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...” wrote Hunter S. Thompson in his epic novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
This, along with the city’s current advertising slogan – ‘you know why you come here’ – are hardly ringing endorsements to take to your CEO when persuading them to pay business class flights plus accommodation for a two-day conference for your employees.
So aside from the lights, gambling and glamour, what is it about the city that attracts some of the largest events and persuades business leaders to allow employees to travel from all around the globe to attend them?
Scanning the latest stats around MICE activity in Las Vegas, the results are impressive: last year, it held almost 22,000 meetings, with a record-breaking 6.3 million delegates (up 7.1 per cent from 2015).
This helped contribute US$9.3 billion to the local economy and support 66,500 jobs. It hosted 57 of the country’s 250 largest trade shows – the biggest was a technology event, CES, with 4,000 exhibitors and 113,000 attendees.
Catering for all sizes
Reina Herschdorfer, director of marketing, Caesars Entertainment, explains it’s the diversity of offering that appeals to MICE bookers. “Las Vegas offers incredible value and can accommodate any size meeting, whether it’s five or 10,000 people,” she says. “A planner can keep all meeting attendees in one hotel, which is unheard of for events of that size.”
She adds: “We have unlimited resources and everything is available to us. For example, we have access to executive suites and villas, limos, town cars, private airports, helicopter service, butler service, top chefs and VIP lounges and check-in areas to name a few… Las Vegas can accommodate the wants and needs of any meeting planner.”
Nathalie Duchene-Guenard, MICE director, Egencia, says Las Vegas is attractive because it’s so well known. “Since the city is scaled for events, this tends to offer companies lower costs in terms of organisation – there are fewer exploration costs. Everyone knows Las Vegas – they know what they are getting when they book an event there.”
As the influx of visitors is projected to increase, the hotel pipeline is still flowing. By the end of 2018, there is predicted to be almost 325,000 sqm of extra convention space and another 2,045 rooms. The city must also keep up with the latest trends in events and meet the changing needs of buyers, as Herschdorfer explains.
“There is much more focus on wellness in meetings, healthy food choices and incorporating more creative breaks. Meeting planners are recognising the value of having face-to-face meeting time, providing guests with more networking opportunities. Adding a community service component to meetings is very popular now.
Las Vegas’ latest MICE visitor numbers are more impressive when you take into account how hard it was hit with the 2008 financial crash. “The great recession hit Vegas arguably harder than any other metropolitan city in the US,” says senior VP of finance, Las Vegas Convention Visitor Authority (LVCVA), Ed Finger.
In 2007, the city attracted more than 6.2 million visitors; two years later this dropped to 4.4 million. Hotel occupancy fell 10 per cent from a record high of 94 per cent, which correlated with room tax collection falling more than US$50 million.
Las Vegas is a city where size matters, and with the world’s largest trade shows regularly reaching capacity, it was essential that the planned expansion to the Las Vegas Convention Centre got the go-ahead.
The Convention Centre, although impressive in size, is almost 60 years old with fixes over the years just about keeping up with basic technology and other needs. So it was welcome news, when in June, the LVCVA received final approval for the US$1.4 billion expansion and renovation of the facility.
Funding for the project came from a 0.5 per cent rise in visitor room rate tax. The expansion and renovation will be completed in a phased approach with a projected completion date of 2023.
Finger estimates there will be an additional 610,000 annual convention attendees, which will be a challenge for the city, but one it will be able to cope with.
“On average, our hotel occupancy rates sit at high 80s in the week and mid-90s at the weekend, so with conventions we try to drive that non-peak attendance,” he says.
The organisation has identified 70 new events that could potentially be brought to the destination in the next decade. It’s estimated these shows will grow the economic impact of Southern Nevada’s US$12.4 billion meetings and conventions industry by nearly 50 per cent.
Finger says the LVCVA has listened to demand from regular event bookers with improved food provision and breakout space a top priority.
An area in which Las Vegas has no trouble competing in the incentives sector. The choice of activities for businesses to keep delegates entertained on a trip is phenomenal.
These range from a helicopter ride out to the Grand Canyon, to roof-top bars, Cirque du Soleil shows and top quality restaurants.
Finger adds: “We know the loss of one mid-sized trade show [50,000 attendees] would hit the local economy by around US$70 million, so we don’t take the numbers and what Las Vegas offers for granted as the next 2008 could be just around the corner.”
Las Vegas event spaces aren’t just confined to hotel ballrooms. Here are a few of the best MICE options along the Strip:
• Top Golf: This is one of the hottest new concepts on the Las Vegas scene – a four-level entertainment venue with interactive golf games that score themselves. It has spaces that can be hired out for events as well as two outdoor swimming pools.
• Absinthe: Hailed as “the most inventive and daring show to open on the Strip in years”, this is an adult parodied version of Cirque du Soleil, which offers VIP and group bookings.
• Neon Museum: A boneyard for Vegas signs; offers group and private tours.
• Mob Museum: Located in downtown Las Vegas, The Mob Museum is an authentic view of the Mafia’s impact on the city’s history. It offers meeting and event spaces as well as private hire for a unique experience for delegates.
• Alto Bar Caesars Palace: The largest bar in Caesars Palace, Alto Bar provides an excellent setting for small meetings in private booths, with signature cocktails and a private dining areafor up to 30 guests.
• Sundance Helicopter Tours: The longest standing helicopter company in Vegas, Sundance offers a variety of tours to the Grand Canyon, Vegas Strip and other Southwest locations.
• Four Seasons Hotel: A perfect venue if you don’t want to feel like you’re in Las Vegas, this non-gaming resort offers 3,850 sqm of event space for up to 900 guests