Meetings industry pays off big for Las Vegas

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wo or three years ago, hotel rooms were being constructed in Las Vegas faster than slot machines inhale quarters.

Now, most of the city's construction projects are centered on ballrooms and breakout rooms -- the bigger the better.

What gives?

The meetings and convention market, apparently.

Consider the numbers.

During the last decade, this market has grown 120% in Las Vegas.

Last year, according to statistics from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), nearly 3.9 million delegates visited Las Vegas, bringing with them $4.3 billion of nongaming economic impact.

Pretty impressive?

Manny Cortez thinks so.

"Until recently, the meetings and convention market wasn't really embraced by the resort industry," said Cortez, president and chief executive officer of the LVCVA.

Las Vegas is growing its convention facilities to bolster its arrival numbers. "The thinking then was that meetings attendees [were so busy that they] weren't spending money in the casinos. The resort industry now has come to the realization that convention attendees and exhibitors and buyers really do spend more money per capita than [leisure] travelers. They may spend more time here, but they also play hard.

"Ten years ago, I was literally told in a meeting by the president and chairman of the board of one of the resorts here that we should turn the [Las Vegas] Convention Center into a museum.

"[Since then], this same group has built and is in the process of building more meeting space."

This change of head and heart is essential, especially if Las Vegas is to survive and thrive in the 21st century, Cortez said.

"We've come, as a destination, to the realization that in order for us to survive and stay ahead of the pack, the meetings market is really the basis on which we build our visitor volume," he said.

"If you've got 125,000 hotel rooms, you're not going to fill them midweek with FIT travelers."

So the properties revamped and renovated their existing meeting space. In many cases, they expanded, building lavish ballrooms, technologically advanced board rooms and even miniconvention centers.

The square footage statistics continued to climb.

In fact, when the South Hall expansion at the Las Vegas Convention Center is finished in December, the city will have approximately 7.5 million square feet of convention and meetings space, according to the LVCVA.

At that point, Cortez said, "in terms of raw square footage, we're the largest as a destination offering meetings and convention space."

With that distinction, however, comes a great responsibility for the meetings-oriented visitors who come here.

"We've designed our infrastructure to accommodate visitors," he said. "[McCarran] Airport has continued to grow, and we're able to provide unlimited accessibility to the resort industry here.

"The community itself is doing some things that make it a little more user-friendly," he continued. "And the people who live here are service-oriented.

"The community is geared to help [the meetings delegates] conduct their business. The convention center and many of the properties are designed to accommodate both the convention attendee and the exhibitor."

From a meeting planner's perspective, Cortez said, Las Vegas itself is the perfect entertainment.

"You don't have to plan entertainment every night," he said. "The city does that for you.

"You can work until 6 p.m., go home, have dinner and catch a show or stroll around town."

For more information about meetings and conventions in Las Vegas, call the LVCVA at (702) 892-0711 and ask for the meetings division.

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