Let's Get Together
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"It's really exciting," enthused Chris Meyer, CEM, CMP, vice president of global sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "As the hotels here are reopening, everybody has been very, very happy with what's going on. And the excitement surrounding it has been a blessing — it's been 87 days since we closed down and had to flatten our curve."
Meyer was chatting with Loren Edelstein, vice president and content director of the Northstar Meetings Group, for the opening session of Interact Las Vegas, a digital networking event produced by Northstar Meetings Group. The Vegas-focused hosted-buyer-style gathering, which took place June 30 and drew about 50 participants, was the kickoff event for Northstar's summer Interact series of digital events. The full series schedule can be found here.
Out of the 150,000 hotel rooms that exist in Las Vegas, about 107,000 of them — or 203 hotels — opened in June, and more became available for the July 4th weekend. The giants of the Strip and elsewhere across the Nevada gaming capital have been reintroducing their resorts and amenities in stages, gradually reopening more as demand grows and safety allows.
Coming Up in Las Vegas
There's also a fair amount of new space in store for the city, Meyer assured the audience. "Construction continued during the shutdown," he said, "and that provided us an opportunity to really accelerate work on some of these properties."
Among the newcomers will be Circa, the first brand-new resort to be built in downtown Las Vegas since 1980, according to Meyer. The projected opening date was actually moved up — to Oct. 28. Additional projects include Resorts World, slated to debut in the summer of 2021, as well as the rebranding of the former Hard Rock Hotel to the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, and the construction of the high-tech canopy over Fremont Street.
Allegiant Stadium, the 65,000-seat domed facility that will be the home of the NFL's newly relocated Las Vegas Raiders, is still on track to open by the beginning of August. The stadium will be equipped to host a wide variety of private events, Meyer explained. "It was designed with business meetings in mind and they've got all kinds of areas that you can have catered and could be used on a private basis," he said. The grand opening event for the facility is supposed take place in August, with a Garth Brooks concert that sold 75,000 tickets. "We're keeping our fingers crossed on that one," said Meyer.
"There's been a lot of expansion in Las Vegas, mainly with meeting space — lots and lots of meeting space." Meyer pointed out. The extra gathering spaces will no doubt come in handy as even the smallest of meetings — they are currently capped at 50 people in Nevada — will require a lot more square footage per person.
"The Las Vegas Convention Center expansion has continued unabated as well," Meyer said. "We are increasing our footprint by 1.4 million square feet and adding our brand-new West Hall. When done, the entire complex will be over 5 million square feet, with 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space — making the Las Vegas Convention Center the largest convention center in North America."
Among the other event facilities to debut recently, Meyer added, are the 400,000-square-foot expansion to the Wynn Las Vegas convention space; the brand new 550,000-square-foot Caesars Forum, with two enormous, 110-square-foot pillarless ballrooms; and the MGM Grand Conference Center, which now covers 850,000 square feet, following the completion of its expansion at the end of 2019.
Slowly Back to Business
Although the city has only been open for about a month, Meyer pointed to promising signs — including increased air traffic. "For the last few weekends, specifically on Sundays and Mondays, we have either been number one or number two for passengers going through the TSA," he said. "We've already recovered more than 55 markets and we have 115 markets plugged in through the remainder of the year." Flights between the U.S. and Canada are due to begin in earnest later in July, he added.
When it comes to meetings, both planners and local suppliers have been having plenty of discussions — though many of those have continue to revolve around cancelling and rebooking, and trying to minimize risk on both sides.
"We have conversations around whether it's outright cancellation, or whether we can look at rebooking," noted Lisa Messina, vice president of sales for Caesars Entertainment, in a panel discussion about the group-business outlook. "Then we are having the dialogue around customers who are attempting to see what type of flexibility we can provide so that they are not financially penalized by trying to move forward. We're doing everything we can to encourage customers to move forward in a safe and meaningful way, with the promise that we're not going to put them out of business financially."
Still, most of those discussions are still just feeling out the future possibilities. "Most of our summer business was tabled," said Messina. "A customer would either postpone, rebook or outright cancel. Even for groups of 50, I think every planner is dealing with the same thing, where they've got three buckets that they're dealing with: one bucket of customers or meeting attendees who outright don't want to travel right now, who just don't feel comfortable with it; those who are on the fence, making the decision whether to spend the time and money on the risk or reward of travel at this point; and then the ones who are just adamant and want to get back to business. So even with 50 people, most planners are saying, 'If I'm only going to get 30 to 50 percent of my attendance, is it even worth having?'"
The fall is looking slightly better, according to Messina, although about a third have cancelled. "But about 50 percent are trying desperately to hold their meetings in a safe and meaningful way," she continued. "And the others are just waiting to see when they're going to release the cap [on attendee limits] that currently exists in Las Vegas."
Craving Face-to-Face Time
Planners who attended Interact Las Vegas described the event as a much-needed opportunity to network with local contacts.
"The hardest part about business of late is getting hotel responses," said Allison Kaz, manager of global accounts at Helms Briscoe. "Today has been great, and it's keeping me connected more than just a webinar. We're all up to here with Zoom calls."
Jim Higgins, owner and founder of Js Travel Consultants, agreed. "They knocked it out of the park with this event," he said. "It's been so nice to connect with people on the same plane. I made some fast friends after talking to some people this morning."