If you see it once, you’ll never be the same again,” sang Elvis Presley in his hit film Viva Las Vegas.
Elvis was no stranger to the “bright light city”, he appeared there countless times from 1969 onward and his sold-out shows were credited with reviving his by-then floundering career.
However, Las Vegas’ association with the showbiz superstars was also a godsend for the Nevada desert city, keen to shake off what had been initially a rather sleazy reputation.
What started as a stopover point on the westward wagon trail to California has today become one of the world’s globally recognised city destinations. The very name seems to conjure up the neon lights, the glitz and glamour of spectacular stage shows and, of course, the endless casinos.
The immediate post-war period had seen Las Vegas associated not only with legal gambling but also with less savoury attention from organised crime. Sin City was hardly a family destination, and its sleazier side was graphically documented, with a little dash of exaggeration here and there in Hollywood films such as Godfather II and Casino, among others.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, ironically with a little help from the multimillionaire recluse Howard Hughes who moved to Las Vegas, the city cleaned itself up. By the late 1980s, the city was attracting huge investment not only in gaming and entertainment, but also in world-class reputable hotels.
In the most recent phase over the past 15 years, Las Vegas has seen the rise of the mega-resort, properties whose room counts reach well into the thousands, whose gaming floors stretch as far as the eye can see, and whose theatre complexes make Broadway green with envy.
Aside from the familiar mainstream hotel brands that moved into the city, the names Steve Wynn, of Wynn Las Vegas, Sheldon G Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands company, with its flagship The Venetian, and Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM Mirage group, owner of The Belaggio and The Mandalay Bay hotels, are associated with this period of unprecedented growth.
Gaming may be the most obvious pull to Las Vegas but in recent years, the city has become the convention capital of the US. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, conventions bring in as much revenue to the city as gambling does.
In any case, the statistics are breathtaking.
Las Vegas has even sidelined Chicago, the former conventions capital of the US, to take over the mantle of America’s corporate events home.
Some of the key factors that have helped the city reinvent itself have little to do with gaming. Las Vegas has become one of the world’s most exciting destinations to dine out or take in a show.
Among recent hits is the ever-popular Cirque du Soleil, a troupe originally founded in Quebec whose shows defy easy categorisation. Acrobatics, dance, gymnastics, music, mime, synchronised swimming; whatever the form of human movement and espression, Cirque du Soleil can build a scene around it. The backdrops and sets are effectively works of art in themselves, some costing in the region of US$10million.
Recently the group unveiled a show set to Beatles songs, called LOVE, which opened to rave reviews and sold out shows for months.
For companies looking to provide unique entertainment for their corporate event, Las Vegas has plenty of options.
As in the days of Elvis and Sinatra, Las Vegas still attracts some of the world’s top singers, magicians and stage performers.
One of the world’s top-selling female artists, Celine Dion, is a regular star turn, as she lives on the city outskirts.
Groups can be fairly sure of finding a stunning theatrical experience to add to their programme at almost any time of the year, although advance booking may be advisable at peak season for certain shows.
If the city doesn’t provide enough attractions and distractions to keep you well-occupied, groups can enjoy the Nevada surroundings. Plane and helicopter charters for groups over the Grand Canyon are a particular favourite.
There are some problems that groups, however, should take into account. Accessibility remains an issue. While Korean Air began operating direct flights to Las Vegas from Seoul’s Incheon airport last year, other routes from Asia are more likely to involve transfers in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago. Security hold-ups and more stringent visa regulations and procedures are all obstacles to be sure, but then again, none are insurmountable.
On the other hand, Las Vegas offers a truly mesmerizing array of dining and entertainment options to satisfy the pickiest of eaters and the wildest of gastronomic desires. A choice impossible to beat in any city of similar size elsewhere. As it turns out, Elvis’ words about Las Vegas still ring true today, “How I wish that there were more than the 24 hours in the day”.
BREAKING THE BANK
In 2006, the city hosted 23,825 conventions with 6,307,961 delegates, which is substantially higher than the total population of casino-newbie Singapore. This generates US$8.2 billion for the city annually, that’s larger than the entire GDP of Nepal.
The only Asian carrier to fly direct, Korean Air, started flights from Seoul to Las Vegas last year. Other Asian routes are more likely to involve stopovers or transit in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago.
With its arid climate, Las Vegas offers 300 days of sunshine. Spring and autumn are the best times, high summer can see blazing sun; July and August often see temperatures in the high 30s and into the 40s.
Immigration and security rules vary greatly from country to country. To get the most up-to-date information contact your nearest US embassy or consulate or visit www.unitedstatesvisas.gov
Nancy Murphy, vice-president of sales
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA)
Event Name: North America Extravaganza
Date: July 2006
Number of attendees: 15,000
Organiser: PRA Destination Management Las Vegas
Objectives of the event: To reward, motivate and educate the sales force of this direct-marketing company.
Description and results: Herbalife brought over 15,000 guests to Las Vegas. The company used several hotels as well as the convention centre for its events.
PRA Destination Management Las Vegas provided several services to the client, including a party at TAO at the Venetian for 1,100 qualified guests to mingle with the top performers of the company; a “Qualifiers Party” at Rain/The Pool at the Palms/Little Buddha at the Palms Hotel; a fund-raiser for their charity division; VIP airport transfers; shuttle transportation for top award winners.
The goal of any direct marketing company is to motivate the sales force to reach certain levels and win the chance to attend many of the functions provided by Herbalife HQ. Herbalife requested two exciting parties at the top venues in Las Vegas.
TAO at the Venetian was chosen because it provides a great atmosphere across several rooms, including VIP areas, where the “superstars” of Herbalife could mingle with guests who strive to reach that status. The “Main Event” was the Qualifiers party at the Palms Hotel. This time Rain Nightclub promoted a ‘70s disco night so guests came dressed up in costumes reminiscent of that era. The DMC created a beach party at The Pool at the Palms, complete with a fabulous beach dance band and synchronized swimmers for the pool, who performed every hour.
Little Buddha was a more intimate affair with palm readers, tarot card readers, and ambient but lively mood music.
Many events include a charity component, and for the main function, delegates attended a high-end cocktail reception at the Wynn hotel, and were then treated to, Le Reve, a show coreographed by Cirque du Soleil’s former creative director, Franco Dragone.
Mix spoke to Francine McKanna, president of leading operator PRA Destination Management Las Vegas
Q. Why has Las Vegas become such a hot conventions destination, overtaking gaming as a source of revenue?
A. Las Vegas offers large hotels with room counts beyond any others in the world. The convention space, both at the Las Vegas Convention Center and at the hotels is also unsurpassed. We can boast world-class dining establishments with famous chefs from all over the world. In addition, the number and calibre of golf courses is hard to beat. Even if you took gaming out of the equation at this point, Las Vegas would still be a major attraction for meetings and conventions. But, let’s not forget that gaming is what originally put us on the map!
Q. Aside from the city itself, where else can groups go?
A. The beauty surrounding Las Vegas is surprising. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Park to the west is spectacular. We offer jeep and Hummer tours, hiking and biking and horse-back riding, to name a few. Lake Mead is also a great recreation area for boating and other water-related activities. World-famous Hoover Dam is also on the outskirts. For groups that don’t want to be right in the middle of the action, Lake Las Vegas, with the Loews and Ritz-Carlton Hotels, is a great alternative. Located just 30 minutes outside of the city, this paradise offers lush landscaping, great golf, and a quiet, resort-like atmosphere.
Q. Where should groups look for top-class accommodation, transport and dining?
A. For accommodation, we would recommend the Wynn Hotel, The Four Seasons, The Venetian, THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay, The Bellagio and Loews and the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas. For transportation, we might recommend stretch limousines or limo-coaches for larger, high-end groups. As for dining, there are many, many restaurants in Las Vegas that can accommodate groups. Anything with name recognition in the chef world is a good choice such as Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy, Bradley Ogden and for the very high budget, Joel Robuchon.
Q. Apart from hotels, where can you find unusual or unique venues?
A. Las Vegas Springs Preserve is the newest attraction for group functions. The Springs Preserve is a 180-acre non-gaming cultural and historical attraction designed to commemorate Las Vegas’ dynamic history. More than 50,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor space allows groups to experience the other side of Las Vegas. We have also utilised Chameleon Studios, a 930sqm free-standing facility which looks like an office building, however once inside you are amazed at the versatility of the space. This place can be used for meeting space, evening functions and product launches. Lately, there are a few mansions available in the Las Vegas area that can be used as function space as well.
Q. Which bar, club and restaurant venues might event organisers consider?
A. We don’t like to pinpoint any one or two particular places to recommend because we want to choose places that suit a client’s profile. The places we recommend to clients are group-friendly, flexible and budget-conscious. Years ago, many venues did not care about group business, however, now that it is a major source of revenue for us, companies are becoming much more accommodating in order to gain their business and keep it. Many of the larger venues we like to do business with are the nightclubs because they are world-famous, flexible, versatile and can handle large groups. Some nightclubs we would recommend are Pure at Caesars Palace, TAO at the Venetian, Rain, ghostbar and Moon at the Palms and Body English at the Hard Rock Hotel.