Convention center renovations should keep Las Vegas at the top of the list for business travel

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Brian Ramos

First look at the new South Hall plaza, located on the east side of the South Hall, off of University Center Drive just south of Desert Inn near the Vegas Loops South Station on Monday, January 8, 2023.

Mon, Jan 29, 2024 (2 a.m.)

The Las Vegas Convention Center will greet 1.3 million trade show attendees in the new year—with a strong start earlier this month due to the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which brought an estimated 130,000 people to town.

Business travelers are important to Las Vegas’ tourism economy not only because they fill hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms during the week, but also because people who may otherwise not visit the city can see all that it has to offer and hopefully return as a leisure traveler, said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“Maybe folks who would not consider it as a leisure destination come as a business customer, because they need to be here for that show or that meeting,” Hill said earlier this month. “And then realize, ‘Wow, I want to come back with my family and show them, too.’”

Meeting and convention visitation to Las Vegas is “exceptionally important,” said Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications for the LVCVA.

That’s why the latter, and all the resorts, dedicate so much of their sales efforts to the business traveler, she said, because that’s who will fill hotel rooms Sunday through Thursday.

LVCVA research shows that business travelers also spend a third more than their leisure counterparts while in Las Vegas, Nelson-Kraft said, and are likely to attach a leisure trip around the convention they’re attending.

“You have to fill those rooms all the time, and not just on the weekends,” Hill said. “And business customers have been so important to us during the week in order to just allow Las Vegas to be what it is. But it also expands our brand.”

The outlook for meetings and conventions in Las Vegas in 2024—which includes the city’s first NAACP convention—comes on the heels of a successful 2023, said Nelson-Kraft, who noted that research shows that conventions in Las Vegas versus other destinations typically have a 9% increase in their overall attendance.

A huge component of the momentum in Las Vegas’ meeting and convention industry is the return of the international traveler, she said.

The trade show calendar for the new year is intentionally filling in key times in 2024 that may be otherwise low for leisure visitation, Nelson-Kraft said.

“And then you also see into 2024, three venues that are reinvesting back into their facilities,” she said. “So LVCVA, we’re continuing our renovation … But you also have Mandalay Bay and Venetian that are investing in upgrading their facilities. So you’re seeing a constant reinvestment, which just continues to demonstrate the value everyone feels that meetings and conventions bring to Las Vegas.”

The LVCVA last year kicked off a $600 million renovation to its Las Vegas Convention Center campus, including but not limited to the expansion of the convention center South Hall, as well as a major facelift to the North and Central halls.

The renovation has been planned for nearly two decades, Hill said, but only got underway recently due to barriers like the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Central and North halls opened about 65 and 41 years ago, respectively, he said, and are both overdue for revitalization.

“And now you can see how spectacular the West Hall is, and the differences between those halls is something that needs to be rectified,” Hill said January 8 in the South Hall’s new lobby. “We are going to now have a class A building in a Class A destination, where in the past we’ve had a class C or D building in the best destination world. Those two things need to fit together.”

The West Hall debuted in 2021, as a “gold standard” in terms of quality—from aesthetics to technology to guest experience, Nelson-Kraft said. The ongoing renovation of the rest of the convention center campus is meant to upgrade the three other halls to reflect the West Hall experience.

The convention center in December also welcomed a new neighbor, Fontainebleau Las Vegas, which boasts about 550,000 square feet of meeting space itself. With that addition, Nelson-Kraft said, there’s now 15 million square feet of meeting and convention space in Southern Nevada—more than any other U.S. destination.

“Our customers are really excited about that, and we are, too,” Hill said. “Building out the north Strip around the Convention Center and up and down Las Vegas Boulevard just makes this area more attractive, and that continues to grow and continues to be a real benefit to the trade shows that are here and that will be at Fontainebleau or Resorts World or Wynn, because those properties can all play off of each other. Having that proximity is an advantage.”

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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