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Chris Jones

Southern Nevada Economy: Season's Meetings

7 September 2004

Though it's been slowed in recent weeks by the traditional summer doldrums, Las Vegas' convention industry is again poised to heat up once local temperatures cool down.

Business travelers largely avoid coming here in months when 100-plus degree temperatures are more conducive to dips in the pool than sales calls or marketing meetings.

But the local climate becomes a major advantage in the fall, winter and spring when Las Vegas seems downright balmy to travelers whose local weather often ranges from frequent rain and chilling winds to snowstorms.

"I think the weather is a big draw. It goes hand-in-hand with Vegas, which is an attraction in itself," said Leah Arnold, spokeswoman for the International Consumer Electronics Show, which is slated to bring 115,000 people here come January.

With summer's official end less than three weeks away, Las Vegas got a head start to its late-year rush of big conventions with last week's Men's Apparel Guild in California fashion expo, which brought an estimated 90,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Convention Center before it concluded Thursday.

And while that show's clean-up was interrupted late last week by a labor dispute between convention contractors and members of Teamsters Local Union 631, Las Vegas' convention industry still has big plans for a busy fall.

The city's next large show is the National Mining Association MINExpo International, which will bring 35,000 people to Southern Nevada when it opens Sept. 27.

October's calendar includes the 25,000-attendee Global Gaming Expo; the National Business Aviation Association, a 35,000-attendee private jet showcase; plus a National Association of Convenience Stores show, where more than 25,000 people will check out products soon to be sold at 7-Eleven and AM/PM stores across the land.

Although November's long-standing technology stalwart, Comdex, is taking at least one year off to reload its pocket protector, few expect Las Vegas will suffer from its absence.

"Because Comdex has been softening for so many years, the hotels have taken notice and began selling into those dates," Nancy Murphy, vice president of sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said last week. "Occupancy for this November looks to be as strong as it would have been during Comdex's final years."

Much of that growth stems from ingenuity in convention booking. For the first time since Mandalay Bay's expanded convention center opened in January 2003, Las Vegas' trio of 1 million-plus square-foot venues will simultaneously host complementary shows this fall.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association will bring 100,000 people to the Las Vegas Convention Center for its automotive parts showcase Nov. 2-5. A few blocks away, the concurrent Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo will draw another 88,000 to the Sands Expo and Convention Center adjacent to The Venetian.

On Nov. 3, Mandalay Bay will open the four-day International Autobody Congress & Exposition's NACE Expo, a 35,000-attendee show dedicated to auto body repairs. Each show is produced by a different company, but their organizers will allow those registered at one event to attend the others at no extra cost.

"It kind of makes for an `Automotive Week,' " Murphy said, citing the NACE Expo's decision to shift from its past December slot at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"They made the change for the good of their membership, but what it did for the good of the city was create a concentrated auto week," Murphy added. "That's the first time I've seen that kind of cooperation, but it certainly won't be the last `industry week.' "

Paul Dykstra, whose GES Exposition Services builds displays, signs and other convention-related goods, said his company uses the summer slowdown to prepare for the fall and January, typically Las Vegas' busiest convention month.

After slow periods in June in July, he said his workers were happy to get back on the floor when GES' business reignited earlier this month.

"Most people would tell you they're in this industry because they like the show floor. It's show business, and they like to be interacting with their clients," said Dykstra, GES' president and chief executive officer. "But when we have (busy) runs like we're in now ... I think people are looking for that breather back in the office."

Last year was the best Las Vegas ever had for conventions, when nearly 5.66 million attendees left behind nearly $6.55 billion in nongaming spending. Through June, the city was on pace to attract 6.8 million conventioneers with an estimated economic impact of more than $8 million.

Mandalay Bay Vice President of Sales Danielle Babilino said her company's trade show clients have this year enjoyed increased attendance, booth sales and square footage -- all factors that point toward an improving U.S. economy.

"You can see it as it's rolling into 2005," said Babilino, whose upcoming large events include a September gathering of Toyota dealers, October's 20,000-attendee International Tile and Stone Show and the aforementioned NACE Expo.

George Smith, a gaming analyst with Richmond, Va.-based brokerage firm Davenport & Co., said conventions were a prime topic at his recent meetings with several local gaming companies. Most were confident 2004 will close out strong, setting the stage for additional growth next year after the industry's usual slowdown between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

"The convention schedule looks solid, looks strong, and that's helping with earnings," Smith said. "While I can't point toward the presence of a national gathering of bricklayers or some specific event, most do feel (earnings projections) are solid through the fall and into 2005" based in part on advance convention bookings.

Said Murphy: "We're very lucky to have so many anchor clients that come to us year after year, and the fall does have ... a lot of repeat customers."

Many large companies base their convention budgets for the following year based on economic conditions during the prior year's third quarter. Based on today's current economic optimism, 2005 could be an even bigger year for the U.S. convention industry, said David Ross, vice president with Roselle, Ill.-based show producer Exhibitgroup/Giltspur.

"We're seeing increased activity nationwide," Ross said. "And as we all know, as the trade show industry goes, so goes Las Vegas."