Gaming Strategy
Featured Stories
Legal News Financial News Casino Opening and Remodeling News Gaming Industry Executives Author Home Author Archives Search Articles Subscribe
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Related Links
Related News
Recent Articles
Jennifer Robison

CityCenter could appeal to locals

9 December 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When the Stardust closed in November 2006, it took a big piece of the locals meeting market with it.

The hotel-casino's 25,000 square feet of space was positively cozy by standards on the Strip, where convention leviathans such as The Venetian and Mandalay Bay boast hundreds of thousands of square feet of trade-show space.

Now, smaller Strip venues for local meetings of 100 to 500 might be making a comeback in the unlikeliest of places, inside the Strip's biggest megaresort.

Despite CityCenter's massive, 67-acre, 18 million-square-foot scale, the property has dozens of small boardrooms and meeting spaces sprinkled throughout its hotels. Even the giant Aria Resort & Casino, with its 4,004 rooms and suites, is angling for corporate gatherings of as few as 10 people.

Gail Fitzgerald, vice president of hotel sales and marketing at Aria, which opens Dec. 16, said she and her staff have already fielded a number of inquiries from local trade groups and associations seeking space for business luncheons, power breakfasts, awards ceremonies and other professional events. Company policies prevented Fitzgerald from disclosing prospects, but she said she expects sustained, considerable demand from area organizations seeking intimate spaces for receptions and the like.

Local inquiries are also strong at Vdara Hotel & Spa, a smaller property where the cap on meeting attendees for a single event is 400. Tara Russell, vice president of hotel sales and marketing at the nongaming tower, said local business actually outweighs out-of-town gatherings right now, mostly because holiday parties for Las Vegas companies dominate Vdara's bookings.

Beyond the holidays, Vdara has taken calls from local associations, government agencies, charities and even CityCenter contractors interested in using Vdara's 10,000 square feet of convention space for their first-quarter meetings. In addition to ballroom space, Vdara offers a 14-seat executive boardroom.

The meeting center's relatively small size "allows our clients to get full attention to detail from our staff," Russell said. "They definitely won't get lost."

Russell said Vdara also hopes to land business by pointing to Vdara's dual personalities as a nongaming hotel in the middle of the Strip.

"Our marketing niche is, 'Access everything Las Vegas has to offer, and escape everything Las Vegas has to offer,'" she said.

On the other side of CityCenter, the nongaming Mandarin Oriental is also suitable for smaller local powwows, with just 12,000 square feet of space on the third floor. The 7,650-square-foot Mandarin Oriental Ballroom has floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony with Strip views, as well as a separate valet for meeting attendees so they don't have to walk across acres of hotel floor to get to their conferences.

Melina Beckett, director of catering and conference services at Mandarin Oriental, said that the hotel has, like Vdara, booked several holiday parties for local companies. Mandarin Oriental can handle up to 510 attendees.

Local groups interviewed for this story said they expect CityCenter to attract meetings from area businesses and associations.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce books events with members, and because MGM Mirage doesn't belong to the trade group, the chamber doesn't have plans to book meetings at CityCenter. But chamber spokeswoman Cara Roberts has been inside the Mandarin Oriental Ballroom, and she said the "innovative-looking and beautiful" space should attract its fair share of local meetings.

"There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for CityCenter. So long as it's cost-effective, I think there would be a tremendous amount of interest from the business community in utilizing those facilities," Roberts said.

Steve Bottfeld, executive vice president of local research company Marketing Solutions, holds quarterly Crystal Ball housing seminars with another local research firm called Salestraq. The companies used to hold court inside the Stardust, but have moved into locals hotels since the Stardust closed. January's Crystal Ball seminar is scheduled at the Suncoast, but Bottfeld said the seminar's organizers would consider taking future sessions to CityCenter, depending on how much it would cost to meet there.

"We will take a look. There's no question people are going to want to see CityCenter. It's a great place," he said.

Officials with Aria, Vdara and Mandarin Oriental wouldn't discuss specific price points for their properties because they said cost structures vary with each client, but they did say their rates are competitive.

Even if local meetings gravitate toward CityCenter, such business will be a smaller part of the property's overall convention market.

Most of Aria's business will come from bigger national and regional corporate meetings, though the hotel's convention center will also host portions of citywide conventions held inside multiple convention centers. Parts of the International Consumer Electronics Show come to Aria Jan. 7-10, for example. Vdara will also host CES receptions inside its meeting space.

But perhaps the most significant near-term meeting at CityCenter will happen Jan. 20-23, when HelmsBriscoe, the world's largest group of individual corporate meeting planners, comes to Aria with a contingent of about 1,300. HelmsBriscoe won't bring big numbers to the resort during its meeting, but the multiplier effect could be significant: Experiencing Aria firsthand will help HelmsBriscoe planners sell Aria's meeting space to customers, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald hopes the sales pitch includes notes about the convention center's high-tech features, which include high-definition video projectors, full-production rigging in ballrooms and Internet connections via Ethernet cable, broadband and wireless hot spots.

Fitzgerald said she also expects the center's interior design to draw in clients. The space features a 400-foot, three-story glass wall that makes the area feel more like a performing-arts center than a convention hall, she said.

"The reactions from customers have been very positive," she said. "They tell us it's very different, and that was the idea. We wanted to build something unlike what people have seen before."