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Jennifer Robison

Las Vegas trade shows get healthier

24 October 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Las Vegas trade-show market is getting a healthy boost from a cluster of medical-industry conventions.

Through Wednesday, 16 trade groups representing members of the health-care sector will have brought more than 81,000 conventioneers to Las Vegas in the past week and a half, for a combined nongaming economic impact on the city of $106 million.

Nine of the meetings are new to the Las Vegas market.

The shows follow years of work by local convention officials to capture a share of the burgeoning medical-meetings market.

"The medical sector has been one of the fastest-growing segments for meetings and conventions over the last five years, primarily because of the expenditures of drug companies on marketing their wares to this audience," said Chris Meyer, vice president of convention-center sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "This diversifies our market so we're not locked into just a few industries."

The Annual Session of the Chicago-based American Dental Association, attended by 41,000 people, was the biggest of the current crop of health-related conventions. The trade show, held at Mandalay Bay Convention Center Oct. 16-19, last met in Las Vegas in 1995. Meyer said it took six years of negotiations to woo the organization back for its 2006 meeting.

Convincing the association to return to Southern Nevada -- and first-timers to give the area a shot at hosting their meetings -- required some myth-busting, Meyer said.

Show planners in health fields have long believed medical practitioners won't attend midweek meetings because doctors don't want to lose patient business, Meyer said. Combine that with Las Vegas' traditional visitor flow -- which is heaviest on weekends, when most meeting organizers traditionally believed doctors wanted to gather -- and the perception followed that the city couldn't accommodate big groups of health professionals.

"There's no statistical data I've ever seen that would suggest (health professionals) would prefer to meet on weekends," Meyer said. "This last week, we've managed to shatter that myth. We pointed out that Las Vegas is a value destination if you come during the time frames that work best for the greater hotel and motel community."

Adam Schaffer, publisher of industry magazine Tradeshow Week, said the trend toward high-end hotels, restaurants and shows in Las Vegas also helped the city attract medical meetings.

"The moon and stars have aligned so that Las Vegas is a very appropriate destination for medical and (pharmaceutical) shows," Schaffer said. "The Las Vegas of today is very much a world-class city. Medical professionals can stay in five-star hotels, eat in world-class restaurants and see world-class shows. Las Vegas today offers the type of after-business social opportunities that audience would be looking for."

Meeting planners agreed that the city's upscale offerings clinched their decision to assemble in Las Vegas.

Jim Donovan, director of the American Dental Association's council on sessions, said materials promoting the organization's 2006 meeting noted that Las Vegas had changed substantially since the group's 1995 show here, and members should attend to take in the area's newest sights and attractions.

Gregg Lapin, manager of the meetings division at the American Osteopathic Association in Chicago, said Las Vegas has expanded beyond its "Sin City" image, and that makes it a more acceptable convention choice among medical professionals. The association's meeting from Oct. 16-20 at the Las Vegas Convention Center hosted 4,600 attendees.

"Las Vegas is not as taboo as it was," Lapin said. "The perception nowadays is that everyone goes to Las Vegas."

For members of the Medical Group Management Association -- in town Sunday through Monday at the Las Vegas Convention Center for their annual conference -- choice was the overriding factor in the decision to meet in Southern Nevada.

"People have a lot of fun in Las Vegas, and it's a great place to have receptions and network," said Elizabeth Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Colorado trade group. "There's an availability of services here in terms of hotel rooms, (tour) bus companies and places for receptions. We have a lot more options available to us than we have in most other cities."

Meyer said he expects the number of medical trade shows in Las Vegas to increase in coming years, as this week's attendees tell colleagues about their experiences here. Plus, he said, most associations appreciate the bump in participation they receive from locating in Las Vegas.

Trade groups find that show attendance jumps an average of 18 percent when they convene in Las Vegas, Meyer said.

Johnson said the Medical Group Management Association's meeting this week is shaping up to be its best-attended show ever, with 6,200 participants. That's about 1,000 more conventioneers than the organization drew in 2005 when it met in Nashville, Tenn.

The American Dental Association also improved on 2005's meeting attendance. When the group met in Philadelphia a year ago, 29,000 people came to the session, compared with 41,000 in Las Vegas last week.

Yet, the midweek myth may linger among some medical professionals.

The dentists' group initially expected an attendance of 50,000.

Donovan said he believes the show might have come closer to that goal if the association had been able to book a weekend show.

"Dentists are small-business owners, and if they're going to attend a meeting in Las Vegas, they have to make the decision to close," Donovan said. "We kind of look at (midweek bookings) as a calculated risk, but we still netted a pretty strong meeting."

The association will return to Las Vegas in 2011 for its annual session, he said.

The Medical Group Management Association will return in 2011 as well, and the American Osteopathic Association will come back in 2008.

"Las Vegas is terrific," Lapin said. "That's your industry -- hospitality, service, you name it. The hotels are dynamite. They really know what they're doing in Las Vegas. It's a whole different ball game."