Hospitality heroes sparkle behind the scenes in Las Vegas
When CES returned to an expanded Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) in January 70% larger than in 2021, the 100,000 attendees and 3,000 exhibitors were a sight for the smiling eyes of 280,000 hospitality workers in the Henderson-Paradise metropolitan area—and for the larger convention industry watching closely. Mega conferences have lagged behind in the comeback, but the enthusiasm to test autonomous cars and a scented metaverse demonstrated the continued appetite for large-scale shows.
What the Oculus-wearing attendees might not have realized is how many people work behind the scenes to power events large and small. The 280,000 people working to clean hotel rooms, drive sprinter vans, serve in restaurants, manage casinos and sing on stages is still 10,000 fewer than in 2019 (even though some massive new properties have opened since then as you will see below), but 80,000 more than at the beginning of 2021, according to Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis statistics.
Let’s take a closer look at the breadth of human capital it takes to run the biggest convention city in the world around the clock and how the industry is supporting the dedicated community of men and women in meeting and events support roles.
Clark County’s North Las Vegas is a majority minority (mijority) destination. According to World Population Review statistics, 48% are white, 21.9% are Black and 11.9% identify as one or more other races. Women lead in high profile roles across the industry, including Lisa Messina, who recently took the role of Chief Sales Officer at Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Also recently promoted was Kelly Gleeson Smith, who recently added the title of Caesars Entertainment Vice President of Sales, Meetings and Events to her resume. Stephanie Glanzer, serves as chief sales officer and senior vice president at MGM Resorts International and Chris Flatt is executive vice president of sales and marketing at Wynn Las Vegas.
Journey to the Heart of Las Vegas
Join us on a trip down Las Vegas Boulevard (LVB) to meet some of the people in the neighborhood who help Vegas shine.
The first stop on the Las Vegas Loop underground tunnel from LVCC is Resorts World Las Vegas, a triple-branded property with more than 1,000 operating the Hilton luxury brands: Hilton Las Vegas; Conrad Las Vegas at Resorts World; and Crockfords Las Vegas, LXR Hotels & Resorts. Convention managers turn rooms in 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting and banquet space, including 50 meeting rooms and six ballrooms. They are supported by chefs, servers and bartenders at 40 restaurants and performers at the 5,000-seat theater.
Guests greeted by the ever-hospitable bellmen and front desk staff at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas know that beyond the 560,000 sq. ft. of event space and 4,750 guest rooms at the combined property, elevated experiences await. None other than Anthony Hopkins is the voice narrating the talented team of entertainers in the 360-degree theater custom-designed for the new show Awakening. Before or after the show, encourage attendees to stop by and visit the mixologists at Delilah’s Little Bubble Bar, a whimsical nod to the golden age of Hollywood.
Nearby, Fontainebleau is ready for its long-awaited return to Las Vegas! Anticipated to open in late 2023, the extension of the popular Florida property promotes that it can handle everything from “intimate meetings to the grandest events.”
With old Hollywood glam, modern luxury and a Miami twist, the opulent resort will offer 3,700 guest rooms and suites and 550,000 sq. ft. of event space on five levels. The glitzy Royal Ballroom offers an impressive 105,000 sq. ft. of event space, while the adjacent theater boasts 90,000 sq. ft. of entertainment venue options. Fontainebleau offers outdoor space in its Meridian Garden, with 25,000 sq. ft. of open-air space and 18,000 sq. ft. of optional space.
VICI Properties, which purchased The Venetian and Sands Expo in 2021 and rebranded as The Palazzo at the Venetian Resort, has staffed up to host more than 60 major conferences a year in its more than 1 million sq. ft. of expo space. But it is also home to nontraditional spots for smaller meetings, including 7,000 luxury suites, refined boardrooms, outdoor patios, and private restaurant spaces.
With over 30 award-winning restaurants, spa treatments and countless shopping boutiques, meeting attendees can stay within the same resort for dining, shopping, luxury and especially entertainment.
Treasure Island-TI Hotel and Casino, a Radisson Hotel literally employs superheroes. The property, which recently completed a $6.5 million event facilities expansion of 30,500 sq. ft. on two levels, is also home to the new Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N., where guests of all ages dive deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Tropicana Las Vegas—a DoubleTree by Hilton has recently expanded its meeting space to create a conference center of over 100,000 sq. ft.” Tropicana Theater employs musical royalty as it is home to Purple Reign, the Prince Tribute Show, presented by Reign Entertainment Productions, Inc.
Caesars Entertainment is employing a lot more celebrity personalities at its 10 Las Vegas properties. Names such as Nobu Matsuhisa, Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay and Lisa Vanderpump have signed on to create new dining experiences at Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas.
The brand’s “People, Planet, Play” initiative supports the wellbeing of team members, guests and the community with charity activations and a program that supports volunteer hero efforts to the tune of $720,000 so far. The company has committed to reaching 50-50 parity of men and women in leadership roles by 2025 and includes racial equity in its goals.
MGM Resorts has hired an increasing number of construction workers and event techs as it is in the midst of a $100 million remodel of the 2.1 million-square-foot convention center IMEX America calls home. In phase one, Cat6A Ethernet cabling doubled the frequency of data transmission at Mandalay Bay Convention Center and neighboring Delano Las Vegas.
Beyond The Strip
Not all hospitality workers report to their posts on The Strip. Downtown, Circa Resort & Casino employs lifeguards for the massive outdoor sports book amphitheater in addition to everyone needed to run a 512-guest room hotel with more than 21,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Maureen Robinson, director of sales at South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, speaks of the team at the massive property in the Las Vegas valley as a family. Unique roles include equestrian experts, bowling pros and movie theater operators as in addition to 2,163 newly renovated guest rooms and 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, this is an all-encompassing entertainment destination.
Starring in Vegas
After speaking with Las Vegas local, it is obvious that the city is more than a flashy adult playground. This is a place where deals gets done and the people who make it their business to facilitate economic impacts take pride in their contributions behind the scenes. Tourism is Southern Nevada’s top economic driver, representing 30% of overall employment in the state. Meetings and events is a $11.4 billion business annually in the city. This highly skilled and dedicated community of hospitality employees are the backbone and heartbeat of the famous destination.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) loves celebrating the “Hospitality Heroes” who create the “Only Vegas” experience for millions of visitors annually. Each year, a handful of employees, often working unseen, but contributing over-and-above to the visitor experience are honored at a banquet with their family and peers. Their stories are eye-opening. For example, Keoki Hill, a plainclothes security supervisor at Planet Hollywood was honored for identifying a possibly disruptive person and handling the incident without disruption to the show or guest experience. “Keoki’s quick thinking led to the interception of a suspicious individual during a convention,” read the testimonial. But wait, there is more. Keoki’s colleagues said his “warm demeanor and the kindness he shows to others is what truly makes him special.”
“Stellar customer service is the cornerstone of the Las Vegas experience,” says Steve Hill, president and CEO of LVCVA. “It’s an honor to celebrate the remarkable hospitality workers who help make Las Vegas a world-class tourism destination.”
We talked to one of the experts behind the bright lights, Phil Cooper, CEO of Encore Productions, about his love of the city and how Covid impacted business. He started as a stagehand in Las Vegas over 40 years ago and knows the events industry from the rigging down. This Las Vegas resident wants to clear up some misunderstandings about his hometown. “The biggest misconception is that if meeting professionals plan an event in Las Vegas, attendees won’t show up to meetings,” says Cooper. “That is not true.” In fact, LVCVA calculates that on average attendance increases 9% when conventions rotate into Las Vegas and attendees spend more time in meetings and on the trade show floor when in town.
The pandemic obviously turned the world upside down, but especially for a city that relies so heavily on hospitality and entertainment. “It was pretty devastating,” says Cooper. “My wife and I hopped on our bicycles and rode down the strip—it was like ghost town.” Yet Cooper remained optimistic. “We are experts in in-person event production, but we had to all become experts in doing that for a remote audience. We began producing virtual events like a television show to keep up that element of interest.”
Cooper’s sees the reputation changing. As someone who started in the 1980s when the town was much smaller and carried a stigma of “Sin City,” he can see a new picture emerging and attributes the upswing in reputation to the people of the city—especially those in the events and hospitality industries.
“Las Vegas has built a great culture of hospitality,” says Cooper. “It is a great place to conduct business and to have fun.”
Take in a Show
In Las Vegas, exciting entertainment is as ubiquitous as bodegas are in Manhattan. Not only does the city offer top quality hospitality at their famous hotels, but event attendees can finish their long business day, take a rest in a luxury guest room and head out to experience the exciting Las Vegas nightlife by taking in a show—all without leaving the premises.
Mystere at Treasure Island – TI Hotel & Casino
The original home to the now international entertainment franchise Cirque du Soleil, Treasure Island’s 2023 show Mystere will keep the legacy alive through 2023 with a deep dive into the origins of life and the human preoccupation within the universe.
Awakening at Wynn Las Vegas
Wynn’s new show Awakening is a fantasy show set in a custom 360-degree theater. Talented performers punctuate the show’s original music score. And there are puppets! The award-winning puppeteering of Broadway’s The Lion King earned Michael Curry national recognition and he goes above and beyond again with his fantastical puppets in Awakening. All elements of a breathtaking spectacle come together as guests follow the heroine and her friends through a heartwarming and mystifying journey in Awakening.
Mad Apple at New York New York
Speaking of the big apple, New York New York Las Vegas’ entry in the Cirque lineup, Mad Apple, is a delicious cocktail of acrobatics, comedy, music and mayhem starring the comedian and magician Harrison Greenbaum.
This article appears in the January/February 2023 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.