Meetings Today’s Tyler Davidson chats with Chris Meyer, vice president of global sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, about what’s new in the center of the meetings and events universe. Topics include Elon Musk’s bold new Boring Company people mover; exciting new technology offerings; highlights of the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion; and how the Las Vegas is attracting a global sporting event audience. Listen now.

LVCVA*This podcast was created in partnership with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

[Start transcript]

Chris MeyerTyler Davidson: Hello, and welcome to this Meetings Today podcast. I’m Tyler Davidson, vice president and chief content director for Meetings Today. And joining us today is Chris Meyer (pictured), vice president of global sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Thanks for joining us, Chris.

Chris Meyer: My pleasure, Tyler. Great to hear from you, great to be here today.

Tyler: There’s always something going on in Las Vegas. It’s the city that never sleeps. There’s always new state-of-the-art properties opening up. I guess maybe the first question I was going to ask are what sort of technology innovations are currently happening or upcoming in Las Vegas?

Chris: Well, quite a few actually. One of the newest ones that we would love to get people aware of is a partnership that Caesars Entertainment is doing with the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Intel Corporation and Switch Corporation, and it’s called the Black Fire Innovation Center.

And it literally just opened and it’s exactly as it sounds. It’s an incubator and innovation center, not only for the gaming industry and hospitality industry, but also for small startups, so we can improve economic development within the greater Clark County area.

Tyler: Wow, that really sounds interesting. What are some of the details about it?

Chris: Well, it’s brand new. I am actually going to go and have a tour of it next week, as a matter of fact. But it was sponsored by our former Senator Harry Reid. And he has created kind of a whole Science Park around the Innovation Center.

One of the things that UNLV has done with Intel in the past is we have one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, and they’ve worked hand-in-hand with both Switch and UNLV to install a SUPERNAP facility.

So, Caesars Entertainment is now thrown in sponsorship, so that they can use that for data analytics, be able to work on creating a better guest experience using data to make that experience more natural, more personalized, which is every innkeeper’s dream, if you want to use innkeeper as kind of an ancient term.

Tyler: In this modern time, it does sort of sound ancient, but wow, data analytics. It’s just amazing to me how fast the world moves in a technology sense these days.

Chris: Yeah, and then we got an update this morning. There’s been a lot of chatter and focus on the Boring Company, which is an Elon Musk company. In fact, they’re actually part of SpaceX. So, we have them, they’re 2,162 feet down line now and the first tunnel that’s going under the Las Vegas Convention Center for our convention center loop, which is going to be the transportation mechanism and system that we’re going to use to make our convention visitors’ experience much better at our very, very large campus.

Boring Company Drill
Photo: Lowering Boring Company drill head, Credit: Mark Damon Las Vegas News Bureau

As you know, we’ve been expanding our center. We’re over 60% complete on that expansion. It’s going to be open next year for CES in 2021. And the Boring Company plans on being open right along with it. So, we’ll be running Tesla vehicles through two parallel tunnels. And this is the first commercial application in the world of the new Boring Company system.

Tyler: Wow, that is really amazing. We’ve been following that story, too, and I can’t wait to get out there and see it. When does CES happen?

Chris: CES is the first week of January each year. Obviously, it’ll be open before that for testing, but we hope to have our certificate of occupancy in the very first part of December, so that we can begin our move in about mid-December for the giant CES show. And then, of course, the Boring Company will be on their own timeline.

But we’re really excited about that, not only for the ramifications for us because it’s free to the users of the Las Vegas Convention Center, but during the downtimes—which there’s not very many of those—but when we do have those, we plan on having it open for the public to come through and test it out.

So, a nominal fee of two or five bucks to ride the system and just check out what it’s like to go down a tunnel in a Tesla, an autonomous vehicle by the way, and allow people to experience this new type of transportation technology.

Las Vegas Strip Credit David Becker- Las Vegas News BureauIt’s something that’s really cool. We’re hoping that when we prove that this works, that the rest of Las Vegas is going to start adding on pieces to the system. We’ve already got rights to go to all the hotels up and down the Strip as well as out to the airport and downtown Las Vegas. (Photo: Las Vegas Strip, Credit: David Becker, Las Vegas News Bureau)

Tyler: I really have to say you folks in Vegas really make it happen on these big projects like that. You really have a tight community that recognizes the needs of the hospitality and tourism industry.

Chris: Well, we’re lucky that our CEO has a great vision. He comes out of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and he’s the gentleman and his team at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development that brought Tesla to the state of Nevada, and they built the Giga plant. So, by having that relationship—face-to-face matters—that allowed us to be able to incorporate this into our transportation system to take care of our delegates that come to the Las Vegas Convention Center; most of them annually or more than a couple times a year because of the different shows that we have in our building.

Tyler: Yeah, and it’s cool to that, besides really serving a solid function it’s going to be an attraction in itself as you mentioned.

Chris: Right. The other thing that’s going on as well is, you look at the type of vehicles that they’re going to be doing in the system—we have two above-ground stations that will pick up people in the Teslas, and we’re going to be using Model 3s, Model Xs and a brand-new 16-passenger electric transportation vehicle that Tesla is designing right now for us. Actually, I think it’s designed. I think they’re testing it right now.

And then we have one below-ground system. So, we’re going to give everybody that feel of what it’s like to transfer below ground as well as to transfer above ground on each end of the system. So, it’s really something that I’m quite excited about. I can’t wait to get in the tunnel.

Our chief operating officer just went in the tunnel on Friday and showed us pictures at our board meeting. And it’s just amazing. It’s so clean, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that just started being dug—or bored is what they call it—on November 15th of this past year.’ And they’ll probably be completed by the end of January for the first tunnel, turn around and do the next one. We imagine it might be done, both tunnels would be bored, by the end of February.

Tyler: That’s amazing how efficient and how fast they’re working.

Chris: Yeah. We got a bunch of rocket scientists working on our transportation system. So, if they can put 60 satellites in the air in one day—or up in space—rest assured, our system is going to be pretty cool.

Tyler: You’re in good hands. With all the development, and you know, all the things happening in Las Vegas—and there’s always new giant resort casinos coming up entertainment districts—how does Las Vegas maintain a good CSR, sustainability and eco-friendly position? What should people know out there about that?

Chris: Las Vegas is very green, even though we are in the desert. Our recycling in many of our major hotels is beyond compare. In fact, we just had a presentation this morning at our board meeting about the sustainability practices that we’re having at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

For doing simple stuff in a building that some parts of it are 60 years old, replacing lights—moving away from some fluorescent lights and putting in LED lights—can make a big difference, sometimes reducing costs by as much as 50%; implementing when those lights will be turned on; going dark at night and not leaving lights on all the time; turning off kitchen hoods in your kitchen, because our kitchen is over an acre in size. So, it’s over 45,000 square feet.

Turning off planting equipment at night that you’re not going to be using. A lot of operators are always afraid to do that, that you won’t be able to fire it up, get it going. But our team is very well versed in the operations of the facility.

Going to solar—we’re going to be bringing forward next month a plan for solar power on our new Convention Center West Hall, and then backfill that as we remodel both the Central Hall and the North Hall. So, you’re going to see a substantial increase in the use of solar power on the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Las Vegas Convention Center Credit Mark Damon- Las Vegas News Bureau
Photo: Las Vegas Convention Center, Credit: Mark Damon, Las Vegas News Bureau

Water reduction—I mean at one point we’re using 41 gallons per square foot of water for our delegates, almost like a per person type of usage. And we’ve already managed to reduce that down to about 20 gallons per usage. And we think we can get that lower, and that’s replacing old fixtures, making sure that your systems are constantly checking in with one another.

We’ve already xeriscaped all of the outside where it requires very, very little water for some of the foliage that’s around our building. But it’s more about how do we use that water? Even looking at taking the water that powers our chillers, and being able to recycle, that is a big deal. And we believe that that’s going to help us reduce our water consumption.

Tyler: Yeah, and it really is like Las Vegas is just the perfect laboratory for these sorts of really forward-thinking, sustainability and green operations advances.

Chris: Well, I appreciate you saying that. But it’s even more than that. Our customers care about it, we care about it. It’s a precious resource for us in the desert—the power and the water. So, we want to make sure that we provide that superior guest experience, but also show that sustainability is alive and well, and we want to lead the charge in that.

Tyler: Great. Then also wellness—business travelers are increasingly focused on wellness and I know covering the meetings industry that our readers are always interested in integrating wellness programs into their meetings. What are some of the highlights of wellness opportunities in Las Vegas?

Chris: Well, many of our resorts—MGM Resorts has really led the charge on that, and you’ll see it in the new CAESARS FORUM as well. So many of our hotel partners are already doing this by changing the lighting in your meeting rooms using aroma therapy, serving foods that don’t drag you down, that keep you alert throughout the day.

Looking at the dietary along with how the feeling of the meeting room, is that it’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, that you have the natural sunshine coming in. And you have complimentary lighting that’s built into the structure of those meeting facilities that allows the body to get that type of energy during long sessions when you’re having those pretty intense meetings.

Tyler: Yeah, it’s a lot more than just like a chair massage, right? It’s like down to the science.

Chris: Yeah. Hats off to our partners. They have brought in experts to help them design these types of facilities. And we’ve been doing wellness tourism now for at least 10 years, looking at ways people can come and find wellness, be able to get that experience through the spas and the offerings and the different types of exercise facilities.

And even in the medical tourism space, being able to offer those types of services to our guests because once again, they’re asking for it, and we want to make sure that we’re helping them with that.

We have Stay Well Suites over at the MGM Grand. There’s yoga on the High Roller. There’s dolphin yoga, HeliYoga out in the Valley of Fire, paddleboard meetings at Lake Mead. We’re able to accommodate a lot of those types of unique experiences that will make the meetings more meaningful, and obviously memorable.

[More on Vegas meetings: How to Make Your Small Meeting Stand Tall in Las Vegas]

Tyler: Well, more than a few of those I’ve never heard about. So, that’s pretty cool. You guys are out ahead of the curve, I think.

Chris: Awesome. Well, thanks.

Tyler: What new spaces, meeting facilities, etc., are coming online in the next couple of years in Vegas?

Chris: Well, just a small amount—three-and-a-half million square feet. Our project alone is you’ve got 600,000 square feet of exhibition space, another 150,000-plus square feet of meeting space to accommodate that.

You also have the Wynn that’s adding on 350,000 square feet. You’ve got the new Drew that’s got 550,000 square feet; Resorts World, which is about 350,000 square feet; the MSG Sphere, which is an 18,000-seat, entertainment, general session, amazing type of presentation complex. You’ve got Area15, which is kind of a unique meeting area that has things like Meow Wolf. That’s kind of a trending type of experience.

Yeah, plus let’s not forget we have Circa downtown that is a brand-new facility. It’s the first high-rise and hotel to be built in downtown since 1980. And my gosh, the CAESARS FORUM. That is over 550,000 square feet, the two largest ballrooms in the world, all kinds of wellness facilities; there’s an outdoor area for meetings that’s 150,000 square feet. It’s more than $16 billion worth of investment.

Tyler: Wow. That is truly amazing. Yeah. I’m hoping to come out there when the FORUM opens. I’ve been following that project closely. And it’s just amazing.

Chris: Yeah, it’s not too soon. We’re going to see it here in about two months.

Tyler: Wow. Again, the fast pace of getting projects done always amazes me there.

Chris: Well, what’s interesting, and in just the last two years, between this year’s openings and next year’s openings, we’ve increased our meeting space to a global leading 21%. We’ll have more meeting space than any other destination on planet Earth. We sit at right around 15 million square feet.

Tyler: Very nice. Something for everybody, right? And speaking of which, if you look at Las Vegas as an event destination, what is that biggest differentiator between Las Vegas and other destinations?

Chris: Well, I would say if we had any place that we needed to bring some more attention to it’s probably the world of sports. And boy, did we check that box in a big way. We’ve got the Allegiant Stadium that’s under construction right now. So, the Raiders will be playing there at this time next year. Of course, we hope they’re very deep into the playoffs by this time next year.

And then we’ve got, you know, the contribution of the MSG Sphere. But what that does now is it gives us an area where we can host events that we were never able to talk about before: the NCAA football championships, the PAC 12 football championships. We are actually bidding on or soliciting over 105 events right now to come to Las Vegas and bring their sporting championships to our destination.

You’re going to see at some point in the very near future—where professional soccer what we commonly refer to overseas as football—you’ll see matches between, say, Manchester United and the national team from Brazil. And all their fans will meet in a center in Las Vegas and have two or three days of matches. And of course, the experience that Las Vegas is going to be able to provide to them all is a climate-controlled, 65,000-seat, state-of-the-art stadium.

Tyler: Wow, yeah, you really are checking off all the boxes there, getting all those different markets to come in.

Chris: Well, it goes back to what we’ve always talked about is face-to-face is the most important. And you add in that element of surprise and delight with sporting events, and it really makes for a complete guest experience.

Tyler: What sort of creativity does Vegas have for customizable spaces? What’s something maybe our meeting planner listeners might not be aware of that they can customize there?

Chris: Well, if you can dream it, and you have budget, we can do it for you. I mean, that’s really what it boils down to.

I was talking today to a facility that’s in our art district downtown. We went down there to have lunch, and they were talking about those three-wheel cars that you see around in the destinations. They actually took one of those—they were in here for their corporate meeting—lifted it up on top of The Cromwell Hotel and had it at Drai’s Nightclub.

I mean, they literally took a crane and put it on top of the hotel because there’s a big club up there where they could host all of their salespeople, employees and talk about the next vision for their company. And they manufacture these vehicles and rent them all around destinations across the United States and across the world.

[On topic: 10 Reasons Why Las Vegas Was Made for Your Meeting]

Tyler: Yeah, and I know even a lot of the big properties there even have fabrication capabilities and can really just do anything in any space. Like you said, if you have the creativity and the budget, they’ll do it for you.

Chris: Yeah. Well, I mean, you look at some of the activations that have happened just for like AWS that happened in December of this year, and of course, CES in some of the facilities, the displays that were built, we literally have the largest exhibit designer houses of anywhere in the world are based here in Las Vegas.

You have your Freemans and your GES’s and your Czarnowskis. All the folks that do that type of designing and building—we have a community that’s used to seeing those type of things. So, it’s like, okay, yeah, bring it on. As long as it’s safe, we’re willing to do that.

Tyler: You were earlier talking about the sports market really booming and getting a lot of even international travelers more coming in for events. What new airline developments are on the horizon? Are there any new markets that will be direct to Las Vegas coming up?

Chris: Yeah, thank you for asking that. We actually just announced in October, LEVEL Airways started flying nonstop from Paris to Las Vegas, and they’re a low-cost carrier. So, the value to the folks both here in Las Vegas as well as in Europe is pretty significant. Their business model is different than what you see on your normal legacy carriers. But opening up Paris for us was pretty exceptional.

And then, of course, KLM just started with us last June, and they’re having a very, very successful run flying out of Amsterdam. And Amsterdam through the Schiphol Airport connects the world to us. We’ve seen a really nice push with our Indian travelers being able to basically one-hop it into Las Vegas through Amsterdam. So, they can fly from Delhi to Amsterdam, change planes and come into Las Vegas.

[Related: The Mega Projects Expanding Las Vegas in 2020]

And then of course, the big surprise for us has been El AL flying out of Tel Aviv. So, it’s only one time a week, but we are actually now connected to the Middle East on a nonstop flight into Tel Aviv. And Tel Aviv was voted the most fun destination in the Mediterranean by a number of travel magazines. And of course, that fits right in with our leisure guests for Las Vegas. So, we kind of trade visitors back and forth.

Tyler: Well, if they like fun, they know to go to Las Vegas to get even more of it. Right?

Chris: Exactly. And then lots and lots of service domestically has been added by Spirit Airlines, by Frontier Airlines. Oh, we even have new service that started in December, on Hawaiian, [which] is flying nonstop now from Maui to Las Vegas. Actually, two-times-a-day flights from Honolulu; now we have Maui.

Tyler: Yeah, I know. I know a lot of Hawaiians, and they joke that it’s like Las Vegas is actually one of the Hawaiian Islands.

Chris: We are the ninth island. We have a great relationship with our Hawaiian travelers. The Las Vegans go over and spend money in Hawaii. And the Hawaiians come to Las Vegas and spend money here. So, it’s a great trade.

Tyler: Yeah. And it’s probably not that long of a flight since you’re so close to the West Coast, right?

Chris: Yeah, it runs between about five and six hours.

Tyler: Nice. Excellent. Well then moving on to the small footprint of the Strip. How does that present advantages to meeting planners when they’re bringing a group into town for their programs?

Fremont Street Experience Credit Joe Buglewicz- Las Vegas News BureauChris: Well, Las Vegas has become very pedestrian over the last few years. A number of years ago, before even City Center was built, many of the property operators realized that when guests come to Las Vegas, they don’t just stay in one hotel. Years ago, that was true. But now they like to move up and down the Strip, be able to experience kind of everything that Las Vegas has to offer.

So, that is what has happened with the design elements that you see up and down the Strip, from the way that the Park MGM is set up and the park, which is right out in front of the T Mobile, the redesign of how City Center presented their offering with the ARIA, and of course, their Crystals shopping center. (Photo: Fremont Street Experience, Credit: Joe Buglewicz, Las Vegas News Bureau)

Even the Cosmopolitan, the way that they’re open to the street, and Caesars has always been a pedestrian type of look, as well as the Venetian, too. So, many of those properties have adopted it. The Wynn built a beautiful, beautiful shopping experience right on the Las Vegas Strip along with a very large day club, too.

Tyler: Yeah, that is really interesting because years and years and years ago, I think these properties there, they were just wanting to keep people indoors most of the time. But now they really realize, especially for the meetings and events market, the importance of having a gathering place, and a place to do various activations outside and take advantage of that great weather, too, right?

Chris: And the other thing is, we’re very flexible. Like, for instance, if you’re in a brand like Caesars Entertainment, you’re going to be able to spend money at all the different resorts and have that book go to the master account for your particular activity or your event, as well as get the credit for it that you spent within that family of properties. And many of our hotel groups do that. That allows for a lot of flexibility. It gets people kind of outside of the meeting room that maybe they’ve spent a day or two in already. And of course, we never close, so you’re not going to miss out on anything. Nothing’s closing up at 9:00 at night.

So, the meetings tend to be much more heavily attended, especially for our tradeshows. Buyers spend more time on the show floor than anywhere else, because they know we’re not going away. It’s not going to close; they have their experience. And they don’t have to worry about booking months in advance to get into their favorite restaurant.

Tyler: And speaking of restaurants, Las Vegas is truly a world class dining destination as well as entertainment, I mean, it’s the Entertainment Capital of the World. How can meeting planners add those experiences to their events when they come into town?

Chris: Oh, very simple. Just call us. We keep a list, not only of all the places that have group dining availability, but we are constantly being updated by all of our property partners about the new restaurants that they’re offering—redesigned restaurants, new chefs that are coming into town, new restaurants that are being created by chefs that are currently here.

Yeah, so just call us, send us an email. Or better yet, get on our chat bot on VegasMeansBusiness.com and talk to Lily. She was born during IMEX America back in September.

Tyler: Excellent. So, Lily can answer all your questions? Maybe book me a table for two if I ask politely?

Chris: Well, she’s still a toddler. So, because she’s powered by AI, she’s still kind of learning, but she’s getting smarter every day. And it’s a lot of fun. Our staff has had a great time interacting with her and helping her find where information lives, providing her that human information, but she’s getting smarter all the time.

Tyler: Well, excellent. Thanks for joining us, Chris. It was really great talking with you. What are you seeing out there in general? You’re talking to people in the meetings industry all the time. What do you think we’re going to see in the next few years just in the meetings industry coming down the pike?

Chris: Well, we’re going to continue on the CSR path and how we all need to kind of band together to make sure that if there’s waste, that the waste is recycled, that edible food is not lost and thrown out. We see our transportation partners looking for better, cleaner ways to move people around. That is all going to continue on.

You’re going to see a lot more activity in the MICE space in Asia, more so than we’ve seen even in the last 10 years, as we see more and more adoption of the types of events that we’ve been doing in North America and in Europe for years. And I think that is one of the things that’s really trending.

The world is getting smaller and smaller all the time. A lot of that is thanks to digital and social media. And at the end of the day, we all want to have that personal interaction with fellow human beings. And meetings, I think, are becoming more of the preferred way for people to do that. The safe and preferred way to do that.

Tyler: Well, great. Thank you for joining us today, Chris.

Chris: Thanks, Tyler. I really appreciate it. It’s been fun.

Tyler: Thank you. And thank you all listening out there to our Meetings Today podcast. For more podcasts, hop on over to Meetingstoday.com and check out our podcast section where you will find a wealth of information from industry experts on a variety of topics, all important to the meetings industry. Thank you for joining us today and make it a great rest of the day.

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