An A-Z Guide to Meetings in NEVADA
Ask the roughly 52 million people who visited Nevada last year why they made the trip, and you’d likely hear every answer under the sun.
After all, sunshine (and all the golf, swimming, and outdoor recreation that come with it) are key ingredients of the state’s popularity.
Then again, you’d probably hear just as much about the countless indoor entertainment, like fine dining, nightclubs, big-name shows and gaming, not to mention meetings and conventions, about 24,000 of which were held last year in Las Vegas alone, accounting for more than 6.2 million attendees.
The reality is that Nevada is a vast, diverse state, with as many reasons to visit as there are, well, visitors. “The best thing about Nevada is the variety,” says Knud Svendsen, vice president of sales and marketing for the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority. “From indoor to outdoor, daytime to nighttime, there is a broad array of activities. The list is pretty much endless.”
“What makes Las Vegas unique is the number of options available,” says Michael Goldsmith, director of convention sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “Even if you’ve been here multiple times, when you come back next time, there are going to be new things.”
While so many options add up to excellent opportunity for meeting planners, it also means that the possibilities can get a bit overwhelming. To simplify things, we developed this A-to-Z guide to some of the main reasons to hold a meeting in Nevada, regardless of whether you want to take your group on a cattle stampede (under “D,” for dude ranch, below); on a dinner-dancing cruise on a lake (under “W” for water); or through some of the most famous bars and nightclubs in the world (see “U” for ultra).
AS IN ART
Nevada’s art scene has flourished in recent years, combining a vibrant f fringe scene (Nevada is home to Burning Man, every Labor Day, as well as the Vegoose music festival, near Las Vegas, on Halloween) with a remarkable array of world-class art at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, which can be used for private showings and special events.
In Reno, the Truckee River Arts District, along the river’s banks near downtown, has art galleries, boutique shops and lounges and bars. And the Nevada Museum of Art, a four-story complex with paintings and sculptures, has a roof-top patio and views of the Sierra Nevada mountains for groups of up to 500.
AS IN BOWLING
Nevada is a nationally renowned mecca for one of the most under-rated team-building activities around: bowling. Reno’s National Bowling Stadium is known as the “Taj Mahal of Tenpins,” featuring 78 championship lanes, disco lighting and stadium lighting—a perfect setting for groups of up to 2,000 to hold an unforgettable tournament. There’s even a 172-seat theater for presentations. Vegas also has various bowling options, including Lucky Strike, a hip bowling alley/nightclub at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, with oversize couches, neon and retro bowling posters.
AS IN CASINOS
While many Nevada hotels have downplayed the importance of casinos in their overall business, most visitors to Nevada will want to spend at least a little time shaking the dice or watching cards flip. To avoid attrition for a conference or convention, leave plenty of free time in your agenda for people to drop by the casino if they so desire. Or consider tying gaming into the meeting somehow: most of the larger hotels can help to arrange on-site tournaments in poker, craps or slots, and many also provide sessions to teach groups how to play.
AS IN DUDE RANCH
Far from the ultra-lounges and high-end spas of the cities, there is another Nevada, a vast, untamed country where cow chips are more common than poker chips, and where team-building retreats are bound to be memorable. The 71 Ranch, north of Elko, offers groups of 12–15 people an authentic working cattle ranch experience on 38,000 acres in Nevada’s “Buckaroo Country”; the remote Cottonwood Guest Ranch can arrange horse and cattle drives, pack trips or other cowboy-themed activities.
AS IN ENTERTAINMENT
Nevada hotels often feature big-name entertainers to draw guests—which means you either have a built-in show for your program (with group discounts), or you may also hire the entertainer to stop by your meeting. “We’ve had some entertainers do a complimentary meet-and-greet for groups,” says Heather Farnam, director of sales for Harrah’s Hotel and Casino, in Reno.
Tickets also make a good incentive prize; The Strip always has plenty of big-name solo performers (e.g., Cher at Caesars Palace) or shows (e.g., Cirque du Soleil shows, Blue Man Group, Broadway shows or dance revues). Groups can also have a great time at a less extravagant show: Reno’s Magic Underground, for example, is a subterranean 200-seat theater and bar that can be rented for events.
Or, for your hard-core sports fans, ESPN Zone at New York-New York features all the action all the time on two 14-foot TV screens, surrounded by a dozen 36-inch screens.
AS IN FOOD
Nevada, and particularly Las Vegas, has turned into one of the world’s centers for haute cuisine. Many of the world’s finest chefs now have restaurants in Vegas, including Alain Ducasse, Hubert Keller, Guy Savoy, Todd English, Joël Robuchon, Bradley Ogden and others. Most of the restaurants have private dining rooms for smaller groups and many are open to buy-outs for larger groups. A meal for two at a special restaurant also makes a great incentive prize. See the Las Vegas Review Journal for complete reviews.
AS IN GOLF
With its reliable sunshine and dry weather, Nevada is a natural haven for golfers. Las Vegas is within striking distance of dozens of courses (though many charge up to a few hundred dollars per round), and Reno has more than 50 courses within a 90-minute drive, including the “Divine Nine,” a series of courses around Carson City. Golf is also great in Tahoe, where balls fly farther due to the high altitude. The Reno-Tahoe CVA even operates its own course: Wildcreek Golf Course, which also has an outdoor pavilion and indoor meeting space for up to 200 people. To help with planning, consider hiring a package operator, like Las Vegas Golf (golftahoe.com; divinenine.com; lasvegasgolf.com).
IS FOR HISTORY
While much of Nevada is all about the “new thing,” the state also has a fascinating past; historic houses and museums are often great spots for receptions. The Atomic Testing Museum, for example, showcases the days when visitors to Vegas could watch mushroom clouds from their hotel windows, while the National Automobile Museum, in Reno, has more than 220 vintage cars displayed on simulated historic streets, for groups of up to 1,200. Lake Tahoe also has several historic houses, including the Thunderbird Lodge, a historic estate from the 1930s with granite floors, fireplaces and 5,400 sq. ft. of meeting space. In Las Vegas, the new Springs Preserve, at the site of the city’s founding, is a beautiful place for an event or meeting.
AS IN INCENTIVE
Nevada offers a bounty of unforgettable incentive prizes for corporate clients. What sales team wouldn’t fight for a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon, a day at the Mario Andretti racing school, a bi-plane ride over Lake Tahoe or a chance to pilot a fighter jet? The over-the-top treats go all the way up to the $5,000 hamburger at Fleur de Lys, at Mandalay Bay (served with a 1990 bottle of Chateau Petrus; the burger alone is $75).
AS IN JONESES
The Joneses, those folks up the block who always seem to have the newest thing, are a driving force in Nevada, and they make sure that hotels are continually renovated and upgraded. This presents opportunities for meeting planners, as competition runs strong. The lesson: work with agencies such as the LVCVA or the RSCVA to shop across properties and find the best deals for your group.
AS IN KIDS
While Las Vegas may have shed its family-friendly marketing from the 1990s, the city still has plenty to offer youngsters if your attendees want to make the meeting a vacation. A few of the Vegas Strip hotels still have amusement rides (including the rides at the top of the Stratosphere).
In Reno and Tahoe, kids can go tubing on the Truckee River, go mountain biking, or pay a visit to Wild Island, an indoor water park with mini golf. Another option is the Wilbur D. May Center’s Great Basin Adventure, where kids can pet animals, ride a pony, pan for gold, ride an old-fashioned log flume or explore a discovery room.
AS IN LAUGHLIN
If you’re looking for a change from Las Vegas or Reno, Laughlin, located on the Colorado River about 90 miles south of Las Vegas, draws about four million visitors every year, for its access to Lake Mead and Lake Havasu, as well as for its shows, casinos, swimming, and golf. The town of Laughlin has about 11,000 rooms, as well as ample conference space for all but the largest groups (visitlaughlin.com or lvcva.org).
AS IN MESQUITE
The city of Mesquite, about an hour outside of Las Vegas, was originally developed as a first-stop on the border with Utah; it has since grown to encompass multiple golf courses, a bowling alley, skeet-shooting range and more. The CasaBlanca Hotel Casino has about 47,000 sq. ft. alone, including an event center that can hold up to 3,000.
AS IN NATURE
Nevada has fantastic nature, ranging from alpine forests of the Sierra to surreal desert landscapes, so it offers plenty of bird-watching, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and other recreational activities. “When you step outside the city limits, you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful terrain in North America,” Svendsen says.
To make things easy for your group, hire an outfitter, such as Wild Sierra, based in Reno, or Hike This, near Las Vegas.
Or, work with your hotel: the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, in Reno, even has its own concierge team to set up outdoor recreation.
IS FOR OFF-SEASON
Deals can often be found during the off-season, which is generally winter in Las Vegas and Reno, and late spring and fall in the Lake Tahoe area. The shoulder season often offers the rare chance to enjoy summer and winter fun at the same time: “If you come in April, you can ski and golf the same day,” says Farnam, of Reno’s Harrah’s Hotel and Casino.
IS FOR PARKS
Nevada has an extensive system of state parks, many of which are well suited for groups. For example, Sand Harbor State Park, in Lake Tahoe, has sandy beaches, picnic areas and a covered pavilion for up to 150 people, as well as a theater for up to 1,000; Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, about 15 miles west of Las Vegas, has living history events, hiking and wildlife viewing. For a complete list of state parks, see parks.nv.gov.
AS IN QUANTITY
If you’ve got a big group, Nevada is the place, with Reno/Tahoe and Las Vegas both more than capable of hosting the largest conventions. Reno plays host to multiple events with more than 20,000 attendees, and Las Vegas alone hosts more than 6.2 million convention delegates every year (about one arriving every five seconds, 24/7, 365).
AS IN RETAIL
In a state where casino chips can be used as currency, shopping is, not surprisingly, a popular pastime; the Fashion Show Mall on the Vegas Strip claims to draw more than 10 million visitors per year. Malls are handy for planners, as they can be used for spouse activities, and many have areas that can be rented out for special events. The newly opened Town Square Center, on the south Vegas strip, has 150 retail shops, more than a dozen restaurants, an 18-screen movie theater and a children’s park.
AS IN SNOW
(and skiing, sledding and skating)
The word Nevada means “snow-covered” in Spanish, and snow-based activities are a great option for groups in both the north and south of the state. “Corporate groups always enjoy doing ski competitions, snowboard and big-air competitions, dog sledding, snowshoeing and other winter activities,” Svendsen says.
With 18 ski resorts (and seven cross-country resorts), Lake Tahoe is one of the premier ski destinations in the world; free ski shuttles are available from most of Reno’s hotels right to the slopes. “A lot of hotels offer discounted ski lift tickets on-property, so groups don’t have to worry about purchasing their tickets way in advance,” Farnam says.
Skiing is also available outside the Tahoe region: in the east of the state, Elko’s Ruby Mountains can also be used for a heli-skiing excursion, and in the south, Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort is less than an hour north of The Strip.
IS FOR TAHOE
One of the deepest lakes in North America, Lake Tahoe is the kind of place where your group can hold a team-building retreat in a mountain cabin, or just enjoy a day of skiing and sledding followed by evening bonding sessions at the craps and blackjack tables or a big-name show. South Lake Tahoe, in particular, has a unique blend of mountain living and Las Vegas-style hotels, restaurants, shows and casinos.
“You can have the pristine beauty of Lake Tahoe, exciting gaming and entertainment, unparalleled winter and summer recreational activities and four-star accommodations, all in one location, cost effectively. That’s Lake Tahoe,” says Steve Lowe, director of sales for Harrahs & Harvey’s Lake Tahoe.
Rounding out the destination, North Lake Tahoe also offers opportunities for outdoor recreation, live entertainment and casino action. Visit gotahoenorth.com for all the options.
AS IN ULTRA
In case you haven’t heard, “ultra” is the new catchword for lounge-style nightclubs in Las Vegas, Reno and other cities. “Ultra lounges” and “ultra bars” often have great built-in ambience for a private event: Tao, at the Venetian; Jet, at the Mirage; and Pure, at Caesars Palace all can be rented for private events. If you plan to get a group into a club during its normal operating hours, though, be sure to make arrangements in advance, as squeezing in a group without notice can often be impossible.
AS IN VIRGINIA CITY
A preserved 19th-century silver mining town with western-style saloons and gun fights, Virginia City is a natural backdropfor a fun meeting or event. “Living history” actors can be hired to give demonstrations and put on shows (visitcarsoncity.com).
“They’ll dress up in the old 1860s garb and do fun tours of the cemetery,” Farnam says.
AS IN WATER
Even though Nevada is a desert city, it has some fantastic opportunities for water sports. The Truckee and Carson Rivers, near Reno, offer quick access to fun rafting and kayaking; there is even a white-water park in the middle of Reno. “In the fall, that river turns into a nice fishing hole, if you want to do a fishing derby,” Svendsen says. Nevada also has hundreds of lakes—including Lake Tahoe and Lake Mead—that offer sailing, gondola rides or dinner cruises. “We’ve done great treasure hunts using jet skis and boats,” he says.
AS IN XXX
Following the “what happens here, stays here” philosophy, many visitors to Nevada like to shed their inhibitions. While most meeting planners are probably wise to shy away from anything too risque, some groups want to add a little spice to their trip to Nevada. Both Reno and Las Vegas have a fair number of borderline erotic shows (such as Jubilee! at Bally’s or Fantasy at Luxor), and some Vegas hotels have special “European” sections, where topless sunbathing is de rigueur (harrahs.com; luxor.com). Vex, a dance club at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, has topless go-go dancers who perform choreographed routines during select songs.
AS IN YES
Nevada depends heavily on its ability to bring people back to visit, again and again. For that reason, there are few limits to what a planner can pull off: as long as you’ve got the dream (and of course the budget), Nevada is the place to make it happen. “We’re very flexible,” Farnam says. “I don’t care what it is, we’ll figure it out.”
AS IN ZOOS
The Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, an aquarium and feline habitat on The Strip, has become one of the property’s most popular venues for private events. “You can be out amid a lush landscape, and the trainers will interact with the animals during your event,” says Joni Peru, director of convention sales for The Mirage Casino Hotel. Or, if you lean more toward roaring lions, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino offers a one-of-a-kind Lion Habitat on an 8.5-acre ranch 12 miles from the resort. Admission is complimentary.
Using the on-the-ground resources of the CVAs, hotels and services is crucial for pulling off a successful and easy meeting.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority provides a range of valuable services to support meetings and conventions of all sizes. “We are the Google of Las Vegas,” explains Michael Goldsmith, director of convention sales for the LVCVA. “We may not always tell you the answer, but we can tell you where to find the answer. And we can generate leads on behalf of the entire hotel community.”
Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority supports the convention and tourism business for the Reno-Tahoe region, and operates a number of meeting and convention facilities, including the 500,000-square-foot Reno-Sparks Convention Center, the Reno Events Center and the National Bowling Stadium. “We are a one-stop shop,” says Svendsen, of the Reno-Sparks CVA.
The North Lake Tahoe Visitors & Convention Bureau can streamline your North Tahoe planning process, provide promotional materials and assist in arranging local activities.
Located about 30 miles from Reno, Carson City is the Nevada state capital; the town has a friendly “frontier” atmosphere, but also has a solid infrastructure for group gatherings, with more than 1,700 hotel rooms. The Carson City Convention Bureau can provide helpful services to groups.
Even smaller towns have convention and visitors offices. Elko, at the heart of Nevada’s “Cowboy Country” toward the east side of the state, has a CVA that can help to coordinate the town’s 2,000 hotel rooms and more than 50 restaurants.
For a full list of CVAs and chambers of commerce across Nevada, see travelnevada.com.
- We asked experienced convention professionals from some of Nevada’s major resorts what makes
- a successful meeting. Here’s some of their advice:
- “Because there are so many things for people to do during off-hours, meeting planners don’t have to over-plan their meeting,” says Goldsmith, of the LVCVA.
- “As long as the communication with the hotel is great, you avoid a lot of uncertainty once you get on property,” advises Christopher Bond, executive director of sales for New York, New York Hotel and Casino.
- “If you have a big group, you want to plan farther out,” says Svendsen, of the RSCVA. “You can usually get 500 ski tickets pretty easily, but if you want 500 snowmobiles, that requires more coordination.”
- For more diversity in your meeting, work across properties. In Vegas, large, multi-property companies like Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s Entertainment or MGM-Mirage can help with coordination. And in Reno, even competitor properties are used for teaming up groups. “All the properties work really well together,” Farnam says.
- “Have your preparation in order, and understand that the hotel is the greatest resource for groups to pull off a successful meeting,” says Joni Peru, of The Mirage.
- It can be a challenge to find a nongaming, nonsmoking property that still features a prime location to the glitz and glamour of Vegas, says Fred DeSota, executive director of market strategy for Renaissance Las Vegas. The Renaissance, which is just off The Strip, offers premier meeting space and amenities, "thus guests experience increased meeting productivity during the day, and our close proximity to The Strip allows them to conveniently experience Vegas at night," he says.
Chuck Kapelke, our monthly View from Vegas columnist, has also written for a number of other magazines, including Rolling Stone, San Francisco and Continental, as well as Let’s Go guidebooks.
The state’s largest city by far is Las Vegas, located in the southwest corner of the state, about 3–4 hours from Los Angeles by car. The largest city outside the Las Vegas area is Reno, in central-western Nevada, about four hours from the San Francisco Bay Area. Reno also stands out for its quick access to Lake Tahoe and its many natural play areas. The North Shore of Lake Tahoe is just 20–30 minutes away from Reno; the South Shore has its own small airport. The state capital, Carson City, is located about a half hour south of Reno.
While getting to each oasis usually requires a flight, Nevada has more than 20 airports, including the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. And because of the large distances, most medium-sized towns have their own airport. For information about the state as a whole, contact the Nevada Commission on Tourism (travelnevada.com).