We already know that business tourism—meetings, incentive, conventions and expositions—is crucial to the Las Vegas economy, with more than 5 million people visiting the city each year primarily for business. That averages out to less than 15 percent of the total annual visitors to Las Vegas, but it’s an important 15 percent: These guests tend to pay higher room rates and outspend leisure travelers on dining and entertainment, which creates more jobs in the tourist district than would a focus on vacationers alone.
Conventions in Las Vegas have had a good run. In fact, for 20 consecutive years, we’ve been the top trade show destination in the United States; annually, we host about 20 percent of the top 250 meetings in the country. This two-decade stay at the top is more than an impressive accolade. Think of it this way: Most people in the business of planning meetings can’t remember a time when Las Vegas was not the leading convention destination. That certainly makes the job of selling Las Vegas easier, but the city hasn’t retained that crown by being complacent.
Because no matter how many meetings we host, Chicago and Orlando are looming in the rearview mirror, bidding—along with many other destination cities—for those coveted business travelers. This is why the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is pursuing its ambitious Global Business District, which a 2014 feasibility study tagged as a project that would take the Convention Center “25 years into the future.”
Essentially, the District expects to both add to and mitigate the Convention Center’s greatest selling point: its size. The first phase will expand the Convention Center by 1.8 million square feet, bringing it to 5.7 million square feet. Part of the Riviera site—for which the LVCVA last month agreed to pay $182.5 million—will be used for this growth.
Why does the LVCVA need to add to its already-huge convention space? Because that space isn’t huge enough. Keep in mind that the city’s biggest shows—such as CES and MAGIC—have to be split up among multiple venues. So this isn’t a case of “if you build it, they might come”; more space will mean more business. Phase two will see the original facility renovated, adding about 200,000 more square feet of general-session and meeting space.
The strength of those numbers will help Las Vegas maintain its spot atop the convention pecking order. For starters, certain large shows will have no other choice than to come here. And, of course, more available space means Las Vegas can attract more “small” shows as well. This same expansion strategy has prompted MGM Resorts International to enlarge its Mandalay Bay Convention Center, proving that it isn’t just the LVCVA that sees the market for meetings expanding.
Yet, as anyone who has driven on Paradise Road during CES week can attest, there’s a catch-22 when it comes to hosting these mega-shows: Not only is it difficult to get to and from the Convention Center, but these massive traffic jams cut into the time delegates are spending money (except on taxi fares), which is a loss for everyone (except the cab industry). That’s why a major component of the Global Business District plan includes a new transportation hub. While details aren’t yet known, this hub would theoretically make moving large numbers of people in and around the resort corridor less frustrating for all involved. There’s also potential for a greater impact away from the Strip, as the LVCVA has said the hub will be the centerpiece of a “more efficient and expanded transportation system in the Valley.”
As intriguing as that sounds, the most revolutionary aspect of the Global Business District might be the planned International Trade Center. In a nutshell, companies that do business with the numerous groups that come through Las Vegas over the course of the year will be able to use “high-end office space” that will be an integral part of the District. This could change the way deals get done in Las Vegas, leading to not only more trade show bookings but entirely new avenues of growth.
Construction on the Global Business District is expected to begin in the next couple of years and unfold over the next decade. If executed along the lines currently planned, it will profoundly shape both the Strip and the Valley. No, it won’t have the glamour of a high-profile casino opening, but it’s destined to have a tremendous—and lasting—impact on the city for decades.