May 6, 2022

Downtown Las Vegas prepares to welcome resurrected convention industry back to town

By Bryan Horwath
This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

Downtown Las Vegas features a little bit of everything: Gaming, entertainment, food and more.

But when it comes to meeting space to host conventions—one of the region’s main drivers of tourism—many staying Downtown are forced to commute.

Circa Resort & Casino hopes to alter that narrative.

The resort intends to debut about 35,000 square feet of convention space in September. And as convention spaces go, it will be a significant chunk of what Downtown has to offer.

Only the Downtown Grand (46,000 square feet) and Golden Nugget (40,000 square feet), according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, have more in terms of meeting space than what Circa will offer.

“At our core, we love to throw a great event, and we’ve thought through every detail to help you do that on any scale with our resort as a backdrop,” owner Derek Stevens said.

Las Vegas has about 14 million square feet of convention space, most of which sat vacant during the pandemic business closures of 2020.

The industry, according to executives with the LVCVA, will likely be one of the last tourism business segments to return to a pre-pandemic level. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the U.S. economy has lost out on about $97 billion in convention and trade show-related spending because of the pandemic.

That’s why Circa’s addition to Downtown’s meeting space lineup is a welcomed development, said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the LVCVA.

“Somewhere around half of our visitors … make it Downtown at some point during their stay,” Hill said. “It’s always been a popular part of Las Vegas, but it’s more popular than ever now. They’ve done some great down there. Meetings to fill mid-week dates Downtown make as much sense as they do on the Strip. Derek is a really smart guy, and I’m sure he’ll make that new space a success.”

The space at Circa will be able to accommodate groups of up to 1,000, far from the numbers that the biggest Las Vegas trade shows attract, but likely an attractive choice for those who might prefer Downtown over the hustle and bustle of the Strip.

It will also have a main ballroom, breakout rooms, a banquet area and an outdoor terrace, officials said.

Industry on the rebound

The absence of a robust convention economy has hurt the city’s economy because resorts traditionally rely on meetings to fill hotel rooms during the week.

This month, trade show industry leaders from Las Vegas traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Nevada’s federal delegation about “moving the industry forward,” according to the LVCVA.

Stephanie Glanzer, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, said in a news release that the convention industry has shown how resilient it can be in the wake of the pandemic downturn. Glanzer was one of the local executives who traveled to Washington.

“We emerged better and stronger with new creative approaches, enhanced technology, and an overwhelming desire to develop events that are meaningful and memorable,” Glanzer said.

Officials of the U.S. Travel Association believe the next few months will be key to the trade show recovery.

According to results from a quarterly survey, the association predicts that over 80% of self-identified business travelers in the U.S. will take at least one business-related trip to a conference or trade show during the next six months.

One missing link, however, remains. The association also shows that business travel spending is still down from pre-pandemic levels.

For instance, major shows like CES have taken place in Las Vegas this year, but attendance proved to be less than normal.

Before the pandemic, the massive gadgets trade show would attract close to 170,000. This year, however, it welcomed less than 50,000.

“While the data indicates a strong desire from American business travelers to hit the road again, there is a big different between willingness to travel and actually taking a trip,” said Roger Dow, CEO of the association. “Corporate leaders should seize the competitive advantage and encourage their teams to get back on the road and reestablish those connections that only come with face-to-face interactions.”

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