by Terri Hardin | May 18, 2017

One of the most unusual cities in America, Las Vegas is an incentive destination like no other. Chris Meyer, CEM, CMP, vice president of global business sales for Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA), will happily tell you why. "Beyond the casino floor," he explains, "part of what makes Las Vegas so enticing is there's always something new and exciting to offer first-time or repeat visitors, from unique attractions to outstanding culinary and entertainment experiences, to world-class shopping. Beyond the endless options for leisure travelers, the destination also has a long-standing reputation as a professional place to do business."

With attractions like these, it's no wonder that Vegas welcomed an all-time high of 6.3 million convention attendees in 2016. But what do the new offerings and changes mean for the people who live there? It means, according to Meyer, that Las Vegas "just keeps getting better, because there's always something new to experience." He points to the openings of T-Mobile Arena, The Park and Park Theater, TopGolf, the Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino, and many great new restaurants.

As the city continues to develop and add new, group-friendly offerings, some of the most exciting developments are happening Downtown. This area, once a footnote for visitors to Vegas, is becoming a destination in its own right, providing attractions for tourists and locals alike. Incentive spoke with some Las Vegas locals about these changes, and what groups are likely to find most appealing about this dynamic part of their city.

Downtown: This Time It's for Real

"I love Downtown Las Vegas!" says Marina Nicola, who co-owns the Vegas-based public relations firm Vox Solid Communications. "From the museums where I can learn about the city's history to the great restaurants, it's urban, it's authentic, and it's interesting."

Praise for Downtown was a long time coming. Like many such areas throughout the nation, Vegas' historic Downtown has been a stop-start work in progress. For a while, the ever-more-elaborate Fremont Street Experience, which some braver groups can experience by zip line, was that part of town's only attraction. "The Fremont Street Experience is great for tourists," says Bri Steck, Las Vegas party planner. "It's somewhere we always take our first-time guests." But Steck also loves "the old-school Vegas feeling of some of the hotels and casinos that are there. The Strip has imploded all of our history, so it's nice to walk into the Golden Nugget and realize the history that this property holds."

The Mob Museum (top and second) and
The Neon Museum (bottom) serve as
memorable off-Strip venues and fun,
unconventional destinations in
themselves. Reina Herschdorfer,
director of marketing, national sales
and conventions at Caesars Entertainment
Corporation, says about the Mob Museum:
"It's a world-class museum, and [it's]
very interesting to learn about the
history of our town and the mob within
the United States."

Downtown now comprises a number of defined neighborhoods, among them the Arts District, the Fremont East Entertainment District, and the remarkable Downtown Container Park. All feature eccentric and unique venues, like the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum. Reina Herschdorfer, director of marketing, national sales and conventions at Caesars Entertainment Corporation, says about the Mob Museum: "It's a world-class museum, and [it's] very interesting to learn about the history of our town and the mob within the United States."

There's more than nostalgia here, says Herschdorfer, with developments including "new breweries, cool independent restaurants, and shops. We also have the Discovery Children's Museum with beautiful modern architecture, right next to Symphony Park and The Smith Center for Performing Arts. It's a complete revitalization."

The city is pushing this, but Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has made revitalizing the downtown neighborhood a mission, says Steck. "Mayor [Oscar] Goodman and [Zappos CEO] Tony Hsieh have done an amazing job at trying to revive Downtown and bring a little more culture to our city," she adds.

Perhaps most impactful for locals has been the explosion of restaurants in Downtown. Herschdorfer visits the area for the newer trendy eateries and bars ("there are some cool speakeasies"). "For a locals' experience," says Steck, "I enjoy visiting places like Commonwealth and some amazing restaurants like Glutton." And unlike the luxury CityCenter complex, Downtown is all about casual. Lee Papa, the mindfulness speaker, trainer, author, and Las Vegas resident, says, "It's great for date night, a fun afternoon, or a pit stop between meetings."

Vegas-based Lip Smacking Foodie Tours hosts a neighborhood tour where, according to its president, Donald Contursi, "Visitors can immerse themselves in a neighborhood community surrounded by locals."

Then there's the fact the city will soon have its first professional sports team, the NHL's Golden Knights. "The only negative for me, being a sports fan, was not having a professional sports team," says Mike Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, "which has now been solved with the NHL beginning next year." While the Golden Knights will play their first game this fall at MGM's T-Mobile Arena, the city's newly announced NFL team, the (currently Oakland) Raiders, will not come to town for several years.