Twenty years ago, in 1997, Las Vegas had 105,347 hotel rooms and hosted approximately 30 million visitors. Last year, it had 149,339 hotel rooms and hosted nearly 43 million visitors. That's a 41 percent increase in hotel room inventory and a 43 percent increase in visitor volume over the last two decades. Because most of that growth has been concentrated in a single area -- along the 4.2-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that's known as "the Strip" -- Las Vegas has become not only a more popular travel destination, but also a more complicated one.
To manage the influx of people and vehicles, Vegas resorts have embraced the concept of strategic sprawl: Offering everything -- accommodations, shopping, dining, gaming, and entertainment -- under one roof reduces the need for transportation -- and keeps guests wallets on property. But with Las Vegas Resorts increasingly rejecting the old casino-based goal of keeping guests on property at all costs and embracing the outdoors, that is changing. And the Strip properties remain massive: One Incentive editor covered 10 miles by pedometer on a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority tour that covered just three properties, despite being bused between them.
When guests do leave, the resorts' sheer size allows them to funnel attendees and other guests through numerous entrances and exits in a way that controls traffic in and around their properties. The logistical benefits are obvious. For incentive travel professionals, however, Las Vegas's approach to growth and congestion poses a significant challenge: Getting attendees to and from where they need to be is a lot easier said than done. To find out how planners can tame the transit beast when they take groups to Vegas, Incentive asked Robyn Mathis, director of staffing and logistics at local destination management company (DMC) AWG Destination Services, for her top transportation tips.
The Las Vegas Strip has seen tremendous growth in the last 20 years. What transportation challenges has that created for groups?
The biggest challenge we face is that hotels here are massive. It's a maze getting out of these properties. Even for us. We work in them every single day and we still have to stop and reorient ourselves because they're huge. They're made for you to get lost in -- because when you get lost, you stay. Just getting people from the ballroom where their event is to the curb where they're being picked up to go back to their hotel can be a 20-minute walk. It's really interesting how much planning has to go into that. You can't just say, "Go get your car." Attendees don't know where to go, what to do, or where they're going to be picked up. Planners who aren't familiar with Las Vegas may not understand the logistics of that.
It's not just the properties, either. Even getting from one side of the Strip to the other side can take a lot of time because you cannot cross the Strip at just any location; we have overpasses that you must use. So to get across the street you have to walk 10 minutes through your hotel, out to one of the overpasses, then another 10 minutes through the next hotel to where you need to be. It takes a lot of time, and you have to plan for that.
Is the challenge just that navigation is time-consuming? Or is it also that it's confusing?
It can be confusing. Many hotels have three to five different locations that can be used for transportation pickup, which can be an issue with guests trying to locate the proper location for transfers. Any time you have a bigger-sized group, for example, they use bigger vehicles, and most hotels do not allow larger vehicles to use the main entrance. Instead, they use what we call the "tour lobby." Every hotel has one, and it's on the incentive planner to stress to attendees that that's where they have to go. That can be difficult, because a lot of these tour lobbies aren't easy to find. If we're talking about individuals and VIPs, if they're in a sedan, an SUV, or a limo they're going to get dropped off at the main entrance. That can be an issue, too, because if they get dropped off at the main entrance they have to then find the rest of the group to rejoin it.
So, what's the solution? Maps? How can meeting planners orient attendees and move them through the resort as quickly and efficiently as possible?
Maps can be very difficult. If the property is big, they might be a little hard to understand. I find that the best thing is to give attendees the exact location of where they need to be -- the true words, like "Beach Level at Mandalay Bay." That way, they can ask anybody that works there and they will be able to direct them. Even the poker dealer can show them where they need to be.
We also recommend having staff to help. If you're going to have staff load the vehicles anyway, especially for a larger group, why not have those staff meet them at the bottom of the elevators where everyone comes down from their rooms? We can then help direct them with signage to where they need to be. You're not allowed to have a sign on an easel in the middle of a hotel here, but you're allowed to have a human arrow -- somebody who stands there with a sign to point people in the direction of where they need to go.