by Terri Hardin | February 01, 2016

Nothing says "top-level meeting" like having the Secret Service onsite. But wrangling VIPs like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- as well as their black-suited entourages -- is just a day in the life of Las Vegas event hosts. "As a casino resort, it's in our DNA to take care of special VIP guests," says Karin Davis, director of sales for The Venetian and The Palazzo Las Vegas Sands, as she checked off last-minute details for the final GOP debate of 2015. "Our hotels host very important guests every day…it's what we do."

Vegas was twice the national Town Hall of choice in 2015, first hosting the Democratic debate last October at the Wynn Resort & Casino and, more recently, the GOP debate, at the Venetian last month. This coming October, the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) campus, about three miles from the Strip, will play host to the final debate of the general presidential election.

But just as Las Vegas has taken sparring to the next level -- from world leaders to world heavyweight champions -- the city is stepping up its game with luxury incentives and meetings.

Home of the City-Wide Deluxe
According to Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, luxury events and incentives have tended to be "more personal, more intimate." But a new city-wide meeting that is coming to the MGM campus is bucking the trend.

He adds that the largest group MGM has is a client user program of about 20,000 people. Part of the luxury experience will be entertaining the group with a private Aerosmith concert.

"Some of my larger corporate meetings now demand that level of entertainment," says Dominguez. "And that's where the luxury [event] has shifted dramatically. Entertainment is now such a huge part of the programming."


The Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino's
Seascape Ballroom offers a private
view of the Shark Reef Aquarium

In addition to hosting Garth Brooks for several dates this summer, Mandalay Bay also continues to be home to "Michael Jackson One," the Cirque du Soleil high-production homage to the King of Pop, which continues to draw incentive groups.

Reina Herschdorfer, director of marketing for Caesars Entertainment National Meetings & Events, agrees that entertainment is an impactful luxury offering for groups: "If your group wanted to take the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, where Celine Dion and Elton John perform, and have a dinner right on the stage where they sing, that could certainly be done." Throw in Elton John? "It's not out of the question."

Everyone's a Winner, Baby 
Whether it's a suite in a deluxe property or a buyout of the top nightclub in town; making it rain at the luxury mall with gift cards, certificates, and special promotions; or a unique and incredible experience, incentive planners want to know about it.

According to Gabe Kuti, vice president of sales for M Resort Spa Casino, luxury incentive planners know what they want, thanks to local destination management companies (DMCs) who "cover the entire spectrum."

According to Kurt Wuebbenhorst, vice president of sales at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, "All of our groups come in and out of our main porte-cochere, which ensures all Cosmopolitan guests a grand 'sense of arrival' when they enter the hotel. If a group is looking for a special check-in experience, we are happy to arrange a satellite check-in that incorporates interactive art with our partners in the city, as well as unique food and beverage offerings."

Caesars, whose core resort turns 50 this year, has had decades to fine-tune its high-roller welcome. As a result, "Our products lend themselves to the luxury meetings business," says Herschdorfer. "We have programs like our Diamond Cards, that allow [groups] to access our VIP lounges, VIP check-in, and expedited line access, among the many perks." Each tower in Caesars includes a VIP check-in. At the newest towers, accommodations can include butler service -- an ideal incentive amenity.

"The room product is very important," says Davis. "Since every key at The Venetian and The Palazzo unlocks a suite, we find our resorts work very well. Doesn't everybody want to be 'upgraded' to a suite in Las Vegas?"

In addition, The Palazzo offers the Prestige Level, which features an elevated level of service, beginning with a private check-in, to "unparalleled amenities with special touches," and a top-drawer staff. "Everybody has heard the legends about 'high roller' gamblers and what casinos can do to make them feel welcome, important, and comfortable," says Davis. "Well, we can do similar things for VIP incentive winners."

At MGM, "One thing that is new, that's a little bit like a best-kept secret, is that our partner Cirque du Soleil has put together some unique team-building programming," reveals Dominguez. "Groups can experience a rehearsal and a behind-the-scenes tour of how some of the Cirque shows are produced, and there's a team component where some people can experience what it's like to act like a Cirque performer. Which has been very exciting for the groups that have experienced it so far."

Incentive groups can beat the ground traffic by traveling via helicopter. In November, Maverick Helicopters debuted a $5 million, 6,000-square-foot Las Vegas terminal, which includes a private room for VIPs and group events. Sightseeing tours of the Strip and the Grand Canyon are always popular.

"Depending on the time of the year," adds Davis, "we have such 'insiders only' areas available for groups as the Paiza Club -- a private gambling club and restaurant at the top of The Venetian's suite tower -- the Azure Luxury Pool at The Palazzo, and the new LAVO Casino Club -- which is great for Millennials."