Hotel Online News for the Hospitality Executive Mandalay Bay’s 1.5 million-square-foot Convention Center Now the Nation’s Fifth Largest Convention Center By Chris Jones, Las Vegas Review-Journal Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 4, 2003 – A tradeshow expert and Mandalay Resort Group executives are confident the $236 million convention center expansion at the company’s signature resort will lure added cash-laden business travelers to Southern Nevada.
When it opens Monday morning, the 1.5 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center will become the nation’s fifth-largest convention center, trailing only Chicago’s McCormick Place, the Las Vegas Convention Center, Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center and the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
Michael Hughes, who has spent the past seven years monitoring the global convention industry for Tradeshow Week magazine, said the new center’s size and high-end design will bring added business to Las Vegas as well as Mandalay Resort Group.
“There hasn’t been a 1 million-square-foot center built in years, so this is another example of Las Vegas going upscale,” said Hughes, associate publisher of the Los Angeles-based publication. “(Casino) operators in Las Vegas need to provide more resort services to draw a higher clientele. One way to do that is to drive business traveler visits, and a convention and conference center is one of the key ways to do that.
“(Mandalay Bay), and really all of Las Vegas, is impacting the rest of the country by stealing event market share,” Hughes added.
Danielle Babilino, Mandalay Bay’s vice president of sales, on Friday said that growth in the business sector made expanding an easy decision.
“(Business and convention travel) is a very profitable segment, so it made sense to grow,” Babilino said. “We believe this is going to drive incremental business to the city, and we know it’s going to be excellent for this company.”
Hughes added he also believes the business model used by Mandalay Resort Group has been well-tested in the local market.
“They looked at the success the Sands Expo was having at feeding revenue to The Venetian, and I think this makes a lot of sense (for Mandalay),” Hughes said. “I think they’ll be quite successful, and with their bookings to date, I’d say they’re off to a very good start.”
Over the next few weeks, Mandalay Bay is scheduled to host events for the Promotional Products Association International (20,000 expected attendees), Snowsports Industries America (25,000) and World Shoe Association (35,000), improving occupancy levels at the host property as well as sister hotels Excalibur and Luxor.
In recent years, Las Vegas has evolved into one of the world’s top convention destinations. In 2001, the nearly 4.1 million visitors who attended a convention during their stay in town had an estimated nongaming economic impact of $4.84 billion, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. In comparison, the city’s 1.74 million conventioneers in 1990 contributed about $1.36 billion to the local economy that year.
Coupled with the 1.985 million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center and the 1,125,600-square-foot Sands Expo & Convention Center adjacent to The Venetian, Hughes said Mandalay Bay has added to Las Vegas’ status as a unique global convention destination.
Although markets such as the New York metropolitan area; Los Angeles/Orange County, Calif.; Toronto, and Orlando, Fla. already support multiple convention sites, Hughes said no location rivals Las Vegas in terms of offering multiple large-scale sites within a few miles of one another.
“Las Vegas is the only city that can realistically support three major convention centers so close together, and it is the only city that can realistically support two private venues of that size,” Hughes said.
The privately held Sands Expo is controlled by developer Sheldon Adelson. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a quasi-government agency budgeted largely through hotel room taxes, operates the Las Vegas Convention Center.
When Mandalay Bay opened in March 1999, it had only 190,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, including its 12,000-seat events center, which is sometimes used for tradeshows. After several clients expressed interest in staging large-scale events at the property, Babilino in fall 2000 raised the prospect of doubling the resort’s meeting and convention space. Company executives balked at that plan and instead decided to add nearly 1.5 million square feet of usable space to the Pacific island-themed resort.
“Our saying around here is, `Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it,’ ” said Babilino.
Workers broke ground in June 2001, and despite a nearly six-month construction delay following the post-Sept. 11 tourism slowdown, the project on Monday will begin registration for Aqua International, a pool and spa industry trade show.
The expanded area, which is known as the South Convention Center, has nearly 1 million square-feet of flexible exhibit space on two levels, as well as three levels of multi-purpose meeting and function space. It also offers five executive boardrooms, small room space to accommodate more than 75 simultaneous meetings, and the “megaballroom,” which at 100,014 square feet is the largest hotel ballroom in the nation.
The megaballroom can be subdivided into several sectors, or configured to seat more than 8,500 people in a theater-style setup. When used as a banquet hall, it can easily accommodate table settings for more than 6,200 people.
“You could fit the entire Mandalay Bay Events Center inside this ballroom, but its real strength is its versatility,” Mandalay Bay spokesman Gordon Absher said during a Friday tour of the site.
Designers from Mandalay Development and Las Vegas-based architecture firm Klai Juba also accounted for logistic details that add to a successful exhibition space, such as available power and water hookups, breakout areas and permanent registration areas, Absher said. The center’s floors were built with strength enough to support heavy machinery, and its four loading docks are large enough to load and unload 36 semitrailers at once.
“That’s a key factor because it reduces the time it takes to move a show,” Absher said. “This place may look cushy and elegant, but underneath it’s trappings there is a machine.”
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