Business travellers either love or loathe Las Vegas. But either way, it is likely that at some point they will attend a meeting, tradeshow or conference in this desert fantasyland of gargantuan hotels, gigantic convention halls, cavernous casinos, huge meals and massive hangovers.

In fact, Las Vegas experienced a hangover of its own during the recent economic downturn between 2008 and 2010, when many companies snubbed its excesses if favour of holding more sensible, less flashy meetings elsewhere. But that did not last for long.

In 2011, 4.8 million delegates attended meetings and conventions in Las Vegas, a 9% increase on 2010. So far this year, the number of corporate meetings and events booked in the Nevada city has jumped 16.3% compared to the same period in 2011, helping Las Vegas retain its title as the number one trade show destination in North America for the 18th year in a row.

Vegas is also drawing the corporate crowd back with a combination of good value and convenience. The average hotel rate, for example, still hovers around a reasonable $100 per night, and there are around 150,000 rooms (many recently renovated) from which to choose.

Due to heated competition among airlines at its McCarran International Airport, fares remain low and flights are plentiful. And with a high desert location, weather-related flight delays are rarely a concern.

In June, the airport christened its massive new $2.4 billion Terminal 3, which includes seven international gates, a slick multi-carrier business class lounge and an international arrivals hall that can process twice as many passengers per hour as before. McCarran now offers nonstops to nearly every major city in North America, as well as long hauls to cities as far away as London and Seoul. Still, there is no direct rail link from the airport to the city, and the 15-minute taxi ride costs $20 to $25.

The recent recession ended a decade of large-scale hotel/casino development along the famous Las Vegas Strip — the 7km stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard where most of the city’s large hotels, casinos and attractions are located. These days, the focus has turned inward, with the city’s biggest hotels working on major facelifts and renovations — so be sure to ask for a renovated room when you make your reservation or when you check in.


The 3,933-room Bellagio, famous for its in-house art collection that ranges from colourful Chihuly hand-blown glass sculptures to the current Claude Monet exhibition, is putting the finishing touches on its full remodel of all rooms and suites. The prestigious 3,690-room Caesars Palace is in the process of transforming one of its existing hotel towers into the The Nobu Hotel, a Japanese-themed, 81-room boutique hotel designed by architect David Rockwell. Opening later this winter, the hotel will include an outpost of the famous Nobu Restaurant chain.

The quietly elegant 424-room Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, which is tucked away on the upper floors of the Mandalay Bay complex on the southern end of the Strip, will complete a total re-do of all its rooms in December, and has remained open for the duration of its renovations.

Meanwhile, there is no need for a re-do at the over-the-top, 2,716-room Wynn Las Vegas and the 2,034-room Encore next door, which opened in 2005 and 2006 respectively and share the Strip’s only golf course. Another relative newcomer among the city’s most elegant hotels is the 392-room Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, which opened in December 2010 as part of the multi-billion-dollar CityCenter complex — the largest privately-funded construction project in US history.


The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, opened in 2010, was the last major, new-from-the-ground-up hotel to be built on  the Strip — and as testament to the tough times in which it opened, developers of the super-popular hotel/casino defaulted on their loan to Deutsche Bank, which now owns it. The investment is paying off, though, as droves of young partiers now flock to the hotel, known for its large rooms, many with small kitchens and outdoor verandas (rare in this town), and its Marquee Nightclub — one of the hottest on the Strip.

Once the Cosmopolitan began to draw in the young, hip crowd, other developers quickly took notice and initiated re-dos focused on a younger demographic. For example, The Delano Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay -- sister to the mod, design-driven Delano South Beach in Miami -- will renovate, re-design and re-brand the 1,100-room tower that is currently THEhotel in late 2013. Also, the Palms Casino Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino are revamping to maintain their trendy vibe in the face of mounting competition.

Expense account
Nearly all the biggest celebrity chefs have established outposts in Las Vegas, which has helped elevate food quality throughout the city. But despite the big culinary names, the sizzle here is in the scene more than the cuisine. For example, at the new two-level Gordon Ramsey Steak, guests enter through a “Chunnel”-themed entrance and dine on aged beef, fish and chips and shepherd’s pie under a giant Union Jack mural. 

Seafood such as caviar parfait, phyllo-crusted sole and lobster pot pie are the stars at Michael Mina, located in the conservatory at the Bellagio. Enjoy meaty favourites such as maple-brined pork chops, Colorado lamb or charcoal grilled filet mignon in a clubby atmosphere at Charlie Palmer Steak in the Four Seasons. And Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina inside the giant CityCenter complex is a great spot to people watch while enjoying a casual business lunch of rustic Italian fare such as handmade pasta, mushroom pizza with béchamel and fontina cheese or penne carbonara.

For a special event, ask for the private “pagoda table”, which floats over a koi pond at Mizumi, inside the elegant Wynn Las Vegas, home to the city’s best Japanese robatayaki, teppanyaki and sushi.

Off the clock
One of the most common refrains you will hear from convention delegates in Las Vegas goes something like this: “I’ve been here for two days and I haven’t been outside once.” Due to the size and inter-connectedness of hotel lobbies, casinos and convention facilities, you can walk for hours and never see the light of day or get a breath of fresh, unprocessed air. Las Vegas casinos are designed to keep patrons indoors gambling, shopping or dining, so when you have a chance, look for the hard-to-find exit signs and get outside for a walk up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

Outdoor sights include the spectacularly choreographed (and free) “Fountains of Bellagio” performance, which takes place every hour in front of the Bellagio hotel/casino on the Strip. Starting next year, visitors can walk to two 500ft observation wheels (similar to the London Eye) for dramatic views: SkyVue Las Vegas (located on the south end of the Strip) and the more centrally located High Roller in the Linq Center shopping centre, adjacent to Caesar’s Palace. 

Go local
If you grow weary of the flashy, plastic Strip, grab a cab and step back in time with a visit to the place where it all began: downtown Las Vegas, located a few miles to the north. In this fun, walkable part of town, you can enjoy a vintage experience and maybe even encounter a few locals. The giant online shoe retailer (with 1,200 employees) is leading the charge of local businesses relocating back into the historic core of the city. Downtown is also where you will find the brand new Smith Center for the Performing Arts, home to the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre.

Don’t do this!
Money talks in Las Vegas. While most business travellers know that tipping is the custom throughout the US, it is even more important in Las Vegas if you want to ensure promptness. A tip to the front desk clerk at the hotel or maitre d’ at a restaurant can result in a room upgrade or a “see and be seen” table in a top restaurant. So be sure to account for heavier-than-usual tipping in your budget, and you will quickly discover that a few dollars here or there can make your visit much more pleasant in this service-focused city.