Led by CES, which is bringing more than 130,000 visitors to Las Vegas this week, the midweek conventions make the Strip resorts look as luxurious as they are, according to the CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).
To launch the 2024 convention season, which could surpass the record 6.6 million convention-goers in 2019, Steve Hill welcomed a media team Monday to the remodeled South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The $600 million renovation that the LVCVA began in 2023 and will continue through 2025 reflects the design and architecture of the new West Hall.
CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, is the Super Bowl of conventions, with a third of the 130,000 visitors traveling internationally from 150 different countries and regions. There will be 3,500 exhibitors at the event, arousing media interest around the world.
Las Vegas now has 15 million square feet of meeting and convention space, more than any other destination in the U.S., and CES is hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center and several venues on the Strip. Las Vegas hosted 5.79 million conference attendees between January and November 2023 and could exceed six million when the final tally is reached. That’s 21% higher than the 4.77 hosted through November 2022, according to the LVCVA, and conference attendance could set an all-time record in 2024 based on feedback from resort executives on future group bookings. The record high of 6.64 million was set in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
The convention business is increasing visits Sunday through Thursday to help fill more than 156,000 hotel rooms, including 3,700 at Fontainebleau, which opened last month next to the convention center.
Business travelers spend more and often schedule a leisure trip before or after conferences. In 2022, average convention visitor spending was a third higher than the average entertainment visitor, according to data compiled by the LVCVA Research Center.
“Las Vegas wouldn’t be what it is if we weren’t so successful at filling rooms midweek,” Hill said. “For these properties to make financial sense, you have to fill these rooms all the time, not just on the weekends. Our commercial clients have been extremely important to us during the week, just to allow Las Vegas to be what it is now.”
The agreements also expand the Las Vegas brand by bringing those business customers to the city, then getting them to come back because of what they’ve experienced, Hill said. “They can come back as leisure travelers as well. Maybe they come as business clients for a show or a meeting, and then I want to come back with their families to show them as well.”
For 2023, the Las Vegas Convention Center will feature 51 trade shows, with an estimated attendance of 1.3 million. In 2022, LVCC hosted 48 trade shows attended by approximately 1.2 million participants, an increase from 2021 when the facility welcomed 850,000 participants.
“Attendance will likely stabilize in 2024 and 2025,” Hill said. “We’ll go from having 2.5 million square feet that we haven’t really grown in (with the addition of the West Hall) and we’ll get that down to 1.9 or 2.1 million square feet, depending on what’s being taken out of service for construction.”
Las Vegas’ largest trade shows are still going ahead, including CES, along with the World of Concrete Show in January, the National Association of Broadcasters in April, and the SEMA Aftermarket Auto Show in November. In 2023, SEMA hosted 160,000 participants from 140 countries.
For the first time, the NAACP will host its national convention in Las Vegas in July. In 2023, the group’s conference in Boston attracted nearly 10,000 participants.
All of this makes continued improvements at the convention center vital, Hill said. Planned renovations to older facilities were delayed by the Great Recession of the late 2000s and by the pandemic in 2020.
“It’s important for the shows and the destination as well. A show increases attendance by 9% to 10%. We think this can lead to a better experience (at the convention centre), with the feel and accommodations of the buildings themselves. They need to work and be beautiful and They fit what we expect in all of Las Vegas, and that’s what we’ll have in a couple of years.
There is a continued focus on the meetings business in Las Vegas outside of the Convention Center. The three-year, $188 million renovation of the Venice Expo Center will begin in 2024, and the $100 million renovation of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center is expected to continue through the end of the year.
The Las Vegas Convention Center was named number one for conventions in the United States by the Wall Street Journal, while the Venice Expo and Mandalay Bay Convention Center ranked third and seventh, respectively, Hill said.
Conventions are also changing the way they operate to attract more visitors.
SEMAFest debuted as a new consumer-oriented component of the SEMA Automotive Convention and attracted 16,000 attendees for car culture exhibits and live demonstrations. The sold-out Bravocon fan festival took place for the first time in November, attracting legions of fans and receiving significant coverage on social media.
“One of the things that Las Vegas has learned and our customers have learned is that there are opportunities to expand the experience around an event,” Hill said. “You can make your event a city-wide event by adding a concert, experience, party show, show after show or meetup. Being able to grow an event increases the number of fans for the event itself, but it also increases the number of fans for Las Vegas. Best example of That’s the National Finals Rodeo. Over the course of 10 days, 180,000 people attend, but there are probably 500,000 people in town over those 10 days to experience the South Pointe, the Cowboy Birthday Convention Center, or the viewing party venues. They just want to stick around and some of the experiences are enough to draw visitors in.”