Off-strip hotels cash in on small conventions

Jul 24, 2001 8:31 AM

As the second largest convention city in the world (Chicago is first), Las Vegas last year hosted 34 of the 200 largest conventions and trade shows in the country (Chicago had 23).

While the Convention Center, Sands Expo and major hotels such as the MGM Grand, Bellagio, The Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas Hilton and Caesars Palace handle the bulk of the larger meetings and trade shows, conference centers at smaller properties do a brisk bread-and-butter business.

In fact, of the 4,000 meetings held in Las Vegas last year, 90 percent of them had less than 500 attendees. Moreover, convention officials estimate that one-third of the meetings had less than 100 attendees.

As the mega resorts lure conventions and trade shows with their kitschy themes, dazzling restaurants, high-octane entertainment and huge room blocks, the smaller properties offer other incentives to attract meeting planners.

For instance, the townhouse-style Embassy Suites (4315 Swenson Ave., 800-362-277) uses its location and park-like grounds to help market its modest 7,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.

“We chose Embassy Suites because of its relaxed atmosphere and proximity to the airport,” said Andrea Nagle, meeting coordinator for Chipco Corporation, which recently held its annual meeting for 30 people in the Embassy Suite’s Riviera Room. “We don’t miss the bright lights on the Strip. If our members want to gamble or see a show, there’s a shuttle that takes us to the action.”

In addition to its location away from the Strip, the fact that a hotel does not have a casino is often a key consideration for meeting managers.

“Many of the government and military-related groups that stay with us are required to book their meetings at non-gaming properties such as ours,” said Lisa Kuckenbecker, sales manager at St. Tropez All Suite Hotel (455 E. Harmon Ave., (800) 666-5400). “Convention directors also like the fact that their delegates won’t get swallowed up by a casino during the lunch break. At some of the big hotels, conventioneers sometimes break for lunch and don’t come back for the afternoon sessions.”

Kuckenbecker added that guests enjoy the hotel’s Palm Springs atmosphere with its palm trees and pool area surrounded by lush plants and gardens.

Other amenities include rooms that have everything from refrigerators and ironing boards to blow dryers and bathrobes, and all come equipped with VCRs. Business travelers especially appreciate the in-room data ports and fax services, Kuckenbecker said.

Another non-gaming hotel popular with small conference planners is the Alexis Park Resort Hotel (375 E. Harmon Ave., (800) 528-2228).

“I think our strongest selling feature is we don’t have a casino,’ said Jane Khaldy, Alexis Park’s vice president of sales. “We book a lot of professional groups ”” educators, legal and medical people ”” and they want to focus on their meetings without distraction.”

The Alexis Park’s upscale facilities and guest rooms are also high on the list with meeting planners, Khaldy said.

“We have a wonderful restaurant, Pegasus, as well as first class banquet facilities,” Khaldy said, adding that the hotel’s professional guests rave about the luxurious guest rooms.

Indeed, the hotel’s 500 rooms are among the nicest in Las Vegas. Most of them are a minimum of 600 square feet, and each has a refrigerator, mini-bar and VCR. About 60 suites are two-story townhouses with up to 1,200 square feet and contain fireplaces and Jacuzzis.

Khaldy said the Alexis Park is a nice respite from the noisy hustle and bustle of the Strip. “We have about 20 acres of meandering steams, water gardens and lush landscaping. And fitness buffs like the three pools, a spa, tennis courts and nine-hole putting green.” she said. “And since the Hard Rock Hotel is right across the street, guests don’t have to walk far when they’re ready for an old-fashioned freak out.”

Another property that banks on its excellent guest rooms is the Residence Inn (3225 Paradise Rd., (800) 331-3131). The hotel has a single, 580 square-foot meeting room, but it is usually booked. The reason? The 144 studio units and 48 two-bedroom suites are tastefully decorated, and come with full kitchens, complete with microwaves, utensils and dishwashers.

The kitchens come in handy since there is no dining room on site. To make their stay a little easier, guests can use the Residence Inn’s grocery shopping service. Unfortunately, the service does not include cooking and meal preparation. But the maid service will happily clean up after the dust has settled.