Large trade show to leave Chicago in favor of Las Vegas

A major health care trade group will move its annual meeting from Chicago to Las Vegas in 2012, a decision that underlines emerging signs of improving trade-show business here.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society abandoned plans to revisit Chicago’s McCormick Place in three years because its meeting there in April brought a tenfold increase in its electrical-service costs when compared with the previous year’s powwow in Orlando, Fla., the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday. The show will happen instead at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

It’s a significant loss for Chicago and a big get for Las Vegas: The show brought 27,000 attendees to the Windy City for an economic impact of $55 million, the Tribune reported.

Competitive pricing wasn’t the only factor pushing the change in plans.

Steve Lieber, the group’s president and chief executive officer, told the Review-Journal that the society wanted a fresh toehold out West to diversify its convention-cities rotation, which includes Orlando, New Orleans and Atlanta. Las Vegas is the only Western city with room for the show, which consumes up to 900,000 square feet of floor space and will use up to 70,000 room nights.

Plus, conventioneers love Las Vegas, Lieber added. Holding the convention here could boost attendance as much as 15 percent. Depending on how much the economy recovers, 35,000 people could come to the Las Vegas show.

The society’s move comes amid a broader pickup in future bookings at local sites, which typically schedule meeting business about two years in advance.

In its Nov. 5 earnings conference call, MGM Mirage reported that it confirmed 550,000 group room nights in the third quarter, a booking rate that company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Murren said was “very similar” to pre-recession numbers.

Las Vegas Sands President Mike Leven told investors and analysts in October that the company had booked more future group room nights in the third quarter than it has during any other 90-day period in its history. The company owns The Venetian, the Palazzo and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

And Chris Meyer, vice president of sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said advance bookings at the agency’s Las Vegas Convention Center have steadily gained steam since June and are booming today.

The center is on track for a “wonderful” 2011, Meyer said. Among events scheduled for that year is CONEXPO-CON/AGG, a construction convention billed as North America’s largest trade show. Meyer said he expects 2011 to bring as much convention business as the center saw in the banner months of late 2007 and early 2008.

The increased activity is important because convention-goers fill hotel rooms mid-week, when the Strip sees fewer leisure visitors. Conventioneers also spend more than leisure travelers, according to authority research.

Meyer credited the gains to the restoration of corporate travel budgets as the national recession has let up and businesses have adjusted to operating in a slower economy. The authority also launched marketing blitzes in the winter and summer that resulted in nearly 4,000 face-to-face sales calls in 372 cities.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison @ or 702-380-4512.