Convention exec enthused about upgrades to fend off competition

Watch it, Orlando.

Chris Meyer isn’t happy when Las Vegas loses business to the likes of you, and he’s going to have $2.3 billion in improvements to back him up soon.

Meyer, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s vice president of global business sales, told a lunch gathering of the Las Vegas Hospitality Association on Thursday that the intent of the Las Vegas Global Business District project is to keep the city ahead of the pack in the ubercompetitive convention and trade show business.

The convention authority is in early planning for the massive project that is expected to take up to eight years to complete.

Although the authority has worked for months to acquire land to expand the Las Vegas Convention Center footprint, last month’s bombshell announcement that it would buy the Riviera on the Strip became the most visible indication that Las Vegas means business.

The Global Business District project will include building a 750,000-square-foot convention hall, a general assembly space and a building to house a World Trade Center.

The authority also will refurbish and update existing space, some of it 56 years old, and develop a transportation system to move conventioneers across the campus.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is still a long way from providing information on where the buildings will stand and what they will look like — its 14-member board hasn’t issued a contract for architects and engineers yet.

The board has developed renderings of architectural designs that feature the profile of the historic rotunda used in the early days as Las Vegas was developing into a convention superpower.

But Meyer doesn’t want to take anything for granted.

“To maintain our lead, it’s all about relationship, relationship, relationship,” Meyer said. “In group business, we’re competing on a worldwide stage, but it’s not just us. It’s San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta, Chicago and our biggest rival, Orlando. They all want to take a piece of my pie.”

The facility upgrade will be important in keeping Las Vegas No. 1, but Meyer is confident because “we have the best customer service of any place on planet Earth.”

The authority has been aggressive in marketing Las Vegas internationally and has a partnership with McCarran International Airport for airline development.

Meyer noted that McCarran reported strong February passenger numbers this week.

Development of the Global Business District will enable the city to make offers to attract up to 20 new large shows.

He said the loss of one midsize trade show to a rival would result in a $72 million economic impact hit.

Las Vegas doesn’t have the space to host trade shows that want to be here in the prime convention season, the spring.

That is the situation even with the Convention Center, which the authority manages, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, the Sands Expo and Convention Center, and The Venetian and Palazzo properties.

In addition to trying to steal business from other cities, Meyer and his team are focused on retaining the shows Las Vegas has.

Meyer said convention business is important to the city’s tourism economy because about 6 million of the 41.1 million people who visited Southern Nevada in 2014 attended conventions and trade shows.

About 386,400 employees — 43 percent of Southern Nevada’s workforce — are in a tourism industry job.

Meyer is enthusiastic about the authority’s contracted special events coordinator, Las Vegas Events, and its efforts to attract college basketball tournaments to play on neutral courts in Las Vegas.

He also is excited about the first-ever Rock in Rio music festival coming to the city in May.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.

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