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Viva Las Vegas

Sin City is probably the only destination in the country that is different every time you visit – making it ideal for repeat trips. Here’s the inside scoop on the latest – and wildest – offerings for meetings and incentive groups.

It’s impossible to wrap your arms around Las Vegas. The place is in eternal expansion mode.

“Las Vegas keeps on reinventing itself,” says proud Mayor Oscar Goodman. “And when we redefine ourselves, it’s not necessarily about gaming. We’ve got the entertainment, the boutique retail shops and the restaurants. All the big name chefs are here. And, of course, as soon as some resort is done, another one is breaking ground.”

Remember when Mandalay Bay was just one tower? Now there are two ? and same goes for Bellagio, The Palms and Caesar?s Palace. Get ready for a 2,000-room add-on at Wynn (which is only two years old) and the Venetian, which will become the world?s largest hotel once a 3,200-suite tower opens.

Not to be outdone, MGM Grand added three new Signature towers – condo hotels that can be owned and/or rented by the general public. As if that wasn’t enough to add to the city’s 150,000-plus room count, MGM also built the uber-luxurious Skylofts atop its flagship property. Skylofts is a 51-room collection of two-story accommodations. A 3,000-square-foot room – with three bedrooms – goes for $10,000 a night. If that’s in your price range, a package deal that includes use of a 2008 Porsche Cayenne can be arranged.

There appears no end in sight to new development. MGM is spending $7 billion on a mixed-use project called CityCenter. This megalopolis will cover 76 acres. About 500,000 square feet of that will be retail. The project will also include a convention center, a 60-story hotel casino, a Mandarin Oriental hotel, a condo-hotel and more residential space.

Las Vegas has marketed itself into a position of having 95% occupancy rates most weekends. That only dips to about 90% during the week. Group business represents a lion?s share of those statistics. Nearly any venue in the city – large or small, eatery or entertainment outlet – will work with groups.

There’s obviously no shortage of reasons why Vegas continues to expand. The growth comes on the heels of more and more folks flocking to Vegas for its fanciful shows, indulgent restaurants and decadent clubs and lounges.

Keep in mind the city’s popularity can make transportation a hassle. Taxi lines at hotels can take a half hour to get through. Cabbies usually try to avoid the heavily congested Strip. If your group is in a hurry to get to an event, pay a little extra and take a town car or a small private bus.

Entertainment Galore

Once you get where you need to go, it?ll be obvious Las Vegas has taken center stage as a major entertainment center. Most mega-resorts have some type of blockbuster in their theaters. Cirque du Soleil has a literal franchise, with the water circus of O at Bellagio, the sexy Zumanity at New York-New York, the martial arts and pyrotechnics of Ka at MGM Grand and the singing, dancing and (of course) acrobatics of Mystere at Treasure Island.

A hot ticket is Love, yet another Cirque production, this one set to Beatles music, and played out in Mirage. Imagine “Back in the U.S.S.R.” blaring while multicolored hipsters jump from nets into trampolines and onto a British telephone booth – and around again. All the bouncing is interspersed with clips from Beatles master tapes, recorded at Abbey Road studios. Love is definitely a ticket to ride.

Looking for the Blue Man Group? They’ve moved from the Luxor to the Venetian. And if you want to hear Celine Dion in concert, you have until December 15 to find her at Caesar’s Palace – come February 20, 2008, Bette Midler takes over The Colosseum five nights a week, 20 weeks a year.

Gail Fitzgerald, who’s spent 30 years in the group market in Las Vegas, says it’s important to schedule free time during incentive trips, but that hotels do offer special events for incentive travelers.

“We try to get outside the box so people can experience things they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to experience,” says Fitzgerald, who recently left Bellagio to become vice president of hotel sales and marketing for CityCenter. “At Bellagio, we could go back of the house for a surveillance tour. And we?ve taken groups backstage at O and behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil shows.”

If that whets your appetite, so will fine-dining menus offered all over town. Bradley Ogden, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Palmer and a host of high-profile chefs work the kitchens here.

MGM Grand has a restaurant row with tables for groups of all sizes. To help narrow your choice, look into Craftsteak, Shibuya and two adjacent eateries by Joel Robuchon. Craftsteak is pricey – but upscale in a casual way. Go off your diet for the Yukon gold purée mashed potatoes that border deliciously on soup. Shibuya offers great sushi and the most extensive sake selection in town. Joel Robuchon’s The Mansion specializes in French dishes served in a 1930s Parisian setting. Less formal is L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Diners at a sushi-style bar look into an open-air kitchen. The imported prosciutto dish impresses just as much as a lobster salad in which the claws outnumber lettuce leaves. Want the beef rib eye? A well-informed waiter will bring you a slab of meat, and ask you how big a piece he should cut off and prepare for you.

Eat up, because nighttime in Vegas is play time – and there are lots of clubs and lounges waiting to be your playground.

The Beatles Revolution Lounge (Mirage)

It’s near the entrance to the theater that shows the Beatles/Cirque-inspired Love show. The décor is psychedelic. The ceiling holds 30,000 dichroic crystals that reflect light – an architectural nod to the Beatles? “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Electronic tabletops use infrared technology, so you can ?draw? designs on the table.

Bare Pool (Mirage)

Part of the Vegas trend toward allowing European-style sunbathing, Bare allows women to be what the name implies – topless, at least. It costs men twice as much ($40) as women to spend the day here. VIPs will want to rent two-tiered daybeds ($350 on weekends). There are two large flatscreen TVs, a DJ and a (clothed) wait staff that serves lunch, dinner and a full bar.

Forty Deuce (Mandalay Bay)

Burlesque is back. Caesar’s has the Pussycat Dolls Lounge and TI’s Tangerine has returned to the fishnets and bustiers scene. But Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce is an intimate setting that’s inspired by New York City’s 42nd Street burlesque district. Dancers shimmy, shake and strip down to their intimates.

“I’m always looking for what people think is valuable, something that they like to have on their desks,” says business coach Henry Barbey, director of The New York Center for Coaching, in Manhattan. Barbey is a believer in trade shows for spreading his message, and at a recent event he gave out notepads that proclaimed some of what he does: Each page was headed with the question, “What are your important priorities today?” followed by a blank list.

Titanic – The Artifact Exhibition (Tropicana)

Vegas has more museums than you’d think – from the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art to the Liberace Museum. But a must-see is the Titanic museum, where upon entrance, visitors get the simulated ticket of a real passenger from the ill-fated ship. There’s a real block of iceberg you can put your hands on. At the end of the tour, you approach the survivor wall and see if your ticketed character was one of the lucky ones.

Isla (TI)

Technically, Isla is a Mexican restaurant. But the bar is home to a stunning Tequila Goddess who will serve flights of the intoxicating stuff and inform guests about the fiery liquor. Look for a tasting menu of blancos, reposados and anejos. Instead of salt and lime, shots are prefaced, in Mexican tradition, with marinated cucumbers and topped off with sangrita (a spicy tomato sauce).

Cravings (TI)

If you have to go to one buffet – hey, Vegas is famous for bulk gluttony – try Cravings. When TI still went by Treasure Island, the buffet was nothing to write home about. After a $7.5 million renovation, it’s A-list. It’s Asian-themed (in food and décor), so go for anything from vegetable lo mein to Mongolian beef. The sushi outlay is most impressive. If you so desire, grab a pink cloud of cotton candy on a stick for dessert.

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007
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