The Caesars Entertainment booth at IMEX America was a bright white beacon of light in the middle of the show floor. The team shared news about new renovations at properties across the country, including an abundance of new star-led restaurants in Las Vegas. New leaders and a renewed commitment to the power of meetings was on display.

Vice President of Listening

One of the chief storytellers at the booth was newly promoted Kelly Gleeson Smith, who took on the role of vice president of sales, meetings and events in early October.

image of kelly gleeson smith
Kelly Gleeson Smith

“Kelly has been preparing for this role since the day she joined the company 5 years ago,” said Caesars Chief Sales Officer Mike Massari in a post-IMEX interview.

Gleeson Smith has been on a “listening tour” with clients and 120 members of the global meetings and events sales team. The former Hyatt executive is based in Florida but predicted that she will spend more time traveling to Nevada. The team will continue to be based in-market to better serve clients where they are based. “I want to make sure team is cohesive, feels supported, has the tools they need to be in front of trends and is cutting edge,” or as Massari says, “ridiculously flexible.”

One of the tools Gleeson Smith and the team are sharing is the wide portfolio available during a time when some prime properties are experiencing extreme compression and can be difficult to secure during popular dates.

“We have properties all over and when a hot city like Las Vegas is booked up, we can offer opportunities in Atlantic City and Reno and beyond,” she said. “Groups may find they really like some of the places they hadn’t considered before,” she added.

Gleeson Smith called the current phase the industry is going through, “the great unknown.” Some groups are smaller than they were in 2019; others are larger. “What they did in the past isn’t always an indicator of what will happen this year. I feel for the meeting planners because we know their budgets are taking a hit with the addition of technology and supply chain problems requiring creativity to manage everything from gifting to badges,” she said. “I am hearing all about it.”

Sparkling Spaces

Caesars had a lot to show off when everyone returned to Las Vegas. At the flagship Caesars Palace, a grand new lobby along with Dominique Ansel Las Vegas bakery featuring creative confectionaries, decadent desserts and “Cronuts” from the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef now greet visitors. The shop will feature his “Lucky 7” collection, representing good fortune and good taste.

A Peter Luger Steakhouse is scheduled to open by the end of the year, the first U.S. location outside of the original Brooklyn, New York, address that opened as Carl Luger’s Café, Billiards and Bowling Alley in 1887.

Across the street at Paris Las Vegas, a second restaurant from Chef Nobu Matsuhisa delivers on the celebrity chef’s “kokoro” or heartfelt approach to hospitality.

Vanderpump a Paris brings garden-variety Instagrammable experiences from the English television personality and restauranteur that has drawn crowds at Vanderpump Cocktail Garden at Caesars Palace.

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The Bedford by Martha Stewart is the lifestyle celebrity’s first restaurant. It draws inspiration from her New York country farmhouse approach to entertaining. Think Oysters Rockefeller and lobster bouillabaisse.

Not to be left behind, celebrity chef Bobby Flay crossed The Strip after the successful launch last year of Amalfi by Bobby Flay at Caesars Palace to open Bobby’s Burgers by Bobby Flay, dispensing what he calls hand-crafted American fare and spoon-bending milkshakes.

At Harrah’s Las Vegas, Walk On’s Sports Bistreaux highlights Cajun favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

At The LINQ Hotel, which, like Harrah’s is attached to CAESARS FORUM convention center, chef Buddy Valastro is serving up the Cake Boss approach to Italian sandwiches, pizzas and a mozzarella bar at Boss Café by Buddy Valastro.

Mid-Strip, Bally’s Las Vegas is undergoing a transformation to a classic gaming brand, Horseshoe, and hosted the World Series of Poker.

Away from the shimmering lights of Las Vegas, Caesars’s Tropicana Atlantic City property celebrated its 40th anniversary with a $400 million refresh that included eight new restaurants. This is in addition to a NOBU Atlantic City and Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen at sister properties Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City.

Horseshoe Lake Charles will open in December as a new 60,000-square-foot property that takes the place of the floating Isle of Capri Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana after the previous property was damaged during Hurricane Laura two years ago. It will boast 253 guest rooms and Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay Steak.

And ground has broken on Caesars Virginia in partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the city of Danville, which will open in 2024 as a 500-room hotel with a 2,500-seat theater and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting and convention space.

Old Ways are New Again

Massari was exuberant about welcoming the industry back to the city. “Las Vegas is even more vibrant and alive than ever,” he said.

He likes to quip that the tradeshow at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Las Vegas was organized in almost the same fashion as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul in 10,000 B.C. “Health, wellness and safety were always important and now will take an even more important place in our minds,” he said.

The marketing executive for the brand with world’s most legendary buffet, Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, said the announcement in previous years about the death of serve-yourself dining was absolutely premature. “If you want to get 3,000 people fed in 45 minutes and have everyone get exactly what they want to eat, there is only one way to do it—a buffet.”

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He characterized hybrid meetings as a critical way to expand audiences, “but it is no substitution for the real thing, no more than my The Who CD is a substitute for going to a concert at Hollywood Bowl. Face-to-face is the gold standard, that is what people yearn for and virtual meetings will largely fill the funnel for future attendees.”

In fact, Massari saw the mass realization about the value of being in-person uplifting. “Understanding why we meet has never been higher and the desire to meet has never been greater. The prominence of face-to-face is high and that is a silver lining that came out of this,” he said.

As co-chair of Meetings Mean Business, however, he worries that the lesson about the importance of telling the meetings industry story is being forgotten too quickly.

“People need to get focused on telling the meeting story even during the good times. You can’t fix the roof when it is raining. We have to be advocates for the industry while we are doing well and busy and have resources to do so.” He warned, “Otherwise it is too late and we are back in the situation we found ourselves in at the beginning of the pandemic.”