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July 18, 2019

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Nashville floods boost Las Vegas convention business


AP Photo/Josh Anderson

A worker walks through a large plastic sheet separating the Cascades Lobby and the Cascades Atrium at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, June 1, 2010. The Opryland Hotel sustained severe damage during the recent flooding in Nashville.

Beyond the Sun

In the meetings and conventions business, one city’s tragedy can be another city’s opportunity.

While no one in the industry is happy about the death and destruction that occurred in the May 2-3 flood of the Cumberland River in Tennessee, Las Vegas has picked up more than 30 meetings and conventions that were scheduled in hotels and convention centers in Nashville.

“We never wish a (Hurricane) Katrina on New Orleans or a flood on Nashville, but meeting planners have turned to Las Vegas after those tragedies because we have the facilities to accommodate their events,” said Chuck Bowling, an executive vice president at MGM Mirage.

“We don’t like to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune,” added Eric Bello, vice president of sales at the Venetian, “but if an organization is going go somewhere else anyway, we appreciate that they’re coming to us.”

Bello said the response to the Venetian has been “phenomenal” and that his company has picked up about 30 meetings that relocated from Nashville resulting in an additional 30,000 room nights for the company.

The biggest of those is a closed-to-the-public summer dealers meeting of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company, which has booked 2,400 rooms a night for four nights in July.

The company met at the Venetian in 2003 and Bello said he has tried to convince them to return. It was fortunate, he said, that the hotel was able to accommodate the company on short notice.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said it had received inquiries from 10 organizations about moving their events to Las Vegas since the flood that killed 29 people in three states and caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and commercial facilities along the Cumberland River.

Some organizations don’t go through the LVCVA and work directly with hotels with which they’ve had a previous relationship, which is why the Venetian had 30 contacts and MGM Mirage had around 18.

Bowling said his company has worked mostly with organizations seeking luxury accommodations and business has been directed to Aria, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio and the MGM Grand.

Bowling said the 11th-hour bookings have been a good boost for MGM Mirage, but the bigger picture indicates that convention business is gradually rebounding.

“Overall, we’re definitely seeing some general signs that corporate America is done retrenching and they have acknowledged that they need to get out in front of their customers,” Bowling said. “We’ve seen a really big uptick in short-lead corporate conferences.”

One of the companies that appears to have suffered the most in the flooding is Gaylord Entertainment Co., which operates the Gaylord Opryland Resort, the Grand Ole Opry and several other Nashville attractions.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort has 2,881 rooms and 600,000 square feet of convention and meeting space and represents 10 percent of the total number of hotel rooms in Nashville. The resort receives more than 1 million visitors each year, generating nearly 25 percent of Nashville’s total hotel tax revenue.

The company reported Thursday that it has assessed the flood damage.

“Flood damage requires an extraordinarily complicated repair process,” Gaylord Entertainment Chairman and CEO Colin Reed said in a statement. “We have had to manually test every aspect of our mechanical, electrical, information technology and power generating systems in order to understand what works, what needs to be repaired and what needs to be replaced.

“There is an entire city of infrastructure which operates under the Gaylord Opryland campus, the majority of which was fully under water, and thus the assessment process has been extensive,” he said. “At this time we feel that we are able to provide an accurate overview of the damage and restoration, projected costs and timelines and an update to our employment strategy and our progress relocating groups displaced by the flood restoration work at the hotel.”

The cost to restore the Gaylord Opryland alone is estimated at between $165 million and $172 million with the total repair costs for all of Gaylord’s holdings estimated at between $215 million and $225 million.

Executives expect the Grand Ole Opry House would reopen by Oct. 1 and the Gaylord Opryland by Nov. 15.

The Gaylord Opryland had more than 329,900 room nights booked for convention travelers at the hotel over the next six months. The company has tried to transfer conventions to other hotels within the Gaylord network, including the Gaylord Palms near Orlando, the Gaylord National near Washington, D.C., and the Gaylord Texan in suburban Dallas.

The company has transferred 61,984 room nights to other hotels in the state of Tennessee and executives say some groups relocating to non-Gaylord properties are long-term loyal customers committed to booking future events at Gaylord properties.

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