July 14, 2024 2:00 PM
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Mandalay Bay Convention Center Turns 20 Years Old

By Ray Smith, Exhibit City News

Read in Q4 Issue HERE .


Mandalay Resort Group shrewdly assessed the future of Las Vegas when it opened the 1.8 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center in January 2003, competing with the dominant Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Expo for a slice of the lucrative convention and trade show business.

Las Vegas was reinventing itself, maturing into much more than a gaming destination, and the convention center would play a key role in establishing Mandalay Bay as a Strip powerhouse.

“We had an understanding that Las Vegas was evolving, and we needed to be involved in different segments, especially the meetings and conventions market,” says Ernest Stovall, vice president of hotel sales at Mandalay Bay.

It was a $235 million investment on the part of Mandalay Resort Group, rebranded from Circus Circus Enterprises.

Mandalay executives priced show floor space at 30 cents a square foot, beating the Sands’ price by a nickel, still a dime more than the tax-funded Las Vegas Convention Center’s 20 cents a square foot. It was 15 cents a foot on installation and dismantling days.

The convention center debuted with the pool and spa industry’s Aqua Show and was the first venue in Las Vegas to host Barrett-Jackson’s collector automobile auction in 2008.

Top shows at Mandalay Bay CC include the ISA International Sign Expo, IMEX America, Licensing Expo, SuperZoo West, and Black Hat USA. PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) has held its annual expo there since the opening.


Twenty years later, Mandalay Bay Convention Center remains a competitive force in a city boasting 10 million square feet of convention and meeting space. It drives occupancy and average daily room rates at the upscale 3,200-room Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, now owned by Vici Properties, and operated by MGM Resorts.

“Over the years, Mandalay Bay’s team has worked to keep the property and convention space current and fresh, meeting the needs of the modern customer,” Stovall says. “We’re always looking for ways to enhance the guest experience.”

The convention center grew to 2.1 million square feet in 2014, ranking as the fifth largest in the United States. Designed by Las Vegas-based Klai Juba Wald architecture, the interior evokes a feel of luxury with its marble columns, spacious hallways, and picture windows offering a view of the property’s tropical landscaping and Mandalay Bay Beach, one of Las Vegas’s most revered party pools.


The facility began a $100 million renovation in 2022, upgrading its internet capabilities and adding digital signage for advertising and event information. Cat6A Ethernet cabling was installed throughout the convention center, along with RFID (radio frequency identification) locks on all meeting room doors and 200 motion-detection cameras.

The remodel that continues in phases ushers in the next generation of meetings and events, Stovall says. The new technology is designed to increase productivity and make meetings and events as easy, efficient, and safe as possible.

Following the COVID pandemic, convention attendees are looking for more efficiency, comfort, and health and safety measures, the Mandalay Bay executive explains. Hotel management put a lot of thought into how to best meet guest expectations and learned to be flexible in the ever-changing post-pandemic business environment.

“One of our biggest takeaways over the last few years is that, as humans, we love to gather and meet in person,” Stovall tells ECN. “While a lot of business can be done remotely in our digital world, there’s nothing like meeting face to face to build deep personal connections and establish strong working relationships.”


A short walk from the convention center is the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef, a popular attraction for both tourists and local residents. The 12,000-seat Michelob Ultra Arena, formerly Mandalay Bay Events Center, is home to the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. The venue also holds concerts, college basketball tournaments, and dedicated events.

As a resort, Mandalay Bay is constantly evolving, redesigning rooms and suites at the adjoining Four Seasons hotel and introducing new dining experiences such as Retro by Voltaggio and the debut of Flanker Kitchen + Sports Bar in June. The immersive Play Playground is opening in the fall at the nearby Luxor hotel.

Stovall says Mandalay Bay stands out as an integrated resort and “one-stop shop” for meeting planners looking to provide more “meaningful experiences” for their guests. He’s seeing great demand from organizations looking to get back to meeting in person for the remainder of this year and into 2024.

“Our approach is to be cohesive with other convention venues across the city and to collaborate with them for the betterment of Las Vegas as a whole,” Stovall says. “Our mindset is that if one of us is busy, we all have the opportunity to be busy, and that it’s best for the entire city to be successful.”

Ray Smith is a retired journalist who covered conventions, tourism, and real estate development in Las Vegas for 20 years. Previously, he was a sports reporter, writer, and editor in California. He majored in journalism at San Diego State University.

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