Top 30 Convention Centers Ranked: Vegas Takes Top Spot

Skift Take

A ranking of the top 30 convention centers across the U.S. was recently released by the Wall Street Journal placing three Las Vegas facilities in the top 10 with high scores based on overall space, amenities and convenience. But how did they measure up on a practical level for groups and meetings?

A recent list of the top 30 convention centers in the U.S. compiled by The Wall Street Journal placed three Las Vegas convention centers in the top 10, with the Las Vegas Convention Center taking the number one spot. While Las Vegas is widely known as “Sin City” and commonly associated with gambling and its earlier ties to organized crime, the desert city located in Southern Nevada has since become a mecca for events and conventions and a hotspot for elevated dining experiences and entertainment that can create a memorable experience for event attendees.

Note: WJS-based convention center rankings on scores where 70% accounted for the venue’s space, amenities, and convenience. The remaining 30% is based on the city in which the venue is located, as well as the surrounding region. 

The Vegas Advantage

Unlike other major U.S. cities, Las Vegas is ever expanding with new attractions or existing sites constantly being upgraded. Perhaps you saw a video of the Formula-1 car ripping down the red carpet at Wynn Las Vegas ahead of the Las Vegas Grand Prix scheduled for November or the visually stunning Sphere at The Venetian Resort dawning an all too realistic image of a massive eyeball right on The Strip – sites that add to Vegas’ wow factor that create a powerful draw.

For meeting planners seeking a one-stop shop experience, Vegas is definitely in a league of its own. As WSJ’s top-ranked meeting facility, the Las Vegas Convention Center houses a whopping 4.6 million square feet of space with a total of 225 meeting rooms and is in close proximity to 150,000 guest rooms. At 1.2 million square feet of total meeting space, The Venetian Convention and Expo Center came in at number three overall but was ranked first for meeting rooms with 350 total spanning from 300 to 1,300 square feet each. 

Another clear-cut advantage Las Vegas has over other host cities is an easily accessible airport —roughly a 10- to 15-minute drive from any venue on The Strip. Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) provides travelers with ample lift with 161 non-stop routes, as recorded in August, connecting to a record number of cities with 35 carriers providing service to Las Vegas. LVCC took number five for airport accessibility, while the Venetian came in at number three.

Mitigating Factors

But how does Vegas measure up with other potential host cities? As the popular slogan goes, “What Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and for good reason. Regarding the surrounding area, the convention centers mentioned in Las Vegas ranked in the bottom 10. While this detail might appear inconsequential considering the offerings immediately available on The Strip, the lack of central hubs outside this area lessens the city’s appeal. This aspect of visiting Vegas is further accentuated by its weather. Have you ever visited the surface of the sun? Well, the Las Vegas climate can be similar many times throughout the year, causing most to seek shelter indoors. Here the top scores went to venues in California and Florida.

Conversely, the San Diego Convention Center ranked fourth overall but captured the number one spot under the city and surrounding area category. As a picturesque beach town, San Diego, in general, offers a diverse set of options for activities that pair well with a wide array of interests for groups to enjoy. In addition, San Diego is far easier to maneuver as it ranked 5th in walkability, and the Las Vegas Convention Center again ranked near the bottom in the 25th spot, causing groups to rely on motor transportation. This is essential when considering the sensibilities of a specific group of attendees and the goals of the respective event.

Category Winners

Chicago’s McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, ranked first for space, amenities, and convenience. The venue, which will soon be under new management, took the second spot overall. Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center took the fifth spot overall and scored well on several total meeting space metrics and city and surroundings but scored low on the number of meeting rooms and distance to the nearest dry cleaner.

The top score for hotel availability went to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C., which also scored high for walkability, but low for the number of meeting rooms, meal price, and arts and entertainment. Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Convention Center ranked highest for walkability and had the closest dry cleaners, and according to the ranking Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center offers the best-priced meals.

At The Back of The Pack

Of the convention centers ranked the 30 largest in the U.S., the International Exposition (I-X) Center in Cleveland was last overall. It does not rank well for the number of meeting rooms, hotel availability, walkability, and food availability. However, meals are affordable (ranking 6th), and it stole the top spot for airport accessibility, so getting there is a breeze.

Houston’s 706,000-square-foot NRG Center ranked second last overall. It ranked 15th for exhibition space but scored poorly in a number of key areas, including dead last for arts and entertainment and second last for food availability.

San Antonio’s Henry B. González Convention Center got the top scores for both arts and entertainment as well as food availability, matched with the third spot for the price of meals. However, overall it came twenty-third spot owing to its relatively small size. It simply could not compete on exhibition space, total space, and number of meeting rooms. Also, despite being close to the center of the city, it scored low for walkability.