by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President of Industry Relations, MCI and Vice President Ovation Global DMC
The Venetian, Las Vegas
Last Thursday I over-nighted at The Venetian in Las Vegas. Built in the mid 90s and opened in 1999 it broke new ground in Vegas as a fully integrated luxury MICE resort with extensive gaming, retail and entertainment outlets, all under the same roof. An inter-connected sister property, The Palazzo, was added in the late noughties and both facilities intersect with the Sands Convention Centre to create a giant-sized footprint the size of several street blocks. With an extensive front elevation that replicates key architectural features of Venice, the interiors are finished in Italianate marble and rich ceiling frescos. If you add total guest and staff capacity together you arrive at 25,000+, the equivalent of the population of a mid-sized European town. The entire complex is one of the largest buildings under one roof in the world. It is genuinely mind blowing.
As you can imagine, the complex provides outstanding facilities and services for meetings and events. Everything is on-site from top notch Italian dining featuring celebrity chefs to top ranked entertainment like Blue Man Group. You can even engage in a little cultural immersion by visiting the well put together exhibition on the life and works of Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci. Or, if you want a proper taste of Venice, you can get in line (probably your most common activity in Vegas) and be whisked under the Rialto Bridge on a motorised gondola.
The one thing, however, that will elude you at The Venetian is authenticity.
Via Veneto, Roma
This thought occurs to me a week after my Vegas sojourn when I arrived in Rome to overnight on via Veneto at the recently open Jumeirah property there. The Italian capital’s most fashionable street still oozes the lush corpulence and tangible sexiness of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Ladies in heels and white dresses emerge from Mercedes and BMWs and amble assuredly into 5 star hotel lobbies. Lawyers in dark suits and shades stand in clusters at bar counters and gaze lingeringly at the girls that pass by. In Keats’s season of “mist and mellow fruitfulness” you can smell the mid-fall decadence in the warm evening air.
Jumeirah comes to the Eternal City
The Grand Hotel, via Veneto is located at the Villa Borghese end of the street in two renovated 19th century villas. With 116 guest rooms, the hotel is suitable for small to mid-sized corporate and incentive programmes that need to be at the heart of the action – Harry’s Bar, immortalised in Fellini’s movie, is just across the road. It recently came under the management of Jumeirah Group and this adds another international dimension to a street that boasts an iconic Westin (the Excelsior), a period Marriott and two Italian chain hotels, the Baglioni and the Boscolo. If via Veneto is the “theatre” for Fellini’s dolce vita then the Grand
Hotel might be its gallery of fine art. The hotel lobby features original works by modernists including Picasso, Miró, Nespolo and Dalí while the interiors, in rich marble and lacquered wood, are Art Deco inspired, emphasising the hotel’s chic and sophisticated modernist credentials. Guest rooms are more spacious that usual for a hotel in a European capital and bathrooms have over-sized Bulgari amenities.
My immersion in Italian authenticity continued courtesy of Ovation Italy’s Managing Director, Michael Libotte, who took my colleague Idoia Rodes and me to one of his favourite restaurants, Girarrosto Fiorentino, just around the corner from the hotel. Looking pretty much the same as it would have in the late 50s nights of La Dolce Vita Girarrosto Fiornetino is a paen to the proud culinary traditions of Tuscany. We drank the house red, Nipozzano Riserva, a fine Chianti Rufina from Frescobaldi and ate mixed antipasti followed by home-made pasta. Service was impeccable, delivered effortlessly by smartly uniformed senior waiters in their 60s – they may even have served Marcello Mastroianni in the 60s! In Italy waiting tables is not for gap year students or out of work actors; rather, it’s a proud profession with a long apprenticeship.
Perfect for a secret encounter
Breakfast at the Jumeirah next morning was served in the Magnolia Restaurant, a cavernous space with unexpected corners and hidden alcoves, perfect for a highly confidential or even conspiratorial meeting or encounter. Heavy white linen tablecloths and napkins complemented the retro-styled Villeroy and Bosch crockery on the extra-large, generously spaced tables. All around was a spectacular Still Life collection by prominent Italian artists of the 20th century – Gonzaga, Stile and Ventrone. Guest demographics were decidedly international with strong representation from Asia and the Middle East, reflecting the Jumeirah guest profile.
The Real Sounds of the City
I checked out and headed for the street where Michael had kindly organised a car and driver to convey me in some style to Fiumicino, Rome’s “full service” international airport, located about 40 mins from the centre of the city. The intense heat of a typical Roman summer had ceded to the fresh gentle warmth of mid October. Looking up via Veneto towards Harry’s Bar you see the remains of the ancient “Muro Torto”. Either side of you are elegant 19th palazzi, many now hosting street level retail outlets for luxury brands. At 9:45 it was already buzzing energetically to a euphony of urban sounds – construction work on the building across the road, the constant, random honking of cars, the easy cantilena of conversation sometimes punctuated by loud exclamations and the ever present low spark of high heeled girls.
Padraic Gilligan is VP of Industry Relations at MCI, a globally integrated association, communication and event management company with 47 offices in 23 Countries, He also leads MCI’s Destination Services practice, Ovation Global DMC. He is a confirmed Italophile.