By: Christine Loomis

Mississippi – Biloxi

Biloxi sits 90 miles northeast of New Orleans. The city of 45,000 offers casinos and golf in addition to miles of beaches. Two new hotels are opened last year and a new aquarium will open later this year or early next year. Among its attractions are Betsy Ann Riverboat Cruises and the $15 million, 30,000-sf Ocean Adventures Park & Center.

A project manager with an international beauty retailer brought a Loss Prevention Agent Conference to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi two years in a row, first time with 124 attendees and 153 at last year’s event.

“Biloxi is centrally located, which is great since we have people flying from all over the country. The cost to hold the conference in Biloxi was significantly lower than other cities across the country. It’s also extremely safe and only 20 minutes from the airport,” she adds.

Cost was also a factor in choosing the hotel. “The quality of lodging, and more importantly conference food costs, are why we originally chose Hard Rock Biloxi. Most conferences make the bulk of their money on F&B and Hard Rock catering prices were unbelievable. The catering is adjusted to accommodate any needs and dietary restrictions.”

The staff was also impressive. ”Lisa Bird, sales manager, was a phenomenal partner,” says the project manager. “She goes out of her way to assist on every aspect of the conference, not just the portions that are happening at the hotel. The banquet manager, was also amazing. He was deft in adapting to our last-minute needs and nuances with our group. The chef catered the menus to our specific needs and created a special dinner that took in local specialties but also flowed with the outdoor setting. He even created a specialty cocktail to go along with the theme of our conference.”

As for meeting space, she calls it a “wow.” “The Hard Rock conference space is the concert venue stage, complete with stage, giant screen, side monitors and concert-level audio. You feel like a rock star when presenting. The A/V staff is top-notch and makes the presentations larger than life.”

The hotel has two towers. “I put management in the newer tower and everyone else in the other tower,” she says. “This elevated the room experience for management and also separated groups so there was less chance of an embarrassing post-cocktails run-in with a boss … this is a casino after all.”

Of course, the fact that Biloxi is all about casinos is part of the draw. “They’re great for meetings because entertainment is built in, says the project manager. “But there are also those beautiful views right on the gulf coast.”

On the downside, she notes that smoke can be an issue, “You need to factor that in when booking at any casino. And it’s important to make sure that everyone attending is 21, otherwise they’ll need a chaperone.”

The group booked one leadership dinner for 35 at Patio 44 outside the resort with mixed results. “Food was great, portions were large and the menu offered fantastic variety,” she says. “And it was extremely well priced. The service, however, was horrible. But we’re having our leadership dinner there again this year because of the food, cost and proximity to Hard Rock, and because there’s new management and they assured us this time will be a different experience.”

While it’s possible to fly into Biloxi, the project manager says she used the New Orleans airport because she was flying people in from across the country and could get more direct flights. “I had groups fly into New Orleans, then provided transportation to Biloxi. This shaves a few hours off total travel time for many attendees and avoids layovers.”

In addition to considerations related to casinos, she has one more piece of advice for planners considering the Hard Rock. “Avoid Fridays for any extended meeting times as the concert venue takes over on weekends. The crowds start arriving in droves and it’s very hectic.”

In addition to the new hotels coming on line in Biloxi, MGM Resorts International last year completed a $10 million suite renovation at Beau Rivage, its AAA Four Diamond beachfront resort. The redesign of 95 suites was the final piece in a multiyear renovation.

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