What Happens in Vegas
Alumna lands dream job promoting a city that needs no introduction
Thursday, January 31, 2019

Laurel O’Neil ’03, B.S. Business Administration

Headed to Las Vegas? Interested in insider tips on what to see and do, where to sleep and eat? The person to know is Laurel O’Neil, event design manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).

Recently celebrating her one year anniversary in her self-described “dream job”—creating networking platforms to promote Las Vegas as the number one destination for business and leisure travel—Laurel says, with palpable delight, “I get to do what I love in the city that I love and call home.”

While most of the events Laurel plans for LVCVA are local, she occasionally travels with a team to promote the “Entertainment Capital of the World” in other markets. Last fall, for example, she was part of the LVCVA team that wooed travel agents in Pittsburgh with a Las Vegas game night at a suite in PNC Park—home of the Pittsburgh Pirates—a behind-the-scenes tour of the ballpark, and a team-building game promoting Las Vegas. This past December she supported the convention sales team with a 1,000-person luncheon in New Orleans during the International Association of Exhibitions and Events Expo! Expo! For that memorable event, Laurel contracted the cast and crew from a Cirque du Soleil show as the featured entertainment.

Used to being on the move—her father was an Army officer—Laurel’s family landed in San Antonio during her teen years. She spent her early high school years in the Alamo City and fell in love with the Trinity campus after a school tour. She began her first year at Trinity on crutches with a broken ankle but cheerfully notes the infirmity helped her get to know her Murchison hallmates. Her resident assistant (RA), Felicia Leo Kemp ’02, a member of Alpha Chi Lambda sorority, had a “profound impact on my life at Trinity,” Laurel says. Laurel pledged her sorority and notes “being part of that sisterhood brought me lifelong friendships I cherish to this day.” She also became an RA her senior year and served as rush chair and PR chair with Alpha Chi, where she discovered her love of event planning.

Learning of Laurel’s interest in event planning, one of her business professors helped her secure an internship with the San Antonio Spurs marketing department. As part of the NBA’s Game Crew, Laurel worked home games at the Alamodome and helped with on-court and in-arena promotions. “Getting to work on the sidelines of a major NBA franchise was instrumental in both my personal and professional life,” she says.

Laurel launched her career in Las Vegas’ hospitality industry in 2003 with a destination management and event planning company. She spent a lot of time exploring the city’s restaurants, nightclubs, and shows, all in the name of professional research. “As a young twenty-something, it was a great way to get to know my new hometown,” she laughs. Later stints included the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant Group and Hard Rock Cafe on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even fun jobs present challenges, however, and Laurel says “the biggest is and always will be” balancing her professional career with her personal life. Married in 2010 in a meticulously Laurel-planned outdoor ceremony in Napa, Calif., she and husband, Dan, have two young children, ages 6 and 2. Occasionally missing bedtime or being away for business several days at a time remains a major struggle. She compensates by serving as Room Parent—read: party planner— for her daughter’s school. Weekends are consumed with family time—gymnastics with the kids, Saturday morning donuts, and Sunday brunch with grandparents. Fortunately, having family nearby who enjoy helping and spending time with the children allows the couple to enjoy date night out on the town, from attending a new restaurant opening to taking in a Vegas Golden Knights hockey game. Laurel also enjoys being a season ticket holder for the Broadway series at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Even in a city awash with entertainment options, Laurel says, “I love having a standing date when Broadway comes to town.”

Last year Laurel ran her first 5K, which she says was “a huge accomplishment” for someone who says she never enjoyed running. After discovering that music is the key and experiencing the euphoria of setting a goal and checking it off, she’s upping the ante. Next year’s goal? A 10K.

Bursting with enthusiasm for the hospitality industry, Laurel is active in several industry associations, but most deeply involved with the Las Vegas Hospitality Association (LVHA) where she has served on its Board of Directors. Her proudest achievement thus far is earning her Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation. It’s a professional credential she has long aspired to achieve and says she is “truly grateful that her current employer supported and encouraged that endeavor.”

Likening the grueling CMP test to Trinity professor Darryl Waldron’s “infamously intimidating and highly demanding” Business Policy capstone class — “which 15 years later I will admit I loved”— Laurel says, “I felt so accomplished once I learned I had passed the CMP.”

You can contact Laurel at loneil@lvcva.com.

Mary Denny helps tell Trinity's story as a contributor to the University communications team.

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