When I attended my first JCK show in 2000, as a fledgling editor for a long-since-defunct jewelry trade website called GemKey (where I wrote about the pearl and watch markets), I stayed at Treasure Island, ate at the food court in the then–1-year-old Venetian Hotel, and partied the night away at Drai’s with one of my childhood friends, Jeannie, a marketing whiz who had, by chance, landed a job with an equally short-lived competitor called GemConnect.
What a difference a decade makes. Since the heady days of 2000, not only has Las Vegas evolved into a stylish, cosmopolitan city on par with the world’s greatest resort destinations, the industry has matured and, well, so have I. If you had told me then what I know now, I would have been incredulous: that the dot-bomb of the early Aughties would obliterate both mine and Jeannie’s B2B jobs; that I would return to Las Vegas—and the show—every June for the next decade (save for 2003) in various editorial capacities; and that in 2011, I would—touch wood—make my first Vegas appearance as editor of the reimagined JCK, the magazine that gave birth to the 20-year-old event in the first place.
Photographer Sarra Fleur Abou-El-Haj clowning around at Mandalay Bay during our location shoot in late February.
Life is strange, isn’t it? We’re getting used to its twists and turns here at JCK, where every issue brings a fresh set of challenges. The one you’re holding now represents our most ambitious undertaking yet. In late February, I joined our editorial team—including photo editor Emma Hopson, senior editor Jennifer Heebner, photographer Sarra Fleur Abou-El-Haj, and stylist Brooke Magnaghi—in Las Vegas for our first on-location shoot at Mandalay Bay, in honor of the hotel’s starring role at the JCK show, which moves to the adjacent convention center at the end of next month.
The fruits of our labor appear not only on this issue’s groundbreaking cover, but also in “The Road to Mandalay” (page 74), my feature on the myriad dining, nightlife, and recreational experiences that await visitors to this year’s show. I owe a big shout-out to my mom, Natasha Gomelsky, who graciously agreed to be my partner in crime as we investigated the best places near Mandalay’s side of the Strip to eat, drink, and be merry.
Me and my mom, Natasha Gomelsky, at the hotel’s Moorea Beach Club
Senior editor Rob Bates’ fascinating oral history of the show, on page 82—which couldn’t have come together without former JCK publisher Charles Bond’s anecdotes (thank you!)—helps put the historic move in perspective. So do the words of Bill Hornbuckle, chief marketing officer of MGM Resorts International, who spoke to me about the considerable effort MGM made to woo the show to its property: “We asked ourselves, What’s it going to take to make Mandalay Bay the best convention destination in the country?” Hornbuckle recalled. “The No. 1 show we needed was JCK, not for its scale, but for its prestige and its challenges—we were all over it. It was the crown jewel—pardon the pun—of our key competitor.”
Now, after nearly 20 years at the Sands Convention Center, the JCK show has a new partner in the convention business—and all signs suggest the marriage is built to last. “Now that we have it,” said Hornbuckle, “we don’t intend on letting it go.”