• Travel and Fanfare

Can Vegas Tourism Come Back Quicker Than Expected?

By Rich Thomaselli

Las Vegas, one of the top three tourist destinations in the country, could stage a comeback quicker than some might think.

PHOTO: Las Vegas Strip viewed from The Cosmopolitan. (photo by Patrick Clarke)

Experts have told the Las Vegas Sun that as the two vaccines for COVID-19 are distributed around the country in staggered tiers of people – and two more apparently on the way – pent-up demand to travel will continue to rise and fears of getting on a plane will diminish.

“There’s clearly enthusiasm for what a successfully implemented vaccine rollout could do for the Strip,” Barry Jonas, a gaming industry analyst for investment firm SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, told the Sun “The question is when people will get comfortable.”

Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist who tracks Las Vegas and other regional economies in the Southwest, is even more optimistic. Vitner actually told the paper he expects tourism to start to come back in a noticeable way in a matter of weeks.

“After February, we see a strong recovery taking hold, at least in leisure travel,” Vitner said. “I do think we’re past the scariest part of all of this. Things will get progressively better.”

That would be welcome news for Las Vegas, which shut down for three months last year at the height of the pandemic and, even though the city reopened, it was done so under restrictions and reduced capacity at casinos, hotels, restaurants and more.

In 2019, 42 million tourists visited Las Vegas; through the first 11 months of 2020, only 18 million came to the city.

Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), said he is optimistic but realistic.

“Once we get into May and June, I think the city will feel close to what it normally is,” Hill said. “Room rates may not be quite as high, but it will be different. [In] the second half of 2021, we’ll see strong recovery.”

“When we speak to companies like MGM [Resorts International], there’s some conservatism about the cadence of the recovery,” said Jonas. “It won’t just be snap your fingers and everything’s back. Conferences will have a mix of in-person and virtual components, and it’s reasonable to assume that companies will be cautious about sending employees to conferences.”

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