Las Vegas is ready to take a giant step toward recovery

Las Vegas can't wait for the return of international visitors, who make up only about 15% of visitors annually but spend about 50% to 60% more on avarage than domestic guests.
Las Vegas can't wait for the return of international visitors, who make up only about 15% of visitors annually but spend about 50% to 60% more on avarage than domestic guests.
Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

The news that international tourism will be opening up again on Nov. 8 excites Las Vegas tourism officials and experts, who acknowledge that it's the long-awaited next big step in the city's recovery from the pandemic.

International travelers make up about 15% of Las Vegas visitors annually but spend on average about 50% to 60% more per person than domestic guests, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"So the 15% visitation becomes 20% or 25% of what is spent here in Las Vegas," LVCVA president and CEO Steve Hill told KNSV-News3 Las Vegas last month. "The jobs that are created because of what's spent -- we've missed [those international visitors] over the past 18 months, and we're thrilled to welcome them back."

International travel is a significant factor in all aspects of Las Vegas' hospitality industry, says Alan Feldman, a casino industry veteran who is a distinguished fellow in responsible gaming for the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"International travelers stay longer when they come. They spend more money in all areas. They spend more on food, they spend more on hotel [rooms], they spend more across the board in nongaming [areas]," Feldman said.

And what about gaming? "Those who are casino enthusiasts can spend considerably more … ," he said. "One very high-level-rated player can mean millions of dollars over the course of the weekend."

International visitation is in some respects intertwined with the convention and meetings sector, also making a tentative recovery amid the pandemic, Feldman said. He noted the "terrific success" of G2E  (the Global Gaming Expo, held Oct. 5 to 7), which drew 13,000 attendees, less than half of the 27,000 who attended the 2019 event. Exhibitors from Asia and Europe were obvious missing components, he said.

The lifting of restrictions, of course, helps other tourist hot spots throughout the country. Feldman noted the international visitors tend to visit more than one city in the U.S. Those traveling to Las Vegas will frequently stop in Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York, he says.

Asia is a much bigger market for Vegas than Europe when it comes to family travel, with families from Asia typically come during the Golden Week national holiday in the fall and Chinese New Year in the winter.

Packaging of air travel and hotel rooms often dictates where visitors stay in Las Vegas, sometimes resulting in surprises in what properties have appeal to international visitors.

Luxor, for example, had "a very vibrant [international] component," says Feldman, a former executive with MGM Resorts International. He says he wasn't sure if the historical ties between the British Empire and Egypt or its midtier price point play bigger roles in its popularity.

"All I know is that every single time I walked into Luxor, I was going to bump into someone with a British accent," Feldman said. "It was uncanny. It was really remarkable."

Not just the resorts, but the airlines and Las Vegas' airport are eager to welcome more international traffic.

Regular nonstop service from Mexico resumed in July 2020, while service from Canada resumed this past June. But through August, only 325,329 international passengers (both arriving and departing) passed through McCarran Airport. In the year to date through August 2019, before the pandemic shut things down, that number was more than 2.5 million. The total number of international passengers for all of that year was 3.8 million.

The federal government has yet to announce specific guidelines for airports and airlines. Covid-19 documentation and verification currently go through the airlines, said McCarran Airport spokesman Joseph Rajchel, who added the airport stands ready to serve more international travelers.

"Just being as informed as possible about the requirements of that country is going to be really helpful and hopefully reduce headaches for people as they try to navigate this lifting of restrictions of travel," Rajchel said.


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