Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

U.S.-based business travelers believe Las Vegas is best prepared over other leading meetings and convention destinations to safely host in-person events in the second half of the year, new research indicates.

It's a glimmer of hope for Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, dealing with a 55.2% decline in overall visitation last year.

"What we saw was a pretty great message about Las Vegas and about the desire of business travelers to get back to travel," Hill said. "They're obviously tired -- we're all tired -- of Zoom calls, and that's certainly reflected in the survey. They want to come back to in-person meetings almost unanimously."

Hill announced the results of the study, funded by the LVCVA and conducted by Heart+Mind Strategies, a national market research and brand strategy consultant, at Preview Las Vegas 2021, a virtual event hosted by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. The results were based on a survey, done between Jan. 8 and 12, of 510 adults who had traveled to a business meeting in the year and a half before the pandemic.

"When we asked questions around 'where would you like to go?' 'where do you feel most comfortable going?' 'what provides the best experience both from a personal standpoint and business standpoint?' Las Vegas came out on top of all of those answers. And most of the time by a pretty wide margin," Hill said.

The survey explored whether the pandemic and the increasing ease of meeting virtually will permanently change the desire for in-person meetings and the convention industry. "The results would seem to indicate that's not the case, and that's hugely important in Vegas, obviously, and encouraging to us," Hill said.

Key findings include:

• 91% miss the face-to-face interaction of in-person conferences, conventions and trade shows.
• 58% feel burned out from virtual business meetings and conferences.
• 77% of business travelers would prefer attending business conferences, conventions and trade shows in-person.
• 74% believe that Las Vegas is best prepared to safely host in-person conferences, conventions and trade shows in the second half of 2021.

World of Concrete, a trade show for the commercial concrete and masonry construction industries, is set for June 8 to 10 and will mark the opening of the Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall and the Elon Musk-designed underground transportation system. It drew 54,000 last February, but that number is unlikely this year, especially if capacity restrictions are still in place.

Still, Hill is hoping the show will signal "at least something that starts to resemble normal again" for Las Vegas.

"Vaccine rollout obviously matters greatly," Hill said. "By the time we get to June, there are going to have been a lot of people who have been vaccinated. Sadly, there are going to be a lot of people who have had the virus, as well, and have developed immunity at some level. We're hopeful that the health situation is dramatically different by the time we get to that Memorial Day, early June time frame."

Vegas' reputation for customer service, familiarity for returning visitors and the protocols the convention center and resort meetings facilities have implemented will also drive the return, Hill said.

"The steps we've taken during the pandemic have been responsible," Hill said. "They have certainly put the health and safety of our guests at the top of any priority list. Our guests see that and know that the city's committed to what we have branded as Vegas Smart, that you can come here and have fun, but let's be smart while we're doing it."

The economic health of the Strip depends on convention-goers filling 150,000 hotel rooms midweek. But national hospitality brands also have a lot riding on the safe resumption of meetings in Las Vegas to promote confidence in other properties in other locations throughout the country and the world, Hill said.

"Making sure this works in Vegas is critical to the recovery for each of those major brands," he said.

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