On Sept. 1, the board of directors for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) named longtime Las Vegas businessman Steve Hill the organization's new CEO.
Hill, who was named COO and president of the LVCVA in January, assumed the role from Rossi Ralenkotter, who retired this year amid controversy over the personal use of gift cards purchased by the organization and failures to report vacation days.
With 2018 coming to an end, Travel Weekly caught up with Hill to talk about projects on the horizon, key market segments and making it easier to get to Vegas.
Q: You're stepping into the job with Las Vegas coming off a hard end to 2017 after the Oct. 1 shooting, and visitor volume is down 1.3% in 2018. What's responsible for that?
A: The effect on the city after the tragedy on Oct. 1 was certainly impactful immediately. The destination as we got into 2018 pretty much recovered from a numbers standpoint. I think when you see the ups and downs in the numbers from 2018, one of the things that needs to be pointed out is we haven't had major new openings in about a decade. So we've had a very steady room count, and occupancy certainly leads the nation and is at a point where it's difficult to improve occupancy percentage. ... We've got a number of projects coming online over the next couple of years that I think will be the next opportunity for Las Vegas to take the next step.
Q: What projects do you think have the potential to drive growth?
A: You can stand on the site where our convention center expansion project is underway right now and turn around in a circle and see about $10 billion worth of projects that will open in the next three years. The north end of the Strip is really undergoing a transformation. Resorts World is making significant progress, and the Drew is going to make similar progress in the next couple of years, as well. That'll bring nearly 7,000 rooms online just between those two properties.
The MSG Sphere is going to be a little less than a mile south of here near the Sands and the Wynn. ... Then on the south end of the Strip, the Raiders stadium [which will be home to the NFL team currently in Oakland] is under construction and kind of before our eyes rounding into shape. That'll be open for the 2020 season.
Q: You mentioned Resorts World and the Drew bringing 7,000 rooms online. Is there any concern about an oversupply of room product?
A: It's been nearly a decade since rooms have been brought online in significant numbers. Frankly, I think it's a welcome thing. We've kind of reached an occupancy peak, and the demand is strong and room rates reflect that.
Q: With the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion, do you anticipate that will bring new shows to the city or allow current shows to grow?
A: I think it's both. We had 22,000 meetings in Las Vegas last year. Those meetings drew 6.6 million visitors. It is a key component of filling rooms in the destination, and it's a growing industry. Wynn is expanding; Caesars is expanding; there's 500,000 square feet of meetings space at the Drew; there's a large block of meetings space at Resorts World, as well. It will allow some of the largest shows in Las Vegas to grow, but it will also mean an opportunity to raise that 22,000 to a higher number.
Q: In term of the leisure market, which segments do you see having room for growth?
A: We continue to see increasing lift internationally into Las Vegas. That's growing at a healthy rate. Then we have the domestic market that arrives by airplane. McCarran Airport continues to set records for the number of visitors coming in and out.
Where we've seen some softness lately is in the drive market. The Interstate 15 corridor is a major feeder into the Southern California drive market, and we need to reduce congestion on I-15 in order to make that an experience that people are happy with and willing to continue driving to Las Vegas.
Q: Does that mean adding lanes to the highway?
A: Any way that congestion can be reduced. That could mean additional lanes. We're excited that the rail project between Vegas and Victorville, Calif., has renewed interest and new ownership.
Q: With the Raiders stadium progressing, what impact do you see the team having on the city?
A: Having the NFL allow the Raiders to come is a Good Housekeeping seal of approval on the city. It's also a signal for other professional leagues that Vegas has graduated into that size and that class, and I think that will have some ramifications in the future, too.
Having the stadium here also provides a venue for the largest events in the world to be in Las Vegas, whether that's rugby sevens or soccer friendlies from across the globe or stadium-size concerts or monster truck pulls. That'll draw new customers to the destination as well as give our repeat visitors a reason to come and add to the experience that Las Vegas is.