Las Vegas is hiring. The seismic rumble of a big comeback is roiling underfoot on The Strip.
Las Vegas’s KSNV TV recently reported that job fairs by the big casino operators are picking up steam in Las Vegas, signaling that the casinos are preparing for an abrupt turnaround as the vaccination rate reaches critical mass.
Casino owner Derek Stevens recently held a drive-through job fair, making offers to applicants in their cars. Caesar’s Entertainment recently held a job fair virtually. Now people are starting to worry about a possible labor shortage.
People are venturing out on the streets again, tentatively testing the waters. Las Vegas’s First Friday Art Walk and Street Festival was held in person April 2nd, in Las Vegas’s Arts District for the first time in a year.
Sin City is waking up from a long slumber. Vaccinations are bringing freedom back to America. America is ready to party. And where does America go to let it all hang out? Vegas of course.
Access to overseas destinations is still minimal. All signs point to Vegas as the focal point for a tremendous surge of demand.
A Friendly Storm Brewing
The coming surge in demand is indicated by a confluence of factors.
The number of vaccinated Americans is rising by millions every day, and is nearing the threshold where the fear of travel will subside. At that point, the floodgates will open for travelers who have been pent-up for a year to run free.
And Vegas, as the maxi-concentrated distillation of everything American, is exhibiting the trends in more extreme terms than other places. Las Vegas is a bellwether.
Vegas was at the leading edge of the recovery from 9/11. Again, it led the recovery after the crash of 2008 and The Great Recession. Now, after a disaster that dwarfed the other two, Las Vegas is leading the charge as America comes back to life—and Americans start traveling again. And it’s coming back faster than expected.
The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority doesn’t share forward projections, but it does publish its visitor stats. Dry as visitor stats can be, these tell a dramatic story.
In February, the last month that LVCVA has released, visitor numbers jumped 18 percent from the previous month. That’s a big jump, but they were still down 53 percent from the previous February, giving a sense of where things can go. It’s interesting timing, because we seem to be now right on the cusp of the Great Unleashing.
The View from the Street
From the hoteliers, we learn that occupancy for February showed the same tendencies. At a sad 42 percent, February was still 10.4 percentage points higher than January. But it was way down from the 86.8 percent of February 2020.
Year-over-year comparisons are about to turn upside down because February of 2020 was the last month that could be called “pre-pandemic.” Now February 2021 is shaping up to be one of the last months before travel sees a significant bounceback in Las Vegas.
But occupancy figures, as with visitor stats, show us a glimpse of the past. To get a sense of where things are going, we turn to the vacation packagers, who are at the center of the action and probably have their fingers on the pulse more than anyone else.
Patricia Christensen, director of product development for Delta Vacations, told us that while Las Vegas hotels had started to reopen in June 2020, some had to close down again because of the drop-off of midweek business traffic.
The company saw demand slow toward the end of the year, which the managers attributed to rising COVID rates. In January, business started picking up. Then it really spiked in April. All the hotels that Delta Vacations works with in Las Vegas are now open, even midweek, and Patricia Christensen takes that as a sure sign that demand is returning.
We asked Pleasant Holidays what the company is seeing from its overview as a wholesaler of 47 hotels in Las Vegas; including all major brands and the new Virgin Hotel Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment, and MGM Resorts International.
For Pleasant Holidays, there is no doubt about it: Vegas is leading the tourism recovery and it’s getting underway right now.
“Las Vegas ranks number one for Pleasant Holidays’ US destinations measured by traveler volume and hotel room nights in 2021,” said Jack Richards, president and CEO.
By late April, the company’s Las Vegas sales had already exceeded those of the entire year of 2019—and that was a record year for the company.
“We forecast these trends to continue for the remainder of the year as the number of vaccinations continues to increase throughout the country,” said Richards.
“Visitor volume to Las Vegas continues to increase monthly in 2021,” he said, “with more than 1.5 million visitors in February, up 19 percent over January 2021, as airlines continue to add seat capacity, and travelers become more comfortable traveling outside their home state.”
Pleasant Holidays shared four notable trends in its business that shed light on the progress of the recovery.
- The booking window has compressed, with more than 50 percent traveling within 60 days of booking.
- Average length of stay has increased to more than four nights, covering weekends and weekdays.
- Average purchase price is increasing as travelers book suites and larger room categories.
- Summer travel season looks exceptionally strong.
I asked Richards why he thought travelers are choosing Las Vegas now. He was at no loss for reasons.
“The destination is closer to home,” he said, “with no testing requirements, and good flight service from cities throughout the US. Las Vegas can be easily booked online, including flights and accommodations. The destination is one of the most affordable in the US, with attractions, shows and restaurants reopening frequently. We expect the big shows will be open for the summer.”
Place Your Bets
There is plenty more evidence that Las Vegas is about to turn to a steep upward trajectory, indicating where the future of the whole travel industry is headed.
Las Vegas has also been getting good news from Google. An analysis of Google data by the food blog Chefs Pencil showed that Google recorded the highest-ever number of restaurant-related key word searches in March. It was 85 percent higher than the previous March, and also substantially higher than the pre-pandemic months of January and February 2020.
The recovery is not happening at a uniform rate across the country. According to Chefs Pencil, “Southern cities and top tourist destinations like Miami, Las Vegas, and Virginia Beach lead the charts; while places like New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC. continue to see demand below pre-pandemic levels.”
In Google restaurant searches, the top five highest ranking cities in terms of their year-over-year increases were Las Vegas at 85 percent, Memphis (79%), San Antonio (71%) percent, El Paso (67%) percent, and Virginia Beach, Va. (66%).
Restaurant-related searches on Google in March were up 148 percent over the previous March, and up 79 percent and 81 percent respectively over the last pre-pandemic months of January and February 2020.
A Morgan Stanley report on April 5 also helps fill in the gaps after February. It showed Las Vegas occupancy rates in March at around 95 percent, with midweek occupancy rates at around 50-60%, up from 30% in February.
Midweek levels are not expected to get close to pre-pandemic levels until the convention business kicks in again. And there are questions about how much that business will pick up, or if companies will decide they prefer virtual conferences. But my guess is that people are hungering desperately for human face-to-face contact. So, I think it’s unlikely that the more dire predictions about the convention business will materialize.
LVCVA happily announced recently that the city will receive its first large-scale convention on June 1, World of Concrete. When the World of Concrete collides with Planet Vegas, look out!
Jefferies analyst David Katz said that foot traffic on The Strip reached nearly 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels during the last weekend of March.
So there it is. If you need a job, especially if you are handy with a deck of cards, Vegas is hiring.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.