Las Vegas Airport Travel Plummets, Hotel-Casino Occupancy Rates Low 

Posted on: January 29, 2021, 03:19h. 

Last updated on: January 31, 2021, 07:59h.

The number of travelers using the Las Vegas airport continued to decline in December, down more than 60 percent from the same month a year earlier. This coronavirus-related slump in tourism has contributed to low hotel-casino occupancy rates.

McCarran International Airport
With the Las Vegas Strip in the background, a commercial aircraft lands at McCarran International Airport. Las Vegas airport travel is in steep decline. (Image: Pahrump Valley Times)

Last month, McCarran International Airport recorded nearly 1.7 million arriving and departing passengers. This is 60.7 percent below the 4.2 million travelers who used the airport in December 2019, according to the latest figures from the Clark County Department of Aviation.

Overall in 2020, the number of passengers fell by 56.9 percent, compared to 2019. Last year, about 22 million travelers used the airport. In 2019, the passenger total was over 51 million. The city has lost more than 29 million air travelers so far during the pandemic.

The airport is just east of the Las Vegas Strip, near the Tropicana Las Vegas and other hotel-casinos at the southern end of the resort corridor.

In January and February, airport travel at McCarran had been on a record-setting pace, according to an aviation department news release. 

The number of travelers began to tumble after the first coronavirus cases surfaced in March. That month, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) ordered casinos and other businesses statewide to close. In April, the airport had its lowest number of travelers, only 152,716 for the month.

After a 78-day shutdown, the governor permitted casinos to reopen June 4. Some opened right away. Others began operating again over time.

Low Visitor Volume

Because of Las Vegas’ remote desert location, airport travel is seen as important in getting large numbers of visitors to the city. The nearest big metropolitan area, Los Angeles, is at least four hours away by car. Phoenix is about five hours away.

Some tourism officials have expressed hope that a high-speed train from Southern California to Las Vegas will help in boosting tourism numbers. However, construction on a train is not expected to begin until at least the spring.

The 19.03 million people who visited Las Vegas in 2020 was off by 55.2 percent from the previous year, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It also was the lowest number since 1989. That is the year the Mirage Las Vegas was built on the west side of the Strip, sparking a boom in megaresort construction.

Hope on the Horizon

Hotel occupancy rates in December also were low. The weekend rate was 45.4 percent. During the middle of the week, the occupancy rate dropped to 25 percent, the newspaper reported. 

With no conventions or major events in Las Vegas, some casino executives expect midweek occupancy rates to remain soft.

Several hotel-casinos have shut down their entire operations, including the gaming floors and hotel towers, during the middle of the week. Others are closing their hotel towers only during the midweek period. These closures are considered temporary, depending on when visitor volume turns around.

Lower room rates reflect an effort to attract visitors. The average room rate in December was $100.09, or 9.3 percent less than the same month in 2019, the newspaper reported. 

Officials are hopeful that COVID-19 vaccines and the public’s desire to travel will help revitalize the Las Vegas tourism economy.

Rosemary A. Vassiliadis, the aviation department’s director, said she has confidence vaccines “will be a stimulus to air travel.”

We know that there is pent-up demand for this destination, and the airport will be at the forefront of the Las Vegas recovery effort,” she said in the news release.