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Las Vegas Airport Travel Slumps, Casinos Test New Concepts to Attract Tourists

Airport travel was down more than 60 percent in Las Vegas last month compared to September 2019. With fewer people flying because of the coronavirus pandemic, casinos are testing new strategies to attract customers.

A sign at McCarran International Airport welcomes travelers to Las Vegas. Airport travel has fallen off since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. (Image: KTNV-TV)

This September, slightly more than 1.7 million passengers made their way through McCarran International Airport, according to recently released figures. That compares to more than 4.3 million in September 2019, a decline of 60.6 percent.

Confronted with this, Southern Nevada casinos are exploring an adults-only concept and other strategies to bring in patrons.

On Wednesday, Circa Resort holds its grand opening on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas as an adults-only property. This is the first hotel-casino built downtown from the ground up in 40 years. No one under age 21 will be allowed on the main property.

One day later, on Thursday, the Cromwell hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip reopens, with a shift in its business model to an adults-only concept.

Like all Nevada casinos, the Cromwell closed at the onset of the coronavirus in March. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), who had ordered the shutdown, allowed casinos to reopen June 4. Some reopened more quickly than others. The Cromwell is the last resort on the Strip to begin operating again.

In late September, Park MGM reopened as the Strip’s first smoke-free resort. NoMad Las Vegas, a luxury hotel on Park MGM’s upper floors, also is smoke-free. The Cosmopolitan hotel-casino has banned smoking in some non-gaming public spaces. It also is on the Strip.

New Concepts

A University of Nevada, Las Vegas faculty member said this effort to target niche markets is not a surprise.

Given the dire outlook of our city’s convention business (and) travel for the foreseeable future, it is not surprising for casino-resorts to shift focus on target markets and try to establish a sustainable business model,” Mehmet Erdem told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He is an associate professor in UNLV’s College of Hospitality.

Gaming historian David G. Schwartz told that others are watching to see if the adults-only concept works. He said the 21-and-over strategy probably is more effective for smaller hotels than megaresorts. Some properties in Las Vegas have 5,000 or more hotel rooms. Circa has 777 rooms. The Cromwell is a boutique hotel-casino with 188 rooms.

Lower Demand at Encore

The slump in tourism has prompted one major resort on the Las Vegas Strip to cut back on the days it will remain open. The Encore hotel-casino is only open from Thursdays at 2 pm until Mondays at noon.

Wynn Resorts, which owns Encore and Wynn Las Vegas, said the new hours were put in place “to match the consistent, lower consumer demand we are experiencing.”

The resort will resume its normal operating hours when consumer demand increases. Encore and Wynn Las Vegas are side-by-side on the Strip, located where the Desert Inn hotel-casino once stood. Wynn Las Vegas has not changed its operating hours.

In a move to build public confidence, local law enforcement agencies have joined forces to quell a recent surge in violence on the Las Vegas Strip. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department calls this effort Operation Persistent Pressure. The Nevada Highway Patrol is assisting in the program.

Larry Henry

Gaming Regulation, Crime, Politics — Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who spent more than 16 years in Nevada, including serving as legislative reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as political editor at the Las Vegas Sun. He's also written about popular culture for the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. As a broadcast journalist, he worked as managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Arkansas, where he now lives and where casino growth is a hot topic. A Marine Corps veteran and LSU graduate, he is also an avid movie fan, especially of classic film noir from the 1940s and ’50s.

View Comments

  • Resort fees are patently unfair. I have never used an "amenity", the resort fee covers. You can not decline the fee. Pay for parking? Are you serious. Vegas was not built on gouging the customer anywhere but on the gambling floor. Those of us who gamble know what we face and we face it willingly. No need to fleece us as we try to get to the floor. I remember the days of shrimp cocktails, cheap eats, and a good gamble on the floor (I am looking at you 6/5 blackjack!). Last time I was there I even saw a triple zero roulette wheel. You will not come back by price gouging and jacking up house edge on games that were good money makers in days past. Look to the past and you will see the road to the future.

  • Bring back Vegas the eloquent and prestigious Vegas
    Get rid of the outrageous room and food prices
    Clean up the streets

  • I'm a regular Vegas visitor and have been to Vegas twice during the pandemic. The type of folks visiting Vegas are not your typical visitors. Fights at the pools, fights on casino floors, fights on the sidewalks, shooting outside the casino, hostage standoff on our floor at Bellagio. It's wretched. Vegas has responded, rightfully, with an increased presence of security and police everywhere, something you almost never see. Until the shows and nice restaurants are in full swing and hotel rates are able to creep back up, Vegas will continue to draw the worst of the worst.

  • They're going to have to start getting back to giving some things away cheap shrimp cocktails -shirts.Tickets. for restaurants
    & Bar they used to -free parking.Game points- No resort fees ! starter bankrolls like $200 chips points and bonuses per game. More comp rooms once players are spending. Cheap flights.They have to entice & make guests feel more wanted .

    They're not in the same position they were 24 months ago They better get back to the basics or they'll be in big trouble real soon

  • The resort fee which is ridiculous could be a contributing factor in why people are not interested in coming. There are many times I’ve thought about coming to Vegas and refrain from doing so why should I pay that ridiculous extra fee for the privilege of staying in Vegas when I can stay outside of Vegas at a nice facility and save that money to have some fun with. Such a simple solution and none of you have figured it out.

  • I'm pleased to see many have stopped charging for parking. However, the exuberant resort fees for features which can't be used such as gyms and pools, and the increased prices for airfare, are some of the reasons I dont visit nearly as often as I used to.

  • I won't go to a casino that allows smoking during the pandemic. Very unsafe. Thinking about trying the new smoke free MGM Park.
    In this day and age, no smoking should be allowed in ANY public place, but ESPECIALLY during pandemic. Can be passed by airborne droplets. And people will remove masks to smoke.

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Larry Henry