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Las Vegas Casinos Still a Draw for Thanksgiving Travelers

Las Vegas and Reno remain top regional driving destinations for Thanksgiving travelers in a year that many people choose to remain at home.

An iconic sign welcomes visitors to Las Vegas. This Thanksgiving, many travelers will visit the city despite coronavirus risk. (Image: Heels And Wheels)

“Las Vegas and Reno continue to be a very popular hotel destination for those who feel comfortable taking a trip,” Sergio Avila, a spokesman for the AAA Northern California, Nevada, and Utah, told Casino.org.

The AAA says Las Vegas and Reno were the number one and number two, respectively, most-popular hotel destinations of the area covered by the regional AAA: Arizona, Nevada, Northern California, and Utah. That was based on AAA hotel booking data measured during the first week of November.

Nationally, for those who do travel, this holiday is definitely one for travel by car rather than by air or rail. Based on AAA projections for the US, 95 percent of travel on Thanksgiving Day will be via automobile.

Last month, the AAA predicted some 47.8 million Americans will drive to a holiday destination. Last year, it worked out to 55 million.

The anticipated 10 percent decline in nationwide travel this Thanksgiving makes it the largest one-year decrease in Thanksgiving travel since 2008. That was the year of a major recession, and this year there continues to be increased risk from coronavirus.

But given recent health guidance discouraging people from traveling, the actual number may be smaller. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended Americans do not travel this Thanksgiving.

Recommendation: Stay at Home, Celebrate Virtually

“It is important to remember that travel can increase the risk of COVID-19 infection, and we support the CDC’s recommendations for people to celebrate in small gatherings of people from their own household, or host virtual holiday get-togethers,” said Stephanie Bethel, a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District, to Casino.org. The Washoe County Health District — which includes Reno — agreed: only have people for Thanksgiving who live in the same household.

On top of that, one state has put out guidelines that no more than six people from two households can gather together for the holiday (Oregon). Arrests are possible for violators.

And other states (New York and New Jersey) put the cap at 10. Different rules apply elsewhere.

For those who do travel, there are steps to make the journey more efficient and safer. Hotels and casinos across the country have put into place various health and safety restrictions.

Some are basic, like wearing a face mask (bring one along for everyone in the car), or practicing social distancing.

When getting out of a car for a stop along the way, remember to practice these precautions. Wash hands frequently and bring along some hand sanitizer.

Other safeguards at hotels, casinos, or restaurants go beyond the expected. They may involve closing amenities, large parts of a property, or even an entire venue.

So, the AAA says it is important for travelers to call ahead. Find out what coronavirus-related changes were made at hotels and casinos.

“The wait-and-see approach … continues to impact travel decisions,” Avila added in a statement. He explained that going by car provides “flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

Be forewarned, Wednesday afternoon is expected to have the heaviest congestion on Nevada roads.

“Normally, the Las Vegas Valley is one of the nation’s top travel destinations, especially during holidays, resulting in heavy visitor traffic along the Interstate 15 and resort corridors,” said Tony Illia, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), to Casino.org.

But it’s still unknown what incremental traffic increases are likely during this Thanksgiving Day with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ilia said last week. He cautioned that “added vehicles” are expected on local roads.

“Visitor confidence … seemingly improved since late March, when weekend traffic volumes along Interstate 15 at the California border fell by up to 75 percent,” Ilia recalled. “And while things have slowly rebounded as businesses have adapted and reopened, traffic counts at Primm [a town in Clark County] are still down from historic visitor volumes.”

Many Will Fly This Holiday

Nationally, air travel is still an option for holiday travelers. But the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) only expects to screen 6 million or more travelers during Thanksgiving week, CBS News said.

That is a sharp contrast to 2019. That year, bolstered by a strong economy, a record 26 million Americans boarded a plane for Thanksgiving-related travel.

But TripIt, a travel app, predicted that Las Vegas will be the fourth-most popular destination for Thanksgiving weekend round-trip flights that start somewhere in the US. In 2019, Las Vegas was eighth nationally on the ranking.

Nationally, more travelers on planes plan to extend their holiday visits. Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving are almost as popular nationally to fly as Tuesday and Wednesday (the busiest days before the holiday), TripIt revealed. In addition, 11 percent more travelers will fly home on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend, the study revealed.

For those who do fly into McCarran International Airport this Thanksgiving week, spokesman Joseph Rajchel advises passengers that McCarran has “upped the frequency of our cleaning and sanitizing practices throughout the airport.”

So, while at the airport, he told Casino.org it is required to properly wear a mask (have it cover your mouth and nose), keep at least six feet distance (if possible) from others, and lessen any personal contact, such as by using online check-in and mobile boarding passes, Rajchel said.

In 2019, some 290,000 people visited Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) reported. Hotel occupancy last Thanksgiving totaled 91.5 percent in Las Vegas. In past years, foreigners were among the tourists visiting Las Vegas during the holiday.

But earlier this month, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak told state residents to remain at home. He could announce further restrictions before Thanksgiving.

So it is best to check before driving to The Strip or heading for the airport this Thanksgiving.

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