Las Vegas Tourism Up, But Unemployment Second in US

Las Vegas tourism lags behind pre-pandemic levels, but is showing month-to-month improvement, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. At the same time, joblessness in Las Vegas remains high.

The iconic Las Vegas sign welcomes visitors at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. The number of tourists visiting the city went up in May. (Image: KUNR)

In May, almost 2.9 million people visited Las Vegas, up 11.9 percent from April. However, the number of visitors last May is 22 percent below the total in May 2019, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. 

Tourism officials use pre-pandemic figures to compare how the area is faring as it recovers from year-long COVID-19 restrictions.

This marks the third month in a row that more than 2 million visitors have made their way to Las Vegas. In March, more than 2.2 million people traveled to the area. That number jumped to 2.57 million in April.

The increase in tourism also is showing up in the number of arriving and departing passengers at McCarran International Airport. The airport is at the southeast end of the Strip, near the Tropicana, MGM Grand, and other major resorts.

In May, 3.5 million passengers used the airport, topping April’s 2.9 million total, according to the Clark County Department of Aviation.

Midweek Vacancies

When COVID-19 cases began to spike in March 2020, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) ordered casinos to close. He allowed them to reopen in June 2020, though several did not begin operating for months after that. Some resorts around the state are still closed.

With the national rollout of vaccinations and stimulus checks earlier this year, tourism to Las Vegas began to increase. Last month, the state lifted capacity restrictions on casinos. Most casino experts believe the visitor volume will climb higher in Las Vegas with the return of international travelers and conventions.

International visitors and convention-goers are seen as vital in filling up the Strip’s massive hotel towers, especially during the slower midweek days. Last year, several resorts closed their hotel rooms during the middle of the week because of lower consumer demand.  

Midweek hotel occupancy in May 2021 was 62.8 percent. That number is 25.3 percentage points lower than in May 2019, the newspaper reported. However, the weekend occupancy rate this May was 87.8 percent, within nine percentage points of May 2019.

High Jobless Rate

Even with an uptick in tourism, the Las Vegas jobless rate remains high.

The Las Vegas unemployment rate of 8.9 percent in May was the second-highest in the nation for metropolitan areas with a population of 1 million or more, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Los Angeles led the nation’s large metropolitan areas in joblessness in May at 9.1 percent.

The Las Vegas figure in May was well-below the unemployment rate of 34.2 percent last year, when COVID-19 infections were on the rise, according to the Wall Street Journal. That was the highest unemployment rate in the nation. 

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.

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