Reno Outpaces Las Vegas in Pandemic Economic Rebound 

Posted on: March 3, 2021, 01:25h. 

Last updated on: July 5, 2021, 01:23h.

Reno is doing better than Las Vegas in recovering economically from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a published report.

Reno Arch
Vehicles travel beneath the Reno Arch, which spans Virginia Street in downtown Reno. The Northern Nevada city is doing better in rebounding from the pandemic than Las Vegas. (Image: Bicycle Retailer)

With its proximity to large cities and diverse economy, Reno is less dependent on airline passengers and casino jobs in reaching pre-pandemic economic levels, industry experts told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Reno is about 440 miles north of Las Vegas, near Lake Tahoe and the California border. It is only about two hours from Sacramento and three-and-a-half hours from San Francisco.

Located in a remote desert, Las Vegas is farther removed from large metropolitan areas. The nearest major city, Los Angeles, is at least four hours away by car. Phoenix is five hours away.

The proximity we have to Northern California really helps us,” said Charles Harris, president and CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

In January, gaming revenue in Washoe County, where Reno is located, was up 5 percent year-over-year, the newspaper reported. Clark County’s gaming revenue dropped 32 percent during that period. Las Vegas is in Clark County.

Without a large number of conventions and international travelers, Las Vegas has seen a steep slump in visitor volume. During the pandemic, McCarran International Airport has lost more than 30 million arriving and departing passengers compared to the previous year. The airport is at the southeastern end of the Strip near the Tropicana and other hotel-casinos.

Harris noted that Reno benefits from being a regional market.

“We don’t rely as heavy on the international side as a city like Las Vegas does,” he told the newspaper.

Marketing the Outdoors

Reno also has benefited by marketing itself as an outdoor destination, Harris said. 

Nearby Lake Tahoe is viewed as one of the top snow-skiing destinations in the world, even hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. Last month, the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights played a nationally televised regulation game outdoors at Lake Tahoe against the Colorado Avalanche. The Golden Knights normally play home games at T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip near Park MGM.

Harris told the newspaper visitors are “looking for areas that have safe outdoors and outdoor experiences” as in the Reno area.

“While there’s great gaming that we have, the outdoors helps complement that experience,” he said.

Las Vegas’ marketing efforts over the years have focused more on the city’s hotel-casino culture, including a period beginning in the late 1980s when themed megaresorts were marketed as family-friendly destinations.  

Some Las Vegas hotel-casinos now are attempting to carve out niche markets, seeking customers who might want to stay at a smoke-free resort or at properties that only allow adults inside.

Las Vegas ‘Brand Image’

An additional benefit to Reno’s recovery has been the lower percentage of workers employed in the leisure and hospitality industry. In Reno, 15 percent of workers were in that industry before the pandemic. In Las Vegas, it was 28 percent.

That means Las Vegas has been hit harder in the statewide tourism slowdown during the pandemic. In December, unemployment in Reno was 5 percent, compared to 10.4 percent in Las Vegas. The national average was 6.3 percent.

Despite these comparisons, some are hopeful Las Vegas will experience a robust recovery, especially as people feel safe to travel now that vaccinations are taking place.

UNLV’s Amanda Belarmino told the newspaper people have had time to plan where they want to go.

Belarmino is an assistant professor in the college of hospitality.

“I think that Las Vegas has more of a brand image in the mind of the consumer,” she said. “As we see more of a recovery, I think we’ll see Las Vegas gear up faster.”