Tourism Slowdown in Las Vegas Headed for Worst Results in Decades  

Posted on: December 30, 2020, 01:14h. 

Last updated on: December 30, 2020, 01:37h.

The number of tourists visiting Las Vegas is on a sluggish pace that could end up as slowest in three decades by year’s end. 

Las Vegas sign
Visitors gather near the iconic Las Vegas sign at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. Tourism numbers have fallen this year during the pandemic. (Image: Time )

In November, 1.514 million people visited the area, bringing the total since the beginning of the year to 17.8 million visitors. This is more than 54.5 percent below the visitation totals for the first 11 months last year, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

With the year drawing to a close, similar low tourism results in December would put the total number of visitors in 2020 at about 19 million. This would be the lowest since 1988. That year, a little more than 17 million visitors went to Las Vegas. 

One year later, in 1989, the Mirage Hotel and Casino opened on the Las Vegas Strip with 3,044 hotel rooms. The Mirage is considered the first megaresort in the Las Vegas Valley. Casino developer Steve Wynn built it and another themed megaresort, Treasure Island, on the west side of the Strip where the Castaways once stood.

Casino Closures

Tourism has been slow since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, when Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) ordered casinos to close. He allowed them to reopen 78 days later, on June 4. 

However, casinos are only operating at 25 percent capacity for now.

With convention business on hold, hotel-casinos have especially had difficultly filling up rooms in the middle of the week. This problem exists even though room rates are lower in general.

Derek Stevens, owner of three hotel-casinos on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, noted on CNBC this week that occupancy from Mondays through Wednesdays has been “soft.”

The area’s midweek occupancy rate in November was 32.4 percent, according to the newspaper. The weekend rate was 55.4 percent. These are the lowest occupancy rates since June.

In response to low consumer demand, several hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip have scaled back on their operations. Some resorts have shuttered their hotel towers during the middle of the week. Others have shut down completely during the slow midweek days.

Airport Traffic Plummets

The slowdown in tourism traffic is evident in arrivals and departures at McCarran International Airport. The airport is south of downtown Las Vegas, near the Tropicana and other hotel-casinos on the Strip.

Airport usage was down 56.7 percent in November, compared to the same month last year. That means 2.4 million fewer travelers used the airport this November than in November 2019.

Overall this year, almost 27 million fewer travelers have made their way through McCarran than in the previous year.

Air travel is an important component to tourism in Las Vegas. With its remote desert location, Las Vegas is at least four hours away by car from the two nearest metropolitan areas, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Daily highway traffic was the one bright spot for tourism indicators in November. Traffic on the highways into Las Vegas was up 0.7 percent, with 116,004 vehicles on the roads each day, according to the Review-Journal.