The city is in phase with the pandemic protocol: after tourists, come business travelers. Las Vegas is on the cusp of a recovery, but concerns over Delta variants could still spoil the party.
Matthew Parsons, Skift
Las Vegas hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars are expected to welcome an influx of business travelers this fall.
The city has emerged as the most popular destination in the United States for advance flight bookings, according to a business travel agency, amid steadily increasing hotel occupancy rates – despite an order emergency and strict Covid applications in many areas of the state of Nevada.
Las Vegas is currently the number one destination for business flights, with Austin and San Francisco second and third respectively, according to business travel agency TripActions.
Meanwhile, the lounges at McCarran International Airport are the third busiest in the United States, according to data from Collinson’s Priority Pass network, which covers 91% of the 100 busiest airports in the world. The first two are Miami and Dallas-Fort Worth.
“Our booking data shows a recent surge in bookings, as offices reopen, business travelers schedule meetings and events resume in person,” said Danny Finkel, director of travel at TripActions.
However, face masks are currently required in indoor public spaces in much of Nevada, including Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe, although an exception has been made for large events, which instead require attendees to be fully vaccinated. The infection rate is also steadily increasing, with the Delta variant being of particular concern, according to local media.
So what is behind its popularity? Until June, business travelers were in short supply. But then one of the first big trade shows, World of Concrete, took place successfully, and that will have boosted confidence.
More vaccinated employees could also support reservations. Some 92 percent of suppliers (and 88 percent of travel buyers) are fully or partially vaccinated, according to a Global Business Travel Association survey in July.
“Surveys have shown that the majority of business travelers are vaccinated; many have already successfully traveled for pleasure and are ready to resume business travel, ”added Finkel.
Las Vegas was American Express Global Business Travel’s number one business travel destination in 2020, and its data indicates that it will also become one of the most popular destinations this year.
The combination of leisure and business travel could now push Las Vegas hotels closer to October 2019 occupancy figures. They have moved in the right direction in recent months, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Hilton has experienced unprecedented 60% year-over-year growth in the state of Nevada. It has nearly doubled its presence in Las Vegas over the past three years and is the only US destination home to its three luxury brands. As of June 30, 2021, there were 44 Hilton-branded hotels, according to the Skift Daily Lodging Report.
“The convention market will be key to returning to 90% average occupancy rates in Las Vegas,” MGM Resorts CEO William Hornbuckle said earlier this year.
There is also a lot of potential for 2022, as Europe continues to be stuck during the transatlantic stalemate.
“There is such a pent-up demand from people who want to travel,” said Lee Haslett, vice president of global sales for Virgin Atlantic, in an interview. “And we know that, in the same way, there are a lot of Brits who want to go to some of these famous destinations like Orlando, Las Vegas or New York.”
For Gold Medal, the tour operator brand owned by dnata, Las Vegas was the fifth most popular destination booked in July, with the bulk of those trips scheduled for 2022.
For the city to truly recover, reopening transatlantic travel might be the last push it needs. However, an industry source told Skift that its business travel agency is seeing some pharmaceutical companies cancel their own conferences – conferences that were scheduled for Q3 – and go virtual instead.
Vegas may not be back yet.