By a Biometrica staffer
Americans appear to be preparing to flock to Las Vegas this Memorial Day Weekend to kickstart the summer in true pre-Covid style. Authorities in the City of Lights are expecting to have their busiest weekend yet since the onset of the pandemic over a year ago, with data indicating that Vegas is one of the top destinations for hundreds of thousands of Americans looking to travel.
According to official estimates, around 37 million people are expected to travel over the Memorial Day holiday. About 2.5 million of those are expected to travel by air — almost six times higher than did last year. Against this backdrop, Vegas has emerged as the the No. 1 road trip destination this year according to the American Automobile Association, and one of the top flight destinations as well.
The Nevada Department of Transportation is expecting heavy traffic this weekend along the interstate and the Strip, as the city sees an influx of tourists. Meanwhile, occupancy and room rates data also appear to show increased appetite for travel to Vegas.
The relief in this oasis at the center of the Mojave Desert, like rain after a drought, is palpable. Nevada was one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic. Roughly 25% of the state’s jobs are tied to the tourism industry. Last April, unemployment in Nevada hit 28.2%, the worst in the U.S. at that time and the worst in history since national unemployment hit 25% in 1933. Some estimates say that the hospitality industry alone lost around 41% of its jobs, compared to April 2019.
But the encouraging signs of a resurgence have been evident for a couple of months now. McCarran International Airport has seen a steady increase in the number of passengers passing through its doors. In April, 13% more people traveled through McCarran than in March, which itself registered a 60% jump over February numbers.
Hordes of visitors descended upon the Strip’s resorts and casinos during Spring Break and March Madness. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority highlighted robust growth in the city’s visitor volume. The number of visitors in March jumped to 2.23 million, from February’s 1.54 million and January’s 1.29 million. Weekend hotel occupancy rates that same month hit almost 80%.
In March, gambling revenue for Nevada totaled a staggering $1 billion, the highest monthly tally in more than eight years. Earnings on the Strip alone hit $501 million, on par with pre-pandemic monthly levels of $500–$600 million.
Casino resorts in Vegas are now nearly free of all Covid-19 restrictions. Currently, Clark County is operating at 80% capacity, but will be back to a full 100% on June 1, when all coronavirus restrictions will be lifted. Just a few days later, the Las Vegas Convention Center will host its first major convention since March 2020.
Americans as a whole seem to be gearing up for a summer of travel. In April, the U.S. Travel Association forecasted that more than half the population was set to take a trip in the next three months. With international travel still largely constrained by testing requirements and quarantine rules — if not forbidden altogether — domestic travel is set to benefit the most from the upcoming boom.
Across the board, various companies and experts are reporting a dearth of affordable flights and hotel rooms. Multiple airlines say that they are nearing 2019 pre-pandemic levels of operation. Even the rental car industry is seeing an unprecedented number of bookings and queries, as road trips look to be the preferred mode of travel this year.
Experts say there is a heady cocktail of factors driving travel demand. After being isolated for the better part of 18 months, Americans seem to have saved up money and are now itching to spend it on travel. This ideal intersection of people both willing and able to travel has been labeled by some as “revenge travel” or “vaxications.”
The CDC has said that fully vaccinated adults can return to pre-pandemic habits with some significant measure of confidence, as the vaccines are proving to be more effective than anticipated both in protecting people from contracting the virus and from transmitting it. The agency has also green-lit domestic travel, albeit with some protective measures recommended.
This week, the Homeland Security Secretary had to warn travelers about FAA regulations still in place, after an uptick in the number of reports of unruly passengers. Masks are still federally mandated in airports, on public transportation within airports and on the plane itself.
With the nationwide comeback truly underway, industry watchers say that the next step for Vegas is for “big-spending” business travelers to return to the city. Historically, conventions and trade shows have generated tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue for the Las Vegas area. The recovery of the convention and entertainment event industry in Vegas would herald a recovery all across the U.S.