LAS VEGAS – It’s hard to tell if this neon-tinted gambling and entertainment destination will ever be the same after COVID-19.
Rooms are cheap. But will we flash back to pre-pandemic rates?
The Raiders are in Southern Nevada now. But can sports books buoy tourism through the pandemic?
When will shows return to The Strip?
The USA TODAY Network talked with Las Vegas insider Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners – the company behind “What happens here, stays here” tasked with getting people to come back to Las Vegas – and asked him what’s next for this town.
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Will Vegas return to form?
Vassiliadis: It’s hard to say we’re returning to form until there’s some kind of entertainment – some expanded offering on the entertainment side. Corporate meetings, gatherings and small group meetings will need to be a first step toward conventions coming back. Being able to open up for some of those events is going to be important.
How do you market Vegas during a pandemic?
Vassiliadis: The marketing of Vegas is dealing with the issue of the moment. We’re trying to project the best we can, but long-range planning is tomorrow in many cases. How do we keep the brand whole? What can we do to incrementally bump the number from 130,000 to 150,000 visitors? Or from 90,000 to 110,000. What can we do to drive mid-week traffic? All within the restrictions we have. How do we present Las Vegas in a “yeah, I want to go there” way despite the fact that many visitors know that right now we don’t have shows, we don’t have entertainment, there’s limited capacity.
The key to Vegas for 25 or 30 years at least is the idea that we’re an escape. If you don’t want to sit at home and watch three days of nonstop COVID and wildfire coverage – it’s not that you’re irresponsible, it’s not that you don’t care – but everybody needs to escape for a few days. Even through we can’t give you shows, we can give you world class hotel rooms, everything is clean, we have wonderful swimming pools and restaurant options, and we’re still the mecca of gaming.
Has the return of professional sports helped?
Vassiliadis: The one thing we know about sports and Vegas is that people come here to be around games. There are more people here for the Super Bowl than at the Super Bowl site. In the old days of boxing, only a couple thousand people could fit into the arena, and yet there were tens of thousands here to be around the fight.
The sports books looked pretty good on Sunday for the opening of football season. Seems like almost all the properties did social distancing in the sports books, but it was pretty active and seemed pretty exciting. People like being here for the energy of sports. They meet their buddies here. That’s been historically true, and that’s what some of the research says is true. We’re marketing that side of it. You can’t go into most stadiums anyway, so why not come to Vegas?
Watch Las Vegas’ latest “Game Day” commercial:
Will Vegas room rates start to climb?
Vassiliadis: A number of properties are looking to raise room rates, because we’re getting three or four guys packing themselves into a single room. There are a lot of issues with that. I think resorts are trying to upgrade the properties again, looking at yield management more than raw volume.
Will shows return to The Strip anytime soon?
Vassiliadis: It’s a week-by-week thing. The good news is Nevada and Clark County’s COVID-19 numbers have been steadily going in the right direction. Our hospitalizations and positivity rates are down. The governor and a lot of our leaders are anxious to open more of the destination. If this trend continues, if we don’t see some sort of spike from Labor Day, I think we’ll see stuff open in the next three, four weeks. I especially think some of the properties are looking at doing some outdoor entertainment, which is obviously a lot safer. The weather here is beginning to get very conducive to that kind of thing. We should have a nice two to two-and-a-half month run of things we can do very comfortably outdoors and with limited capacity. All of that is being examined and – I dare say – planned. The policymakers are waiting for that moment to say, “OK, these numbers are at a stable place, let’s do a few things.”
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity)
Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network. Do you care about democracy? Then support local journalism by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal right here.