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Las Vegas tourists still love city despite COVID-19 shutdowns

There may be no bigger challenge than marketing Las Vegas as a destination at a time when people are nervous about travel.

It used to be that Las Vegas could sell itself with its wide range of attractions and activities.

For decades, millions of people wanted to see or do something in Southern Nevada, whether it was watching the erupting volcano at The Mirage, being entertained by any number of Cirque du Soleil shows, or having dinner at a restaurant headed by one of the city’s resident celebrity chefs.

Today, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are more reluctant to travel.

Although Las Vegas isn’t what it used to be because of all the precautions that are necessary to keep visitors and casino workers who cater to them safe, tourists are still managing to have a good time.

If you check out a Review-Journal video of some visitors discussing their experience, you’ll find that most of them enjoy themselves when they’re here, but it’s still a little weird having to social distance and wear masks while having fun.

“It’s a very different experience with the distancing requirements having three people at the blackjack tables,” Caitlin from Dallas says in the video.

Rosanna from Peru was frightened by what she was seeing at home and needed to get away to Las Vegas to find some joy.

“I’m scared. And my hands are dry because I have to be washing them and cleaning them all the time,” she said. “I really needed my vacation. I’m so not stressed right now. I’m so happy. Vegas is the happy place to be.”

It seems Las Vegas continues to reign as one of the most desirable destinations in the country despite the fact we have no concert venues open and casinos are required to limit the number of people going inside, according to research commissioned by the travel website Trivago.

Some hotels, including The Mirage, aren’t even open. All have social distancing rules imposed at table games and on slot-machine floors. Some are telling guests they can’t smoke while they play at tables games.

But Trivago research says Las Vegas continues to be a desirable place to go to get away.

During a seven-day span in mid-June, Las Vegas had the highest percentage of travel inquiries among Trivago users, ahead of No. 2 Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and No. 3 Panama City Beach, Florida. It had six times the percentage share of inquiries as Orlando.

But one of the sad realities is that the data is a month old and so much has changed between then and now.

While the data showed Las Vegas as a desirable destination in June, Southern Nevada has now morphed back into a COVID-19 hot spot.

That hasn’t been lost on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which has modified its message to draw visitors from “Hey, we’re open!” to “Be smart when you’re here and wear a mask.”

As one would expect, the LVCVA’s ability to pivot its message has been the envy of destination marketing organizations nationwide. Its “The Light” advertisement showing the Strip illuminating from end to end was well received. Now, the #VegasSmart social media messaging has taken center stage with messages like “House rules … wear a mask” and “#VegasSmart, stay 6 ft. apart.” Las Vegas celebrities are part of the messaging, even though they can’t entertain from their stages.

It’s also sad that new attractions continue to arrive, but whether they’ll be seen is another story.

Allegiant Stadium is just over 10 days away from substantial completion. Will fans of the Raiders get a chance to cheer the team from the new venue? UNLV’s football team, which shares the stadium, already has lost two scheduled games there.

Will Garth Brooks really open the building with a concert on Aug. 22 in a time when gatherings of more than 250 people are prohibited?

The LVCVA’s own West Hall expansion project with its underground people-mover transit system also is nearing completion. Will CES occur there as planned? That show, scheduled for early January, has a huge international presence. Right now, there’s very little international visitation going on anywhere in the United States.

To its credit, the LVCVA has rescheduled six trade shows representing an anticipated 90,750 attendees to retain future business, and it convinced the National Football League to bring the draft to Las Vegas in 2022 after the 2020 event was canceled. It also got a new Las Vegas event — the NFL Pro Bowl — on the calendar for Jan. 31.

It’s clear visitors want to be here for these and other events and activities.

But marketers know it’s more important to emphasize safety.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.


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