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Las Vegas Facing Historically Low Visitation Numbers In 2020

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Las Vegas is on track for their lowest annual visitation numbers in over 30 years.
  • The expectation is that 2020 will have just over 19 million visitors representing around half of the 2019 total.
  • The last time visitation was this low was 1988–the year before The Mirage opened.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has released visitation data for November and the numbers are as ugly as you can imagine. Visitor volume was down -18.4% from October 2020 and off a whopping -56.8% from November 2019. Total 2020 visitation is down -54.5% compared to the first 11 months of 2019. Assuming that December’s numbers are similar the final number of visitors to Las Vegas should be around or slightly above 19 million. That would be the lowest annual visitation since 1988–the year before The Mirage opened.

The opening of the Mirage is a significant metric as most experts consider this to be the seminal moment in the growth of the city’s gaming and tourism industries. In 1988, 17.2 million visited Las Vegas which was still considered a destination for old people and gambling degenerates. At the time, the population of the Las Vegas metro area was 642,000 and although the city was growing–1988’s population represented a 4.97% increase from 1987–it wasn’t exactly booming. In 2020, Las Vegas is a different world with a metro area population of 2,699,000. Las Vegas’ population grew 3.5% or more every year between 1988 and 2019, grew 3.15% last year and will be at or near 3% this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the size of the population circa 2020 does help to at least somewhat blunt the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Southern Nevada it hasn’t negated the fact that gaming, travel and tourism has taken a seismic hit. November was another month with no tourism visitation whatsoever–the 8th straight month with zero convention activity. In November 2019, conventions brought 603,000 visitors to town. Conventions are crucial for keeping occupancy rates high during the week and there’s no clear indication when at least some events will be able to return.

No matter how you slice it, the visitation numbers are brutal. Hotel room occupancy is a closely watched metric in Las Vegas and within the gaming and tourism industries. The total occupancy percentage for November 2020 was 39.3% and represents a -48.9% drop from November 2019’s 88.2%. Weekend occupancy hasn’t experienced such a severe drop but it’s still pretty bad. November 2020 saw 55.4% of hotel rooms full compared to 94.1% in November 2019. Midweek occupancy in November 2020 was 32.4%, down -52.4% from 2019’s 84.8%. Even more sobering is that the occupancy percentages would be even worse if a number of properties weren’t shuttering their hotels midweek. November 2020 hotel inventory was 141,533 rooms down from 149,459 in November 2019.

Along with convention travel (or the lack thereof) the other major problem for Las Vegas’ tourism exposed businesses is the decline in ‘fly in’ visitors, particularly those from international locations. In November 2019, 1.80 million passengers passed through McCarran International Airport, down -56.8% from November 2019’s 4.17 million. Daily auto traffic from all sources was actually up slightly in November (+0.7%) but traffic on I-15 at the Nevada/California border dropped by -4.9%. Total visitor volume was down -56.8% from November 2019.

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