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Las Vegas visitation improving but still not up to 2019 levels

Updated April 28, 2021 - 10:41 am

Visitation showed improvement in March from last year, but the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is now comparing figures with 2019 to measure success.

Southern Nevada showed the highest number of visitors since February 2020, the last month before the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the March closure of casinos for 78 days, the LVCVA said in its monthly tourism report.

The convention authority reported 2.23 million visitors in March of this year, a 44.8 percent increase from February and 45.7 percent more than in March 2020. But compared with March 2019, visitation was down 39.7 percent.

Just about every other tourism indicator showed improvements from February and from March 2020, but they have a long way to go to catch up to March 2019 numbers.

Two categories that still showed weakness were the average daily room rate and revenue per available room. The daily room rate for March was $100.11 compared with $98.03 in February, up 2.1 percent, and $143.77 in March 2020, off 30.4 percent. In March 2019, the average room rate was $133.95, leaving last March down 25.3 percent.

“With travel reduced last March due to the initial shutdown, year-over-year comparisons show a 45 percent increase while a comparison to pre-COVID monthly metrics show visitation down roughly 40 percent,” said Kevin Bagger, vice president of the LVCVA research center.

Once again, there was no convention visitation in March — a goose egg that has remained constant since April 2020. Convention officials are optimistic that will change by June, when the World of Concrete is set to return to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Smaller shows could use LVCVA facilities as early as this month.

The lack of conventioneers has skewed occupancy rates in the city’s resorts, with March occupancy calculated at 55.5 percent, 13.5 points better than February, 15.7 points higher than in March 2020, but off 36 points from March 2019.

A comparison of midweek occupancy versus weekend occupancy explains what the convention center is up against: For March, weekends were at 77.7 percent, up 36.4 points from a year earlier, while midweek occupancy was at 47.8 percent, up just 8.5 points from a year ago.

The LVCVA also reported a big year-over-year jump in vehicle traffic on local highways — evidence that supports the weekly Interstate 15 traffic jams on Sunday afternoons.

Based on Nevada Department of Transportation data, the LVCVA reported traffic on major highways leading to Las Vegas up 49.9 percent to 127,037 vehicles a day over March 2020. The amount was even more dramatic for I-15 traffic, which was recorded at 45,872 vehicles a day in March, up 66.6 percent from March 2020. Those totals are even higher than the March 2019, with traffic up 5.4 percent on all highways and 6.5 percent on I-15.

The Department of Transportation doesn’t distinguish between tourist traffic and local traffic on those highways.

New York-based gaming analyst Joe Greff of J.P. Morgan said Tuesday that for the quarter Southern Nevada visitation was down 39.8 percent to 5.064 million compared with the first quarter of 2020 and down 50.8 percent from the first quarter of 2019.

He said he expects a rebound with casino capacity limits increasing. On March 15, limits were increased from 35 percent to 50 percent of casino capacity, and effective Saturday, capacity will increase to 80 percent.

Clark County officials have indicated that capacity levels would rise to 100 percent as soon as 60 percent of the eligible population has received its first COVID-19 vaccination.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at [email protected] or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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