As Las Vegas begins recovery, it needs to re-establish itself as a ‘great value’ destination, says former mayor, current Gaming Institute CEO
By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
When the Las Vegas Strip reopens, free parking will return to the Cosmopolitan and all MGM Resorts properties, according to reports.
It is part of a customer-is-king mentality that Nevada’s hospitality industry needs to re-embrace as it begins to dig out of COVID-19 crisis, former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst, a Caesars Board member and CEO of the International Gaming Institute, said on Nevada Newsmakers.
“It certainly has a revenue aspect and I’m sure many people won’t agree with me,” she told host Sam Shad. “But I just believe when you are trying to rebuild the market, you need to go back and re-examine that what may have worked two or three years ago isn’t going to work going forward,” she said.
MGM Resorts broke a long-standing Las Vegas free-parking tradition in January 2016 by imposing parking fees. Realizing the potential revenue, other properties soon followed, including Caesars. Wynn Resorts, however, got rid of its parking fees in April 2019.
Now, Las Vegas needs to get back to when people thought visiting here was a “value,” she said.
“We have to look at how do we make that hospitality experience excellent,” she said. “How do you make people feel we are really happy to have them back? How do we create an environment where the guests know they are appreciated? And some of that is going back (to a time) when Las Vegas was truly a value. People felt that it was a great value to come to the city. And because of that, they come two or three times a year.”
The casinos and other major venues are currently closed amid the COVID-19 shutdown aimed at slowing or stopping the spread of the virus. The lockdown began on March 18, the day after Gov. Steve Sisolak issued an executive order closing nonessential businesses. Several casinos are planning to open in June, although some had hoped to be open for the Memorial Day weekend.
The Gaming Control Board has scheduled a meeting with health officials and casino executives for Tuesday to discuss a potential reopening.
If properties are allowed to reopen, Nevada’s hospitality industry will need time to rebuild, Jones Blackhurst said. Bringing back the Las Vegas economy to pre-COVID-19 levels may take as long as 30 months or 2 1/2 years.
Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis, a leading Nevada economic expert, recently said on Nevada Newsmakers that bringing Las Vegas fully back may take up to three years.
“My point was that to be at the level we were two months ago, it is going to take either to the middle or the end of 2022,” Jones Blackhurst said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t be open and operating, but we are going to have rules, different ways that we need to manage our business. And that alone is going to create some limitations.”
A big factor in Las Vegas’ bounce-back will be getting people comfortable with air travel, Jones Blackhurst said.
Las Vegas is highly dependent on long-distance travel, with 33 percent of visitors in 2019 coming from Eastern, Southern and Midwestern states and 20 percent from international markets, according to BofA Securities data.
“You really have to wait for the air carriers to be back up to capacity,” Jones Blackhurst said. “Remember, 45 million people go through McCarran Airport every year.So until the airlines are bringing that kind of volume back into the city, that will have an impact. And then I think that with foreign travel, you are going to have to earn that trust again.”
Also, people must feel confident they won’t get sick from visiting Las Vegas, she said. Nevada has confirmed 7,166 cases of COVID-19 statewide and 378 related deaths as of Thursday, according to The Associated Press. Ninety-three of those deaths have come in nursing homes. Nevada’s population is 3.08 million.
“I think the public has got to really feel confident when they go out and start to resume normal behavior that they are safe and that the location where they are is safe,” she said “That is going to take some changes, especially for this huge hospitality business like Las Vegas, to get all of those pieces moving in unison.
“Local casinos, both in Nevada and throughout the nation, will see a resurgence before the major properties on The Strip, Jones Blackhurst said. Some in the hospitality industry see local casinos as “training wheels” for The Strip, Shad noted. Jones Blackhurst agreed.
“Local casinos, whether they are in Las Vegas or throughout the United States, you can drive there,” she said. “People are very comfortable there. They (customers) feel like they are known there and so they are not as afraid. Most of the visitors to Las Vegas are tourists, they are coming from somewhere else. And I think that the locals will come back first, just because of the environment.”Jones Blackhurst, however, is confident in the full return of Las Vegas.
“Las Vegas is going to come back,” she said. “People love Las Vegas. Saying Las Vegas is going to go away is like saying Disneyland is going to go away.”
Watch this episode of Nevada Newsmakers.