Las Vegas Convention business starts to pick up

While it will take a workable coronavirus vaccine to return conventions, shows and entertainment to their normal crowd size and boost visitation, Las Vegas has gotten a shot in the arm with the relaxation of standards on how many people can gather at those events.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has amended rules in place since May and increased the number of people that can attend indoor and outdoor events at 250 and at 10% for venues of greater than 2,500.

Resorts have already been hosting meetings of less than 50 people but will now be hosting groups with hundreds of people the rest of 2020 and into 2021.

On the entertainment side, the Piff the Magic Dragon show is returning to the Flamingo Las Vegas on Oct. 29 at a showroom that will accommodate 250 people.

It’s a long way from normal, but at least it shows a much-needed path of recovery after the latest numbers in August showed Las Vegas visitation down 57% year-over-year and occupancy at 43% compared to one in the 90% range.

As Sisolak loosened the rules, MGM Resorts International had already announced its Convene With Confidence safety plan for the return of meetings and conventions, including the use of the more accurate on-site molecular antibody testing in which results are known in 20 minutes.

Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox said his properties plan to use rapid tests to help alleviate people’s fears of COVID-19.

Maddox said if Lionel Richie was performing at the Encore Theater, people could provide a saliva sample at on-site testing centers earlier in the day and those who pass could attend the show. That process applies to conventions as well.

“I see recovery on the other side of this turbulent river, but patiently waiting for the waters to subside is not the most effective approach,” Maddox said in a statement. “Rapid tests and safe zones are the stepping stones we can use to continue to cross this river.”

Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the governor’s “loosening up restrictions on group gatherings was an important first step” for the meeting and convention industry. That doesn’t mean conventions that were originally scheduled in late 2020 will go ahead but the groups are planning for the future.

“The feedback we’re getting is ‘Hey, we want to come back to Las Vegas,’” Nelson-Kraft said. “What they’re doing is because of all the advanced timing that’s needed and other dynamics such as travel restrictions, the economy and how their industry is doing, they’re pushing their shows a little later. They want to make sure we have the stats showing that we’re containing the virus and reducing the spread, and that there’s appetite (to hold conventions) on their end.”

About 70% of meetings and conventions in Las Vegas are 500 people or less so the new rules allow for people to start coming back as soon as they’re ready and for larger shows to begin planning for when restrictions are looser, Nelson-Kraft said.

The governor’s directive allows up to 1,000 attendees by putting them in separate rooms not to exceed 250, Nelson-Kraft said.

There are some smaller shows that may go on by the end of the year at the Convention Center, Nelson-Kraft said. Most of the shows in the first quarter, however, have been pushed into the second, third and fourth quarters, she added.

For example, the World of Concrete in January has moved to June. It was originally set to have 60,000 attendees. The National Association of Broadcasters show in April has been moved to October. It had 100,000 attendees at the 2019 show.

Conventions are vital to Las Vegas. Of the 42.5 million visitors in 2019, some 6.6 million were business travelers and many fill weekday hotel occupancy, Nelson-Kraft said.

Stephanie Glanzer, the chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, said since the reopening in June her resort group has hosted meetings of up to 50 and larger groups that have been broken down to 50 throughout the property.

Glanzer said MGM is piloting the rapid testing protocols this month with some groups to create safe perimeters within the meeting space. People’s phones would allow them access once they tested negative, which can be done daily.

That’s creating confidence in the meeting industry that’s itching to get going again.

“We understand virtual and hybrid is going to be part of our convention world for quite some time, but we’re still seeing groups stay on the books for 2021 right now as we see what the allowable capacity is,” Glanzer said. “I think going to 250 is just the first step where we hope to stabilize to get to a larger gathering size.”

There are groups still set for late January and early February for more than 1,000 people, Glanzer said.

“The good news for 2021 is the impact we have seen from cancellations has stayed in Q1,” Glanzer said. “We have not had any impact for large groups beyond Q1, and the second half of 2021 still looks very strong.”

Glanzer said corporate and association shows are different from consumer events, which have tens of thousands of people, because the corporations and associations have control over safety protocols. Once vaccines start, testing will still be a protocol many events are expected to use for now.

“Testing is going to be a safe solution as we go into the future to bring mass gatherings back,” Glanzer said. “We see testing not only affect our convention business but entertainment and sporting events and bringing people together again.”

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