Gone are the masks, but is Las Vegas finally back? Predictions for Sin City's return as a tourist mecca


LAS VEGAS — Is Las Vegas finally back?

There’s a new sense of optimism on The Strip, as tourists shed their masks and step into casinos where they no longer have to social distance and cover faces.

But is Las Vegas the destination where people are looking to escape again?

The powers that be in Nevada’s tourism industry believe so.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority released a new ad this week pitching the glittering gambling and entertainment mecca as the place cooped up travelers are looking to go to enjoy freedom after 14 months of isolation.

The Reno Gazette Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, talked with insider Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners – the company behind “What happens here, stays here” tasked with getting people back to Las Vegas – and asked him what’s next for this town. The interview has been edited for length and c

Is Vegas back?

People are really, really, really starting to look at travel. There is a sense of “I gotta get away” settling in. We know from our research, that’s what tourists are looking for. They’re looking to escape. They need to escape, and they need to think about, dream about, hope for something that is life again and living again in full color with full sound and changing and wearing fun outfits and doing things they haven’t been able to do. I think Las Vegas offers it right up to them.

What research are you looking at?

Listening on social media is a big one, but we specifically have been tracking for years –– but with a keener eye the last two, three months –– the intent to travel. The intent to travel to Las Vegas. We’re seeing that on a steady climb. We’re beginning to almost reach reach pre-COVID demand. What we need to do is now use that knowledge and then motivate and excite them to actually book it. Their intent is to do it, their intent for Vegas is high. We just need to activate it.

What’s the next landmark for Las Vegas tourism?

A spectacular Fourth of July. The return of live entertainment. The pieces are in place to activate that group that intends to come here and have them book.

Gone are the masks, but is Las Vegas finally back? Predictions for Sin City's return as a tourist mecca

After 14 months of pandemic living, how are you feeling now, being the guy tasked with brining people back to Las Vegas?

Like I’ve got a new lease on life. It’s what I’m seeing. On the Las Vegas Strip right now and throughout Southern Nevada there is a jubilation. There’s an excitement. There’s an energy. The people who were coming here before, they were having fun. They enjoyed being away from their homes and being outside four walls, but it was with some caution. The shows weren’t open and the clubs weren’t open. While it was a great escape from their current situation, it wasn’t the jubilation and excitement Las Vegas is known for. I’m seeing that again. I’m feeling that again.

Where do we go from here?

As we continue to get more comfortable with this horrible virus that’s around us –– especially the people that are vaccinated –– there will be a sense of liberation that is pretty special. One thing to not underestimate is how one’s environment effects one’s intent to travel and how much fun they can have.

Gone are the masks, but is Las Vegas finally back? Predictions for Sin City's return as a tourist mecca

What do you mean by that?

Kids going back to school is normal. Fans back to a baseball park in their hometown is normal. When LA’s numbers go down or Chicago’s numbers go down and their rules begin to ease, the people who live there savor the idea of going to Las Vegas even more. Their comfort level is increasing and their idea of some sense of normalcy begins to reset. The decision to come to Vegas isn’t as complicated and difficult as it was last December, when you had to rationalize a lot. There was a lot of thinking and rationalization that went into the decision. Now I think it’s ‘Let’s go.”

Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network.

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