When I was a kid, the notion of communicating with someone anywhere in the world through a computer seemed like a pretty cool idea. But after conducting so much of my business via a computer screen over the past year, I can say that the futuristic virtual communication utopias of old Hollywood movies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
For many of us, the past year has been a crash course in Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx and countless other virtual meeting platforms. The pandemic made these a necessity, and they were critical for maintaining communication and business activity at a time when in-person meetings were off the table. But as comfortable as we may have become with virtual meeting tools, they just can’t replicate the face-to-face meetings they replaced. Sitting in the same room with someone makes communication more effective, builds trust and just helps us connect on a human level.
The importance of building relationships face to face has been instrumental in the rise of Southern Nevada’s convention and meeting industry. With three of the 10 largest convention centers and more than 12 million square feet of meeting space, Las Vegas has consistently ranked among the nation’s top trade show destinations. In 2019, the city hosted a record 6.6 million convention attendees, and throughout the calendar of a normal year, Las Vegas becomes the epicenter of just about every industry and interest imaginable, whether it is the world of consumer electronics, computer hacking, fashion, construction, furniture or even pizza.
Commitment and continued investment in facilities have helped solidify Southern Nevada’s envious position and, in turn, the convention and meeting segment’s importance to the regional economy. Convention visitors typically spend more per trip than leisure visitors, and they help fill hotel rooms during traditionally slower midweek periods. In 2019, the convention and meeting industry directly supported 43,500 jobs in Southern Nevada, generating $2.0 billion in wages and $6.6 billion in direct economic impact. Considering the additional ripple effect impacts of the industry, those numbers climb to 67,600 jobs, $3.1 billion in wages and $11.4 billion in total economic output.
While hosting conventions and business meetings is beneficial to the Southern Nevada economy, the business that gets done in Las Vegas reverberates beyond the borders of the Silver State. Convention attendees travel to Las Vegas to network with colleagues, scout competitors, learn new skills, find new products, cultivate customers and get business done. Whether on convention floors, in banquet rooms or across restaurant tables, relationships are forged and business deals get closed, and the deals that are consummated in Las Vegas will grow businesses and create jobs across the nation and throughout the world.
The transition to virtual meetings since the pandemic started hasn’t stopped business from getting done, but it has left something to be desired. Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, has noted that a survey of prospective convention attendees showed 91 percent have had their fill of virtual meetings, and 77 percent are looking forward to returning to Las Vegas for in-person meetings. These numbers are welcome news for Southern Nevada’s convention and meeting industry, which has been devastated over the past year due to the pandemic.
The economics are simple. Ask yourself the question: How many new people have I met in the last year? For most of us, that number is likely approaching zero. While that is unsettling socially, it is crippling commercially. Business requires interaction between buyers and sellers, and Las Vegas has long served as a ready conduit.
To be sure, our convention industry will take time to rebuild and recover, but the rapid rise in COVID-19 vaccinations and corresponding drop in cases, hospitalizations and deaths provide the foundation for optimism that the end of the pandemic is near. When the pandemic does end, Southern Nevada is poised to bounce back and again welcome the array of conventions, trade shows and business meetings that have historically filled our annual calendar. The conventions and trade shows that canceled or postponed events over the past year are eager to resume, and the people who fill convention halls and meeting rooms appear eager as well. After a year of virtual meetings, they are ready to move out of cyberspace and return to doing business the old fashioned way – face to face.
Members of the editorial and news staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal were not involved in the creation of this content.