weather icon Clear

Could pandemic permanently change Las Vegas convention industry?

Updated June 29, 2020 - 11:40 am

At a typical Las Vegas MoneyShow conference in 2019, TastyTrade’s CEO would draw in about 500 people to a room as a speaker. This year, attendance at the trade show nearly doubled.

The only difference? MoneyShows are now online-only.

After dozens of Las Vegas trade shows and conventions had to be postponed or canceled because of COVID-19, organizers have started offering virtual events in their place.

Various organizers and attendees say in-person meetings are irreplaceable, but some experts say the pandemic is sure to change the future of Las Vegas’ $10.5 billion convention industry and make it difficult to match pre-covid attendance levels.

“The nature of the convention business, especially in Las Vegas, is going to be permanently changed,” economist John Restrepo of RCG Economics said.

Moving toward virtual events

The pandemic has made the 2020 convention industry “a wash,” according to Cheryl Butler-Adams, a furloughed senior international corporate travel counselor with BCD Travel.

“You can write off this year,” she said. “Conferences, meetings are going to turn into Zoom meetings or whatever they can do electronically now. There’s going to be a lot of corporate travel that doesn’t get done.”

MoneyShow is one conference that fits the bill. It postponed its May Las Vegas conference to later this year and hosted its first large-scale virtual event last month.

The three-day virtual show began May 11 and aired 65 presentations to more than 13,200 investors and traders. Its in-person shows, meanwhile, typically brought in roughly 5,000 people.

MoneyShow President Aaron West expects online attendance to grow even more as the company continues to push virtual events.

“It’s a really great resource for people to come in for free and watch,” West said. “It gives us an opportunity to get to a much, much larger audience. We’ve got this great content — let’s share it with as many people as we can.”

Ann Marie Cumming, senior vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters, said online events provide access and convenience, both of which are “desperately needed at a time like this.”

Value of in-person events

While the trade show industry sees potential in online-only events, it’s unlikely they will fully replace in-person conventions.

TastyTrade’s Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Moore said virtual events are cheaper and often draw larger crowds, but they’re still no match to face-to-face interactions from the company, which produces original programming focusing on financial information, investment strategies, options trading and the stock market.

“We use these as a way to stay in communication (with customers),” Moore said. “We will always keep in-person events, but what we’ll do going forward is tie in more virtual events.”

MoneyShow said it doesn’t plan to cut its face-to-face conferences — they’re “way too valuable,” West said — but virtual events have cemented a permanent spot in the company’s lineup.

“It’s a great way to supplement your annual calendar,” West said. “Instead of eight conferences a year, we’re now going to be doing 12. Four of those just happen to be online.”

Cumming said the NAB show is already planning its next in-person event in Las Vegas in April 2021.

“There’s no substitute for the in-person experience that live trade shows offer,” she said. “It’s hard to replicate the experience of seeing, feeling and operating a professional camera, microphone or other professional audio or video equipment.”

Various conventions are already gearing up to return to Las Vegas. MoneyShow plans to host a conference at Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas starting Aug. 16 with a limited audience, and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokeswoman Lori Nelson-Kraft said the organization has a “strong convention calendar over the next year.”

Nelson-Kraft said hosting trade shows and meetings are an integral part of filling Las Vegas rooms midweek, when leisure travelers are less likely to visit.

Las Vegas’ convention and meeting segment had a $10.5 billion economic impact in 2018, according to a 2019 report from the LVCVA.

Las Vegas has “more convention space than anywhere else for a reason … they’re very profitable for us, in terms of visitor profiles,” Applied Analysis economist Jeremy Aguero said. “They stay longer. They come on weekdays. They have a tendency to spend more. … They’re a critical component of our overall business model.”

But the convention industry’s rebound is expected to lag behind leisure travel’s, Aguero said.

He expects Las Vegas’ convention and meetings industry to recover within the next 18 to 36 months but said fewer air travel options will make its recovery sluggish.

“It’s lagging somewhere between six and 12 months behind leisure visitation,” Aguero said.

Industry’s recovery

Josh Swissman, founding partner of The Strategy Organization in Las Vegas, said he’s “bullish” that the convention and trade show business will make full recovery in Las Vegas in the long-term.

“There is nothing that can take the place of physically attending a convention,” he said. “Networking, in-person product demos and impromptu breakout face-to-face meetings are important parts of the convention experience that have not translated well in the digital convention ecosystem.”

Some Las Vegas resorts are already looking to grow their meeting and convention footprint.

On June 18, Strip property Sahara Las Vegas announced that it would team up with group sales organization Teneo Hospitality Group to expand its meetings and conventions business. A company statement said the property’s boutique size makes it an “ideal selection” for planners adapting to a post-COVID-19 world.

But Restrepo believes it will take a lot for the industry to get back to pre-COVID levels as operators look to cut costs following the most recent financial downturn.

“There will still be conventions, I think. The biggest ones here in Las Vegas. But maybe companies don’t send as many people,” he said, adding that social distancing guidelines aren’t going away any time soon.

Others, like Swissman, said changes brought out during the pandemic will serve to benefit the local convention and meetings business in the long run, as organizers work to implement new technology and health and safety measures.

“For instance, attendees will be able to participate in future large-scale conventions either in person or virtually, allowing more flexibility and pricing options,” he said. “I also think it will be more acceptable and commonplace for speakers to present virtually in the future.”

Even if the Las Vegas’ convention industry does make major changes after COVID-19, Restrepo said it’ll be able to weather the storm.

“If we can convince people Las Vegas is the safest destination to visit, we should be able to come out of this better than some other communities,” Restrepo said. “But it’s going to be a long haul.”

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
Is Nevada the ‘gold standard’ for casino coronavirus response? - Video
Whenever experts begin comparing gaming jurisdictions, you’re bound to hear the phrase “gold standard” dropped in the conversation. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Resorts World Las Vegas activates 100,000-square-foot LED screen - VIDEO
Resorts World Las Vegas activated its 100,000-square-foot LED screen on its west tower on Independence Day, showing a digital fireworks display. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Station Casinos president dies in watercraft accident - VIDEO
Richard Haskins, president of Red Rock Resorts Inc. and Station Casinos, died Saturday in a watercraft accident in Michigan, according to a statement released by the company. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hockey arena opponents erred in ballot initiative - Video
Opponents of a minor league hockey arena in Henderson collected enough verified signatures to put the disputed project on the November ballot, but then a problem emerged: A procedural error on the petition.
Layoffs at 'The Drew' force staff to sue owner
Rj Business reporter Eli Segall talks about the lawsuit and the future of the unfinished hotel and casino.
Vegas tourists react to mask mandate - VIDEO
Governor Steve Sisolak announced on Wednesday a mandate to wear face masks starting Friday. Down on the Las Vegas Strip tourists reacted on camera to the news. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA #VegasSmart social media campaign brings awareness to wearing a mask - Video
Now that Gov. Steve Sisolak has announced requirements to wear masks in public settings in the state, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will attempt to deliver the message to prospective visitors via their #VegasSmart social media campaign. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada's unemployment crisis - Video
Thousands of jobless workers turned to the state for payments after the COVID-19 shutdown in March. DETR has struggled to handle record claims. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars mandates guests to wear masks
Guests at Caesars Entertainment Corp. properties will be required to wear masks while inside its properties, effective immediately.
MGM Grand and Aria are reopening pool clubs - Video
MGM Grand’s Wet Republic Ultra Pool and Aria’s Liquid Pool Lounge plan to open July 2, according to a Wednesday statement from MGM Resorts International and Hakkasan Group. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Survey shows big reluctance to travel with coronavirus ablaze - VIDEO
Would-be travelers are becoming more pessimistic in their outlook about their safety when they travel. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown's Circa resort will begin taking room reservations Wednesday - Video
Circa developer Derek Stevens confirmed that when the property opens on Oct. 28, persons under the age of 21 won’t be allowed. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa resort will begin taking room reservations - Video
Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa resort will begin taking room reservations on Wednesday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Culinary union expresses concerns about returning to work - Video
The Culinary union expresses its concerns about returning to work and the safety precautions that casinos are taking to ensure the safety of staff.
Bellagio poker room reopens with approval to host six-handed games - Video
The installation of plexiglass dividers between the players gave the Bellagio an edge over the other poker rooms open in Las Vegas. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Westgate reopens after coronavirus shutdown - Video
Jay Kornegay, vice president of Westgate Sportsbook, talks about the reopening of the casino on Thursday, June 18. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Final beam of Circa resort tower moved into place - Video
A crane whisked the final beam in the construction of downtown Las Vegas’ Circa resort property into place Friday morning, June 19, and crews paused momentarily, then continued working to ensure the casino's Oct. 28 opening. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paris Las Vegas reopens - Video
The Paris Las Vegas hotel-casino reopened its doors on June 18 after the statewide shutdown in response to COVID-19. (Mackenzie Behm/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masks required at casino table games in Nevada - Video
The state Gaming Control Board has ordered Nevada casinos to require players and spectators of most casino table and card games to wear protective face coverings.
Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa to open in October - Video
Circa resort-casino’s first five floors are set to open Oct. 28, according to CEO and developer Derek Stevens. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas movie theaters set July reopening date - Video
Las Vegas movie theater reopenings will start Regal, the valley’s largest exhibitor, announced Tuesday that it will reopen its theaters starting July 10, albeit in a modified fashion. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Contractors say they’re owed $36M for work done at Drew Las Vegas - Video
Three months after coronavirus turmoil shut off construction of the Drew Las Vegas, contractors have levied claims for more than $36 million in unpaid bills. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Contractors say they’re owed $36M for work done at Drew Las Vegas
Three months after coronavirus turmoil shut off construction of the Drew Las Vegas, contractors have levied claims for more than $36 million in unpaid bills. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Many Las Vegas guests ignoring COVID-19 protocols
Casinos are putting safety first but many Las Vegas guests are not socially distancing.
As Las Vegas casinos reopen, not every employee is convinced it's safe to go back.
As Las Vegas casinos reopen, some employees aren't convinced it's safe to go back.
1.54M Americans filed for unemployment last week - Video
The U.S. Labor Department released the unemployment numbers on Thursday, June 11. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1.54 Million Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week
1.54 Million Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week. The U.S. Labor Department released the unemployment numbers on Thursday. The number of jobless claims was just below economists' predictions of 1.55 million claims. 1.897 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance the previous week. More than 44 million Americans have filed jobless claims in the past three months. Continuing claims nearly topped 21 million. The numbers follow the May jobs report, which revealed that more than two million jobs were added to the U.S. economy in May. Initial jobless claims continued the gradual downward trend. But it is still hard to square the claims figures with the much more upbeat news on the labor market from May’s Employment Report, Capital Economics, via Yahoo Finance
Visitors return to Las Vegas
Guests returned to Las Vegas casinos throughout the weekend. Casinos reopened on Thursday after being closed for 78 days because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Sisolak tours casino property after reopening - Video
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sandra Morgan, chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, participated in a tour of the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino where they share their first thoughts on casinos reopening. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Treasure Island reboots operations after coronavirus shutdown - Video
When casinos shut down, not only were tourists unseen on the Las Vegas Strip, but jobs were temporarily lost. Treasure Island took the months off to remodel and fix the property, adjusting the casino for COVID-19 norms. Now that they’re open again, management is slowly hiring back staff as guests return. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)