After recession, Las Vegas’ tourism industry comes full circle

The Las Vegas tourism industry has come full circle since the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings, which intensified the Great Recession.

A Las Vegas marketing campaign image.
A Las Vegas marketing campaign image.

Part of Southern Nevada’s reaction to the economic downturn left in the wake of the financial institution’s demise was a decision to put a needed expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center on hold.

On Sept. 11, four days short of 10 years to the day that Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority voted to put the final pieces in place to start the $935.1 million expansion, which has been on hold for a decade.

“Not only is our project going full steam, but 10,000 hotel rooms are being built in Las Vegas, there’s new meeting space being built by Caesars (Entertainment) and Wynn (Resorts Ltd.), and other projects like the Raiders stadium and the Madison Square Garden Sphere are going on,” said Cathy Tull, the LVCVA’s chief marketing officer.

Tull, who has been with the LVCVA since 2005, has been a part of the strategic planning around the industry’s recovery from the recession.

‘Always changing’

“One of the great things about Las Vegas is that the destination is always changing and there’s always something to talk about,” she said. “It never gets old. You’re never at a loss for what you’re going to do today.”

Many of the policy changes and recovery strategies implemented by the LVCVA were engineered by former CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, who declined to be interviewed.

The early 2000s were a time when the community “was really moving and shaking and going places,” Tull said.

“There was an opportunity to find jobs, there was affordable housing and it was really a city on the move and welcoming, and people were moving here like crazy,” she said.

Some of Southern Nevada’s peak years in tourism metrics occurred then. Local resorts had their best average weekend occupancy rates, 95 percent, in 2004 and 2005. The best-ever overall occupancy rate of 90.4 percent occurred in 2007. That was also the year Clark County had its best casino win in history at $10.9 billion.

Then, the bottom fell out.

In January 2008, the LVCVA began seeing some of the early indications that the tourism economy wasn’t as robust, portending the economic hard times ahead.

Repeat visitation by the city’s most loyal customers started to fall off. The meetings and convention industries were affected. Nevada’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to more than 13 percent.

Obama’s powerful words

It didn’t help in 2009 when then-President Barack Obama, scolding financial institutions and their executives for extravagant spending, invoked Las Vegas in a speech.

“You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime,” he said. A year later, Obama warned families against gambling away college tuition: “You don’t blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you’re trying to save for college,” he said.

Tull said it was clear that Obama didn’t recognize the power of his words. He was roundly criticized at the time by then-Mayor Oscar Goodman, the LVCVA board of directors chairman.

That was a low point and the LVCVA was forced to implement new strategies to get visitors back.

The LVCVA mobilized strategies for domestic and foreign leisure travelers as well as business customers.

Crazy times

One of Tull’s favorite Las Vegas advertisements emerged in one leisure campaign called “Crazy Times Call for Crazy Fun.” It was memorable because the U.S. Postal Service demanded the ad be discontinued in a cease-and-desist letter because it poked fun at postal workers and the post office environment.

“When we were doing our research, people kept saying, ‘It’s just crazy … it’s just a crazy time,’ and they used that word so much,” Tull recalled. “So finally, we did a number of both print and TV ads. One of my favorite ads got a cease-and-desist letter from the U.S. Postal Service.

“You know you’re doing something right when you get a cease-and-desist (letter) from the post office,” she said. “It was that idea that people needed an outlet, they needed a break and they said that they needed to let off a little bit of steam in a responsible way. But they could do that here because there were some great deals happening in Vegas.”

During the tumultuous times, the LVCVA froze salaries and didn’t fill openings when employees left. Unlike local government entities, the LVCVA couldn’t close one day a week because of the nonstop convention schedule. Instead, employees were ordered to take one furlough day per two-week pay period. The end result: Not a single LVCVA employee was laid off during the recession.

Full recovery

A Las Vegas marketing campaign image.
A Las Vegas marketing campaign image.

Today, Tull believes Las Vegas has fully recovered from the recession.

Recent statistics bear that out. In 2016, a record 42.9 million people visited the city. That year, the record 95 percent weekend occupancy rate was matched. In 2017, the city hosted a record number of convention delegates, 6.6 million.

And the biggest indicator will be at the northwest corner of Paradise Road and Convention Center Drive, the site of the planned 1.4 million-square-foot convention center expansion, which includes a 600,000-square-foot exhibition hall.

Due to open in time for the 2021 CES, the new building paves the way for Las Vegas to have the second-largest convention center in North America.

The project will support nearly 14,000 construction jobs and more than 7,800 full-time permanent jobs upon completion, according to the LVCVA. It will generate an additional $2.1 billion in economic activity during construction, with an annual incremental economic impact of $810 million while attracting more than 600,000 additional visitors each year.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

Bellagio, MGM Resorts International’s luxury hotel turns 20
The more than 3,000-room Bellagio hotel is situated on the site of the former Dunes Hotel. The Dunes was imploded in 1993, and construction of the Bellagio started in 1996. It cost $1.6 billion to build, making it the most expensive hotel in the world at the time. The Bellagio was former Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn’s second major casino on the Strip after The Mirage. MGM Resorts International acquired the property from Steve Wynn in 2000. (Tara Mack/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Facial recognition software at G2E – Todd Prince
Shing Tao, CEO of Las Vegas-based Remark Holdings, talks about his facial recognition product. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former NBA player, Shaquille O'Neal, speaks about his new Las Vegas chicken restaurant
Former NBA player, Shaquille O'Neal, speaks about his new Las Vegas chicken restaurant. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Bobby Baldwin to leave MGM
MGM Resorts International executive and professional poker player Bobby Baldwin is set to leave MGM.
Caesars has new armed emergency response teams
Caesars Entertainment Corp. has created armed emergency response teams. They are composed of former military and law enforcement officials. "These teams provide valuable additional security capabilities,” Caesars spokeswoman Jennifer Forkish said. Caesars is hiring Security Saturation Team supervisors, managers and officers, according to LinkedIn. The company did not say how many people it plans to hire for the units. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas, airlines prepare for CES
CES in January is expected to attract more than 180,000 attendees. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
AGS partners with Vegas Golden Knights
AGS is the nation’s second-largest manufacturer of Class II slot machines used primarily in tribal jurisdictions. It announced a marketing partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights NHL team. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lehman Brothers bet big on Las Vegas
Lehman Brothers collapsed 10 years ago, helping send the country into the Great Recession.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Ross & Snow launches in Las Vegas
Luxury shoe brand Ross & Snow has opened in Las Vegas, featuring "functional luxury" with premium shearling footwear. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remote Identification and Drones
DJI vice president of policy and public affairs discusses using remote identification on drones. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Drones and public safety in Nevada
Two representatives in the drone industry discuss UAV's impact on public safety. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Frontier Airlines to launch flights from Las Vegas to Mexico
Frontier, a Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier, will become the first airline in more than a decade to offer international service to Canada and Mexico from Las Vegas when flights to Cancun and Los Cabos begin Dec. 15. (Rick Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses Oct. 1 lawsuits
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren addresses criticism his company has received for filing a lawsuit against the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International opens the doors on MGM Springfield
Massachusetts’ first hotel-casino opens in downtown Springfield. The $960 million MGM Springfield has 252 rooms and 125,000-square-feet of casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International prepares to open MGM Springfield
Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International gave news media and invited guests a preview of the $960 million MGM Springfield casino in Massachusetts. The commonwealth's first resort casino will open Friday, Aug. 24. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A Walk Through Circus Circus
It only takes a short walk through Circus Circus to realize it attracts a demographic like no other casino on the Strip: families with young children. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Morphy Auctions, a vintage slot machines seller, wants gaming license
Vice president Don Grimmer talks about Morphy Auctions at the company's warehouse located at 4520 Arville Street in Las Vegas on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. (Rick Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada's venture capital money doesn't stay in state
Zach Miles, associate vice president for economic development for UNLV, said there’s venture money in Southern Nevada, “but trying to find the right groups to tap into for that money is different.” According to a 2017 report from the Kauffman Foundation, Las Vegas ranked number 34 out of 40 metropolitan areas for growth entrepreneurship, a metric of how much startups grow. With a lack of growing startups in Las Vegas, investment money is being sent outside of state borders. The southwest region of the U.S. received $386 million in funding in the second quarter, with about $25.2 million in Nevada. The San Francisco area alone received about $5.6 billion. (source: CB Insights)
Neon wraps can light up the night for advertising
Vinyl wrap company 5150 Wraps talks about neon wraps, a new technology that the company believes can boost advertising at night. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nevada on the forefront of drone safety
Dr. Chris Walach, senior director of Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, talks to a reporter at NIAS's new Nevada Drone Center for Excellence of Public Safety, located inside the Switch Innevation Center in Las Vegas. K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
Motel 8 on south Strip will become site of hotel-casino
Israeli hoteliers Asher Gabay and Benny Zerah bought Motel 8 on the south Strip for $7.4 million, records show. They plan to bulldoze the property and build a hotel-casino. Motel 8 was built in the 1960s and used to be one of several roadside inns on what's now the south Strip. But it looks out of place today, dwarfed by the towering Mandalay Bay right across the street.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like