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Las Vegas ranked top 5 Thanksgiving getaway despite COVID spike

Despite rising COVID-19 cases and travel advisories in surrounding states, Las Vegas is poised to see some visitors over Thanksgiving weekend.

A November report from travel organizing app TripIt found Las Vegas is the fourth most-popular getaway for the holiday weekend, based on round-trip flights originating within the U.S. Last year, it ranked eighth.

Mehmet Erdem, an associate professor at UNLV’s college of hospitality, said Las Vegas is a tempting “adult playground” destination to many, even during a pandemic. With dining options that fit all budgets, lower room rates and direct flights, Erdem said Las Vegas is an “ideal destination” for many this year.

It’s unclear how rising COVID-19 cases and travel restrictions will impact foot traffic over the holiday, and to what degree.

Record numbers

Cases in Nevada have been trending upward since mid-September. The state set a record Saturday for new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day at 2,269, and the 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases has almost doubled since the start of November. Deaths from the disease reached 1,917 through Monday with 122,097 total cases statewide.

Last week, Gov. Steve Sisolak urged Nevadans to stay at home as much as possible the next two weeks so he would not “be forced to take stronger action.” The “Stay at Home 2.0” period is set to end Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving.

Nevada’s not the only state advising residents to stay home as cases spike. On Friday, California, Oregon and Washington issued travel advisories, recommending those arriving from out of state self-quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival and discouraging out of state travel.

Since Nevada casinos began to reopen in June, more than 700 visitors to the state have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to state data.

Even so, Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s college of hospitality, said many travelers won’t stray from their holiday plans.

“There has been an increase in cases all across the U.S.,” Belarmino said. “So unless the perception that ours is worse (in Nevada), I do not think it will have an impact.”

She also believes some households may choose to travel to Las Vegas rather than joining family in other states to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.

‘For those who can and want to get away’

TripIt’s report shows Las Vegas has became a more popular fly-in destination in 2020, and ranks as the second-most popular hotel city for the holiday based on room bookings, under Orlando.

The report found travelers are looking to escape large, metropolitan cities for destination locations like Las Vegas during the holiday. Denver, Phoenix, Orlando and Los Angeles also made the top five on TripIt’s “most popular destinations” list.

TripIt spokeswoman Kelly Soderlund said Las Vegas’ messaging on strict health and safety policies was likely one reason it’s set to see a boost this year.

Belarmino agreed, and said the city’s open restaurants and entertainments could also draw in traffic, especially from states that have stricter COVID-19 restrictions.

“(Open amenities are) allowing people to have a festive holiday here,” she said. “There’s not a lot of locations you feel you can get away from it all.”

Spokespeople for Caesars Entertainment Inc. and MGM Resorts International declined to comment on anticipated business levels over the holiday. Spokespeople for Wynn Resorts Ltd., Las Vegas Sands Corp., Red Rock Resorts Inc. and Boyd Gaming Corp. did not respond to requests for comment.

An ‘especially difficult’ holiday season

Room rates tracked on Hotels.com indicate less demand among travelers over Thanksgiving weekend compared to other 2020 holidays.

A stay at the Strat starts at $64 Friday night, while Wynn Las Vegas rates begin at $279. In comparison, rates for the two properties the Saturday of Labor Day weekend were $224 and $359, respectively.

A Thursday report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association found seven out of every 10 Americans are unlikely to travel for the holidays this year.

“This holiday season will be an especially difficult time for all Americans, and our industry is no exception” Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said in the report. “Fewer people will be traveling, and business travel remains nearly non-existent.”

AAA Nevada anticipates a 10 percent decrease in travel nationwide, marking the largest one-year decrease in anticipated traffic volume since the 2008 Great Recession.

Erdem said rising COVID-19 cases and travel advisories could lead to cancellations, but expects many will also ignore the travel advisories.

Lori Nelson-Kraft, spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said Las Vegas has “always been a popular travel destination for long holiday weekends.”

“The combination of resorts offering the most stringent COVID health and safety measures coupled with popular attractions and offerings, help to make Las Vegas a desirable travel location for those who can and want to get away,” she said.

Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said visitors should feel confident in Nevada’s resorts, “given the multitude of precautions and regulations and the daily inspections taking place.”

More time away

TripIt data shows that that those who do visit Las Vegas for Thanksgiving this year will be staying longer, a potential boon to the city’s economy.

Last year, roughly 290,000 people visited Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, according to the LVCVA. The average hotel occupancy was 91.5 percent, and visitors had a total economic impact of $374.1 million.

Twenty-nine percent of travelers vacationed four to seven days in 2019, and 4 percent stayed more than a week. This year, those numbers climbed to 35 percent and 8 percent, respectively, according to TripIt.

A growing number are also booking weeks-long Thanksgiving trips. This year, 3 percent of all Thanksgiving flyers are staying through to 2021, compared to 1 percent in 2019, according to TripIt.

Soderlund said there are a number of reasons travelers are extending their trips this year.

Longer vacations could give travelers the ability to work around quarantining requirements. Additionally, many travelers have gained more flexibility around their schedules since the onset of the pandemic and work-from-home measures.

“People have more time,” Soderlund said. “They’re not as confined to a physical location now with school or work. If you have kids, you don’t have to be at school. It doesn’t matter if you leave (for vacation) a bit early.”

Soderlund said the report’s findings fall into recent travel trends, in which people take fewer, longer vacations.

“We really think that people are traveling with intention,” she said. “They’re going to get the most out of their travel if they’re going to go somewhere.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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