Enough visitors are expected to pour into Las Vegas for New Year’s celebrations to temporarily move the city and surrounding communities up five spots on U.S. metropolitan population rankings.
Las Vegas is currently the 28th-largest metro area in the country, with a population of more than 2.2 million, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
An estimated 318,000 people — more than the population of St. Louis — are expected to descend on the valley to ring in 2019. If census-takers could quickly count all those temporary residents, Las Vegas would would rank 23rd — surpassing the populations of the Sacramento, California; Pittsburgh; Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and Portland, Oregon, metro areas.
Las Vegas was built for this kind of influx, according to Robert Lang, an urban affairs expert and executive director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV.
“The city’s bigger than it would appear to be just based on population,” he said.
It’s all part of being a tourism-focused economy. Las Vegas punches above its weight class in terms of hotel space, dining, road space and infrastructure, he said.
“Mass transit is the one undercapacity, but other than that, everything else is built to scale to handle this,” he said.
The only other city that comes close to being able to manage such a flood of short-term visitors in close quarters is Orlando, because it is also geared toward tourism, he said.
Having hundreds of thousands of visitors requires major planning for public safety agencies.
This year, Las Vegas police will have more than 1,500 officers on the Strip and Fremont Street for New Year’s Eve. Officers will be joined by members of the Nevada National Guard and FBI. The Nevada Highway Patrol will also be out in full force to protect the roads during holiday celebrations, agency spokesman Jason Buratczuk said.
McCarran International Airport is meticulously planning for the mass influx and exodus of travelers by using passenger volume projections to determine staffing, spokeswoman Christine Crews said Friday. It’s not a new process for officials, and it’s what sets McCarran apart from other airports in the country, she said.
“It’s kind of our bread and butter,” she said. “It’s how we’re used to operating.”
Between Friday and Jan. 2, the airport is expecting 760,000 arriving and departing passengers to pass through.