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Las Vegas convention industry primed for comeback, but will take time

Hesitancy, lack of travel, budget cuts to blame
The Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall expansion totaled $989 million dollars and spans 1.4 million square feet of space.
Posted at 9:25 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 02:48:20-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Conventions and trade shows are primed for a comeback. And that's good news for a lot of people in Las Vegas.

In a normal year, meetings and conventions have an economic impact of more than $11 billion for the Las Vegas area, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

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There is a lot of reason to be excited about the convention industry, including the brand new, $1 billion West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. But after talking with some of the major players in town, the industry could take a while to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

"It has been a very treacherous year, to say the least," said Ashley Lowe, the co-founder and CEO of Convention People, a full-service event management company closely tied to the convention industry in Las Vegas.

Lowe is banking on "normal" returning to Las Vegas, but she acknowledges it may not happen for months.

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"Of course, we wish it could have come back a lot sooner than it is, but there's still a lot of apprehensions happening," said Lowe.

"We're finding that the international travelers are not able to attend some of these shows," she explained. "Also, we're finding that some of the travel budgets for these corporations have been cut in 2021."

Lowe believes the appetite for in-person events is stronger than ever and she points to the isolation of COVID-19.

"I think we had a year full of Zoom fatigue, so to say, and you realize that you don't interact the same through a TV screen or through a computer monitor than you do face-to-face," she said.

"People are excited, people want to be there," Lowe continued. "And the people that are comfortable will be there and they want to be there and they want to interact."

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"I think people are just ready to go, they're ready to get out of town, they're ready to go to whatever event," added Phil Jaynes, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 720. "And if their business has the opportunity where they're going to go to Las Vegas to go to a convention or a trade show, they're going to go."

Jaynes is hoping these shows come back sooner rather than later, especially because the majority of the approximately 3,000 industry employees he represents in Las Vegas are still surviving on unemployment and itching to get back to work.

"They're ready to come back," he said.

"This whole myth about people sitting around because they make more money at home, I'm sure there are some people out there, but when you compare it to the actual numbers of the people who actually want to go back to work and do their jobs. You know, we've been out almost a year and a half. People are biting at the bit to go back to work, in my local," said Jaynes about the union workers he represents.

"The convention industry is vital to Southern Nevada's tourism. So, to not be able to host conventions and trade shows, was a big economic loss for all of Southern Nevada," said Lori Nelson-Kraft, the senior vice president of Communications at LVCVA.

Over the next eight months, the Las Vegas Convention Center will host at least 30 shows, including big names coming back like CES and SEMA.

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"All the large shows want to return, they're excited. They understand it might be a smaller footprint but the significance of getting back to business matters to them," said Nelson-Kraft.

The return of conventions isn't just important for the industry. It brings in a lot of money for the local economy.

"We have 150,000 hotel rooms here. The convention industry alone helps to really fill that midweek hotel occupancy and that's really key," said Nelson-Kraft.

"Convention attendees, their exhibitors, they tend to spend more money than those who are coming for a weekend stay, and so it's a very lucrative proposition," she said.

All eyes are going to be on the Las Vegas Convention Center starting on June 8, when World of Concrete kicks off. It's the first big convention to come back and experts feel like it will be key in easing some of the country's concerns about gathering in person.

If all goes well, it should instill confidence in other conventions and attendees to return to Las Vegas.