Will Las Vegas tourism suffer in wake of shooting?
Figuring out how business on the Las Vegas Strip will be affected by Sunday’s mass shooting will have to wait, said the man in charge of promoting Las Vegas.
“It’s really too soon to see anything,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).
The LVCVA is the intergovernmental agency that promotes Las Vegas around the world. It was responsible, along with ad agency R&R Partners, for the “What Stays in Vegas” advertising campaign.
While Las Vegas has overcome challenges stemming from high-rise hotel fires in 1980 and 1981, 9/11 and the Great Recession, it’s never been directly impacted by violence such as the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
“We need to get past the shock and sorrow of the people who have been directly impacted, and we’ll see what we need to do after that,” he said.
Ralenkotter said the city needs to deal with the immediate effects of the tragedy before it can get a sense of whether the shooting will put the brakes on Las Vegas’ economic engine.
The concern, of course, is that tourism will be diminished if people see Las Vegas as unsafe. That concern was voiced by one of Las Vegas’ leading security experts just several months ago.
In March, John Choate, a former Navy SEAL and the executive director of security for the Wynn and Encore, spoke to tourism executives at a monthly meeting of the Las Vegas Hospitality Association.
During his speech, Choate described a conversation he had with Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn in which Wynn asked him what’s the worst thing that could happen to one of his casinos.
“I asked him a question in return. I said, ‘What I want you to imagine is this: Somebody walks into any entrance to any of your hotels and they have, let’s say just a handgun, and all they do is point to the ceiling and shoot six bullets. They don’t aim at anyone in particular, and nobody gets hurt. What is your business like the next day?’
“It becomes a virtually irrecoverable business event,” Choate said, answering his own question. “It’s something that cannot be tolerated.”
Experts say tourists will tolerate a certain amount of risk, whether from acts of violence or natural disasters, and aren’t given to wide generalizations about safety, as might be expected.
Travelers don’t react out of a general sense of fear but carefully assess the chances they will actually be in danger, said Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel, a travel network of more than 750 independent travel agents.
“Any time there are things that occur, there’s a pause that happens or a delay that occurs from the consumer making a decision,” he said. “In most cases, folks realize that it’s usually localized and rare, and travel continues.”
Once they’ve thought about it, he said, the behavior generally falls into three buckets.
“Every traveler is a little different in how they are going to react to any news,” he said. “There’s a certain percentage who would say, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen again so if I was planning to go tomorrow, I still will. Maybe that’s 20 percent of people.”
“Then there’s another 20 percent who will say, ‘Oh my gosh. Look what happened and just not go. They will change their mind. The other 60 percent are people who will look at the situation and say, ‘Hmm, I wonder.”
Koepf’s theories appear to be borne out in Orlando, Fla., where last year 49 people were shot and killed and 58 were wounded in what was then one of the country’s worst mass killings.
Tourism to Orlando bounced back in the wake of the event.
According to the website, Visitorlando.com, the city’s tourism industry experienced “widespread growth during the first half of 2017 when compared to the same timeframe last year. The hotel industry saw increases across all key metrics. Overall attendance at the Orange County Convention Center was up 17.6 percent, and total passenger traffic at Orlando International Airport was up 5.6 percent.”
The LVCVA, which keeps tabs on the competition, said Orlando’s hotel occupancy for 2016 was 75.5 percent, and so far this year (through Aug) was 79.9 percent.