Las Vegas bets on trade shows to inspire recovery

Next week, thousands of people will descend on Las Vegas, a city synonymous with overindulgence, to watch the cement dry up.

It’s been nearly 40 years since Steve Hill attended his first World of Concrete event, but he’s never been more excited about a trade show than this one. It’s not just about watching the latest mixer trucks or watching concrete finishing competitions; is that WOC 2021 will see conventions return to a city whose economy depends on it and an industry that struggles to replicate its attractions online.

After decades of working in the precast concrete industry, Hill is now CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the body tasked with attracting visitors to the Nevada gambling center and owner of the convention center that will host the show run by Informa. .

Last year, with the coronavirus shutting down casinos and theaters, the total number of Las Vegas visitors dropped 55 percent to 19 million. But while occupancy in the sector has doubled since January to two-thirds of the usual level, LVCVA has recorded conference-goers at zero or “unavailable” each month since April of last year.

This is about to change. Las Vegas removed restrictions on large gatherings on June 1, and with more than 40 percent of the US population fully vaccinated, event organizers who have spent the past 14 months struggling with online conferences feel confident enough to resume in-person trade shows.

“Recovery happened more quickly than we could have imagined or even hoped,” Hill says. With so few international visitors traveling to Las Vegas and the event being pushed back to the construction industry’s busiest time of the year, attendance at WOC 2021 will almost certainly be fewer than the usual 60,000, but it will be the first significant show in a pipeline that Hill describes suddenly. strong.

After using the Las Vegas Convention Center pandemic Downtime to complete the $989 million expansion, Hill’s place is now more leased than ever for this year as of July 1. Planned events range from a nightclub and bar show at the end of this month to the Water Quality Association conference in July.

Each one will be important to Nevada, which estimates that agreements contribute $11.5 billion in a typical year in a state with about $178 billion in GDP, and in its most famous city, where the April unemployment rate was 9 percent. In second place only to Los Angeles is among the 50 largest metropolitan areas.

Line chart of the unemployment rate (%) showing that the Las Vegas labor market has been hit hard by the pandemic

In the pre-pandemic era, Las Vegas could count on leisure travelers to occupy more than 95 percent of most casino weekends, but it relied on convention-goers to keep its 150,000 hotel rooms full seven days a week.

Herve Sedky, CEO of Emerald Events Group, has 90 events planned for August, nearly all of them in Las Vegas. From a pizza fair to a jewelry and antique watch fair, they’ll be attending the largest number of events in the company’s history, he says, even though attendance is competing at a third to a half of the pre-pandemic level.

Las Vegas has followed in the footsteps of Florida and Texas, “which never fully closed,” Sedky notes, and their reopening has encouraged other cities like Chicago and New York to follow suit.

The Javits Center in Manhattan, which bills itself as the busiest convention center in the United States, was converted into a field hospital for Covid-19 patients last spring and recently became the city’s largest vaccination site. But by August, she plans to return to hosting events.

Sedky argues that cities’ eagerness to reopen trade fairs reflects their need to spur economies that have been hit by the pandemic. “More than eighty percent of [our] Clients are small businesses. . . Not having a trade show is a real problem for them. As we think about reopening the economy, it’s important for these companies to start doing business again,” he says.

Organizers such as Informa and Emerald have moved many of their events online in the past year to try to keep this business going, but “virtual fairs frankly don’t yield the kind of value our customers are looking for,” Sedky admits.

He says the media content of the virtual shows has been relatively well received, but “the part about replicating the online trade show floor doesn’t work. It’s terrible.”

Emerald dipped her toe back into the waters of in-person events in January, with a show in Orlando, Florida, for the surfing industry. Attendance was about half what it was before Covid-19, but exhibitors gave it glowing reviews, reporting it brought in big orders.

Sedky admits that the 3,500 buyers who attended “were not happy”: “Their complaints weren’t enough to see.”

Trials like this have allowed the industry to fine-tune safety protocols that will reassure guests who are still concerned about the risk of infection.

Surf Expo had glass screens in the booths, a no-handshake policy and health and safety “ambassadors” implementing a zero-tolerance face mask policy, Sidqi recalls: “We had three people debating whether to wear a mask: We fired them.”

Similarly, Hill’s site introduced contactless registration and would serve food differently, he says, although several nearby casinos have restarted buffets synonymous with Vegas. However, World of Concrete 2021 will not require proof of vaccination from attendees.

The pandemic has affected the finances of many of the industry’s largest companies. Event revenue at RELX, owner of Reed Exhibitions, fell from £1.3 billion to £362 million last year.

But Red He said Last month, the vast majority of its clients rolled over their 2020 bookings to 2021, and in March it attracted nearly 3,000 buyers and 170 exhibitors to the Miami Beach International Jewelery Show — 10 percent above normal levels.

One already emerging pattern is that travel restrictions mean that local offerings in the US and elsewhere work better than those that rely on international visitors.

This dynamic is also driving a faster recovery in the Las Vegas tourism sector, Hill says: With so few Americans traveling abroad, more of them are taking breaks in Las Vegas. He noted that the number of visitors who drive into town to gamble, rather than fly, is now higher than in 2019.

With unemployment still rising in a city disproportionately dependent on visitors, Las Vegas is now stepping up its efforts to lure more of them back by announcing the raucous escape the city has long provoked to gamblers and convention-goers alike.

A new advertising campaign shown on television stations across the US mildly calls on visitors to embrace “the adult freedom that only Las Vegas can provide.”

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