By Emilie Fairfield, Nevada Business Magazine, July 1, 2023
“We’ve seen a lot of diversification in the economy throughout the state over the last ten to fifteen years,” said Ben McDonald, senior director of communications and public affairs with the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority. “It’s created a much healthier, vibrant and sustainable economy for the state. But, tourism is still the number one driver for the economy throughout the state.”
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) recorded 38,829,300 visitors in 2022. A rise in gaming numbers in Clark County alone has brought in over a billion dollars each month for over 25 months straight. Convention attendance continues to rebound. It’s not yet reached pre-COVID numbers, but is up by 126 percent. According to the Nevada Resort Association (NRA), the leisure and tourism industry provided over $90 billion dollars in total economic output during 2022. In addition, the industry is looking forward to nearly $23 billion planned capital investments throughout the state.
As the pandemic dwindled, many businesses reinvented branding in response to a vastly different world. Nevada, however, found itself uniquely situated to continue its current tac.
“Happily, I don’t think we had to rebrand because Las Vegas and Reno have always been urban playgrounds, and travelers have been very responsive to that since COVID, said Brenda Scolari, director of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs (NDTCA) and Travel Nevada. “The rest of Nevada has such a wealth of public land to explore outdoor recreation, which is something travelers have also been very responsive to during, and since, COVID. That idea of relaxing and recreating in nature has really been appealing.”
Scolari added, “There has been a trend nationally. The travel sentiment is now that people want to experience places that are authentic and local. Our Nevada communities absolutely have that.”
As the state, country, and world have adjusted post-pandemic, Nevada is uniquely positioned to meet the desire of tourists to authentically engage with nature, local culture, and exploration while still offering the entertainment, foods, and experiences that have made Nevada famous.
Travel Nevada focuses on the continuing development of our state ensuring previous visitors continue to return and new visitors get the chance to experience what we have to offer whether in our urban areas or the many rural options.
With tourism a key factor to Nevada’s success, NDTCA oversees the division of tourism known as Travel Nevada. Through the many resources their office provides, visitors to Nevada are able to identify possible excursions, access resources on how to make those trips a reality and obtain information on lodging and events on the Travel Nevada website. Along with this helpful guidance, they can find road trips across the state with suggested stops along the way or take a quiz directing the viewer to specific resources that might be of interest.
Travel Nevada’s funding derives from the lodging tax. This money in turn goes to the six different regions of Nevada tourism comprised of Cowboy Country, Las Vegas Territory, Nevada Silver Trails, the Pony Express Territory and Reno-Tahoe Territory. According to the Nevada Division of Tourism, nearly 74 percent of this tax goes toward supporting local schools or promoting tourist destinations across the state. Other allocations of lodging tax funds include transportation, economic community development, parks and recreation, arts and culture and the Nevada Division of Tourism.
During the fiscal year of 2022 more than $924 million came into the state through lodging taxes, and a large portion of this was paid by out-of-state visitors. Nevadans are creating an environment in which visitors seek out valuable experiences while supporting the local communities they are visiting.
Tourism and the Legislature
With the tourism industry playing such a large role in Nevada’s economy, the legislature has a tremendous impact on economic development and tourism. The five-month legislative session for the State of Nevada ended last month and closed out Nevada’s 82nd season of legislation.
“It’s been an incredibly busy session. We’ve monitored hundreds of bills that impact the industry,” said Virginia Valentine, director of the Nevada Resort Association. “If you think about the gaming industry as the state’s largest employer, largest taxpayer, largest provider of healthcare benefits, just about everything the legislature does impacts us in one way or another. Everything from service animals to lightbulbs to gaming regulation.”
One bill, AJR5, that passed this session proposed a revision to current regulations on lotteries and the sale of lottery tickets. In the coming years, this could open up the possibility of lottery in a state where gaming has excluded the lottery in the past. While many supported the movement as an opportunity to work alongside gaming in Nevada, the NRA opposed its passing.
“I would say we are disappointed that AJR5 passed. We opposed it,” said Valentine. “Now we have an opportunity to continue to educate lawmakers and the public about the substantial negative economic consequences of a lottery on the state’s economic engine. Unlike the gaming industry, lotteries provide almost no employment and create no economic development or capital investment.”
Proponents argue that the lottery will work hand-in-hand with gaming and also benefit Nevada. The bill is set to return for a second vote during the 2025 legislative session.
As Nevada invites visitors to come for a multitude of entertainment, relaxation, and exploration reasons, gaming continually plays a major role in the state’s development and has hit record highs over the last two years bringing in a total of $14.8 billion dollars last year alone.
Whether this phenomenon is here to stay or simply a result of pent-up demand during COVID is yet to be seen. Regardless, gaming has taken on a steady high.
“I think people are still catching up from time lost during the pandemic, and they want to have fun,” said Valentine. “The casinos were one of the first forms of entertainment to pick back up before movie theaters and other forms of entertainment. So, I think some people maybe tried gaming that hadn’t tried it before, and that’s helped the base grow.”
She added, “It’s going to be difficult to sustain the gaming revenue, the records, month after month, but the [Gaming] Control Board has noted that there have been several recent record setting months in gaming revenue totals, and of course that’s going to lead to some skid comparisons going forward. We think that it will still be healthy, but the percent increases might be reflected in the fact that we are still riding into some recovery and some pent-up demand.”
Southern Nevada welcomed almost 40 million visitors in 2022 according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority (LVCVA). Of these, there were almost 5 million convention delegates who visited, and altogether these visitors had an overall economic impact in Las Vegas of close to $80 billion. Las Vegas visitors spending reached an all-time high of almost $45 billion with spending per visitor of $1,156.
The tourism industry provides southern Nevada with 358,880 jobs generated by visitor spending. This means over $20 billion in wages are paid by the industry. Tourism numbers continue to rise following the dramatic lows of 2020. In 2022, 38.8 million visitors enjoyed Las Vegas nearing the 42.5 million number from 2019 and refreshingly larger than the 19 million of 2020. As of March 2023, visitor volume to Vegas has increased each month compared to 2022, and convention attendance numbers also continue to increase.
Throughout the region several projects are coming down the pipeline. The Las Vegas Loop will provide transportation throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center shortening the time from one end to the other from 25 minutes walking to 2 minutes on the Loop. Another development in the works is the Brightline high speed train between L.A. to Vegas which will provide transportation from one metropolis to the other in about an hour and a half. Other projects in the works include the Formula 1 (F1) Vegas Grand Prix, Fontainebleau, the MSG Sphere, Durango Station, as well as the reimagination of the Mirage.
Northern Nevada with the “Biggest Little City in the World” and Lake Tahoe invites visitors to enjoy the best of both worlds. In the Reno-Tahoe area, tourists can take advantage of rural, urban, and everything in-between. It has been a haven to visitors looking for the combination of authenticity and localness Scolari mentioned.
Dave Peterson, chair of the Reno Tahoe Territory (RTT), said, “We’re about bringing people into this area, engaging with the businesses and, of course, working with community stakeholders.”
RTT works together with destination marketing organizations throughout the state to facilitate the growth of tourism in Nevada by spreading the word through influencers, connecting with travel writers and the media, and through familiarization tours. They also engage with a variety of vendors to help build Nevada’s brand.
“If you were to start in Carson City, in 30 minutes you can be pretty much anywhere to the other destinations like Virginia City, Reno, Sparks, Carson Valley,” said Peterson. “We’re very close to one another. I think that works really well for us as a regional destination because we all offer some different things in and around our respective areas,” said Peterson.
Northern Nevada is looking forward to some new developments soon. The Tahoe Event Center is scheduled to open this fall. “That, I think is going to be a game changer for this whole region,” said Peterson. “Overflow on rooms will come down to the Carson Valley area and Carson City area. It’s kind of a bigger picture piece for us.” Other developments in the area include the just-opened J Resort, work recently completed on the National Bowling Stadium, and the ongoing renovation of the Neon Line District.
The Wild West in 3D
While Las Vegas and the Reno-Tahoe area may be the first places that come to mind when one thinks about tourism in Nevada, the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs is working hard to support rural counties and cities to create their own sustainable plans for welcoming visitors. Federal funds have supported the creation of a new rural tourism project aiding towns in creating their own plans for developing tourism as well as supporting the creation of two adventure centers that will invite people into a quick taste of the outdoor recreation Nevada has to offer.
A project known as The Destination Development Demonstration (3D) seeks to brings funds to Nevada’s rural towns to help the long-term development of tourism in their area. Federal funds were awarded to Nevada through the Department of Commerce Economic Development Authority (EDA). Travel Nevada has selected six communities including Friends of Black Rock/High Rock, White Pine County, Lincoln County, Visit Carson City, Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, and Nevada’s Indian Territory as destinations that will participate in the program during 2023.
Federal funding has also gone toward the development of adventure centers that will give visitors a taste of all the activities available to them. Scolari said, “It was a competitive grant award to build two adventure centers, one in Boulder City and one in Carson City. Those will be facilities that are dedicated to the outdoor recreation experience. We will have staff on site to talk about best practices and to give them information about what’s available in the region. We will also have small businesses on site with us, tour operators, outfitters, a kind of turnkey way to experience the outdoor recreation in the area quickly.”
Innovation and Reinvention
While Nevada has been able to maintain a steady brand, there has certainly been growth in what we have to offer. Valentine remarks on the innovation of a tourism driven state consistently finding new ways to bring people to visit while sending them away happy. “We continue to establish ourselves as the greatest arena on earth with the NFL, the NHL, the WNBA, and now possibly Major League Baseball. Redefining ourselves as the sports capital of the world is driving additional visitation and causing some visitors to stay longer. [In addition], some visitors who weren’t planning to come here [otherwise] come here.”
As the state grows and invites old friends to return, there is also a very intentional move to bring in new visitors. “These new experiences and venues and new kinds of entertainment are all attracting younger customers to Las Vegas,” Valentine continued.
Whether bringing in new visitors, inviting back the existing ones, or simply encouraging Nevadans to take advantage of their own back yard, Nevada continues to offer world-class attractions, entertainment, dining, and so much more. Valentine summed it up. “Over and over again Nevada and Las Vegas and Reno, too, continue to come up with new and innovative ideas and keep it exciting and fresh.”