The pandemic hit the hospitality industry hard, Las Vegas innovates to weather the ongoing storm

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Slot machines at the Resorts World Las Vegas. Photo by Jimmy Romo.

A UNLV study found that between March 1 and May 31, 2020, the industry lost approximately $30 billion in revenue. Las Vegas was hit especially hard by this since hospitality employs more people in the metropolitan area than any other industry as of July of this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The hospitality industry was hit particularly hard, which meant hardship for the thousands of Las Vegas residents who work in the industry. Since the start of the pandemic, hotels and casinos have struggled but pushed forward, adapting to the changing conditions that have come with COVID-19. 

The pandemic led to the total number of jobs directly related to tourism in Las Vegas dropping by 32.5 percent in 2020, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

“That’s one of the things we’ve always seen with hospitality is we’re very reliant on people’s discretionary income and their leisure time, so whenever there’s an economic turndown we are usually the first people to see it and the last to recover,” Amanda Belarmino, UNLV assistant professor, said. “But with the COVID-19 pandemic, because of the fear of the infectious disease and all of that, we had to shut down, and there’s never been a point since we’ve had casinos where we’ve had to turn off every single machine.”

The study also found that the most upscale and luxury hotels were hit the hardest economically by the pandemic.

Luxury hotels saw less recovery when compared to their more midscale and lower counterparts. Belarmino said that both the loss of conventions in the pandemic and the economic hardship felt by everyone on an individual level were likely to blame. 

“If you’re traveling for your business or for a convention, usually your business is paying for it,” Belarmino said. “So then they’re more likely to be able to book with the high end properties than with the low price properties.”

Another new challenge for casinos mentioned in the study was additional expenses for cleaning supplies. 

The greater emphasis on cleaning is just one of the many adjustments made by casinos. After reopening they had to continually navigate multiple policy changes and concerns over infection rates.

“It’s always an interesting challenge, right?” Evelynn Pena, special events coordinator for Ceasar’s Entertainment, said, “Because we really don’t know what’s gonna happen. Sometimes we know that the governor is going to be speaking one night so we all pay attention to see what we’re going to be doing or implementing the next few days.”

Pena said they are part of the conversation at times where they know what’s going to happen ahead of time. Having great connections with collateral people, like those that post the signs, having a great supplier for masks and hand sanitizers and everything for the pandemic has been essential.

Pena frequently deals with clientele who are now more “cautious” and “frustrated” due to the changing policies from what they are used to receiving. She also credited her employer for providing her with the tools necessary to navigate the current landscape. This message was echoed by Belarmino when speaking about Las Vegas.

“I think that Las Vegas has done an amazing job at pivoting and making changes on the fly,” Belarmino said. “Some of the things we’ve seen from these hotel operators, anything that’s thrown at them, they’re game, they’ll make it work. Even when we’ve had every other machine turned off. We’ve had those who don’t do housekeeping, do housekeeping, all these different changes. They find ways to adapt to it and so I think that they’ll continue to do that.”

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