Visitation rates in Las Vegas have ground to a halt with fewer international travelers arriving at Harry Reed International Airport in April than pre-pandemic levels.
In April, 4.25 million passengers passed through the Reed Gates, down slightly from the 4.27 million passengers count in March, according to Clark County Aviation Department data.
Passenger volume for international travelers remains well below the pre-pandemic influx. Las Vegas Airport registered nearly 200,000 international passengers in April — nearly 40% less than the more than 322,000 passengers who arrived in the same month three years ago, before the COVID pandemic.
“International travel has been delayed for various reasons,” Kate Wake, chief marketing officer for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said during a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security on Tuesday. “The pandemic has caused a lot of unknowns and I think travelers decided to wait and watch.”
In 2019, Las Vegas Airport handled 5.7 million international passengers, which is 15% of all visits, Wake said during the hearing. Data shows that international visits for 2021 were about 20% of pre-pandemic volumes, or just over a million passengers.
“This continues to be one of our top priorities and there is a simple reason for that,” Wik said. “International visitors spend an average of 40% more than domestic visitors. International visits support both the business and leisure sectors for us.”
Total passenger numbers in April approached pre-pandemic levels due to an increase in domestic flights, which were higher than pre-pandemic 2019 levels.
The hearing, hosted by Nevada Representative Dina Titus, examined efforts to improve and encourage international travel to and from the United States. She focused on Department of Homeland Security initiatives to streamline safe travel procedures, enhance workforce recruitment and retention, and protect employees and the mobile public from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we recover from the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we ensure that no tourist or visitor is discouraged from traveling to our country due to processing delays or long waiting times,” Titus said. “Despite lower travel rates due to the pandemic, air travel is seeing a significant comeback, particularly as the summer months approach.”
While itineraries for visits in March were 50% higher than in the same period last year, international travel struggled to scale up despite increased vaccinations and easing travel restrictions around the world.
However, international travel is on an upward trajectory, Titus said. Reed Airport welcomed about 200,000 international air passengers in April, a slight increase from 154,104 passengers in March.
“We must continue to support our travel agencies so that tourists come to our city with positive travel experiences, a sense of confidence in our security procedures, and a desire to visit again,” said Titus.
Titus said Nevada borders major tourist destinations, such as California’s Disneyland and Arizona’s Grand Canyon, giving the state an opportunity to market itself as an additional stop for international tourists exploring the western United States.
During the hearing, California Representative Lu Correa said international travelers remain concerned about US travel because they are not fully aware of updated COVID travel advisories, adding that DHS and its partners need to put together a coherent message campaign to inform tourists internationals.
“What can we do to get the message across that if you are fully vaccinated, you will have no problems coming in or leaving?” Korea asked.
Wik of LVCVA said the agency is actively marketing Las Vegas as a safe and accessible travel destination for international travelers.
The airport recently announced that 16 airlines will begin non-stop services to cities in Mexico, Canada, Panama, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in an effort to increase international travel.
Rosemary Vasiliadis, director of aviation for the Clark County Aviation Department, asked Congress for more funding to increase CBP and TSA staffing levels at US airports to deal with projected growth. It also asked the United States to fully exempt vaccinated air travelers from the requirements for pre-flight testing, which it said would increase the number of international passengers.
Airport officials said airports have taken advantage of new technologies to enhance screening, including “biometrics technology,” adding that the new technology has allowed airports to reduce processing times and meet travel demand. However, officials explained, airports are also facing a shortage of at least 900 US Customs and Border Protection officers through ports of entry.
Nevada’s director of federal security, Karen Burke, said Nevada has experienced the same staffing shortages as other states.
“We are under what would be an ideal amount of workforce,” Burke said. “We have found that our business turnover has increased by more than 25% for a number of months this year. It is going in spurts.”
Las Vegas travel officials emphasized that international travel represents an important segment of the leisure and hospitality economy
“Tourism in the pre-pandemic period provided $36.9 billion in direct economic impact and nearly $64 billion in total economic impact on our economy annually. Las Vegas relies on hiring in the hospitality sector more than any other large metro area in the country,” Wake said.
“When visits are not flowing, it affects the livelihoods of an estimated 2.3 million Las Vegas residents,” Wake added.