A Korean Airlines plane on the runway at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. (Photo: Harry Reid International Airport)
Visitation rates in Las Vegas have stalled as fewer international travelers arrived at Harry Reid International Airport in April compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In April, 4.25 million travelers passed through Reid’s gates, a slight dip from March’s 4.27 million passenger count, according to data by the Clark County Department of Aviation.
Passenger volume for international travelers is still far below pre-pandemic inflow. The Las Vegas airport tallied about 200,000 international passengers in April—nearly 40% below the more than 322,000 passengers that arrived in the same month three years earlier, prior to the COVID pandemic.
“International travel has lagged for multiple reasons,” said Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Chief Marketing Officer Kate Wik during a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing Tuesday. “The pandemic created a lot of unknowns and I think travelers just decided to wait and see.”
In 2019, the Las Vegas airport received 5.7 million international passengers, accounting for 15% of total visitation, said Wik during the hearing. Data shows that international visitation for 2021 was about 20% of pre-pandemic volumes, or slightly more than 1 million travelers.
“This continues to be one of our top priorities and there is a simple reason why,” said Wik. “International visitors spend 40% more on average than domestic visitors. International visitation supports both business and leisure segments for us.”
Overall passenger counts in April were nearing pre-pandemic levels due to an increase of domestic flights, which were higher than 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
The hearing, hosted by Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, examined efforts to improve and encourage international travel to and from the U.S. It focused on initiatives by the Department of Homeland Security to streamline safe traveling processes, bolster workforce hiring and retention, and protect employees and the traveling public from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we bounce back from the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we ensure no tourist or visitor is discouraged from traveling to our country because of processing delays or long wait times,” said Titus. “Despite low travel rates due to the pandemic, air travel is making a significant comeback, particularly as we approach the summer months.”
While visitation trajectories in March were 50% above what they were the same time last year, international travel has struggled to pick up despite an increase in vaccinations and looser travel restrictions worldwide.
Still, international travel is on an upward trajectory, said Titus. Reid Airport had about 200,000 international air passengers in April, a slight increase from the 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 trust in our security processing, and a desire to come visit again,” said Titus.
Titus said Nevada neighbors major tourism destinations, like Disneyland in California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, giving the state an opportunity to market itself as an additional stop to international tourists exploring the U.S. West.
During the hearing, California Rep. Lou Correa said international travelers were still apprehensive about traveling to the U.S. because they are not fully informed about updated COVID travel guidelines, adding that DHS and its partners need to form a cohesive messaging campaign to inform international tourists.
“What can we do to get the message out that if you’re fully vaccinated, you shouldn’t have issues coming or leaving?” Correa asked.
Wik of the LVCVA said the agency is working to actively market Las Vegas as a safe and accessible travel destination to international travelers.
The airport recently announced that 16 airlines will start nonstop service to cities in Mexico, Canada, Panama, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in an effort to increase international travel.
Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of aviation for the Clark County Department of Aviation, asked Congress to provide more funding to increase CBP and TSA staffing levels at U.S. airports to handle expected growth. She also requested the U.S. to fully exempt vaccinated air travelers from pre-flight testing requirements, which she said would increase international passengers.
Airports have benefited from new technologies to enhance screening, including “biometric technology,” said airport officials, adding that the new tech has allowed airports to decrease processing times and meet travel demand. However, officials made it clear that airports are also facing a shortage of at least 900 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers across ports of entry.
Federal Security Director for the State of Nevada Karen Burke said Nevada has experienced the same staffing shortages as other states.
“We are under what would be an ideal amount of manpower,” said Burke. “We have found that our turnover rate has been up over 25% for a number of months this year. It goes in spurts.”
Las Vegas travel officials emphasized that International travel is an important slice of the leisure and hospitality economy
“Pre-pandemic tourism provided $36.9 billion in direct economic impact and nearly $64 billion in total economic impact per year to our economy. Las Vegas is more dependent on hospitality employment than any other large metro area in the nation,” Wik said.
“When visitation does not flow it affects the livelihood of the estimated 2.3 million residents in Las Vegas,” added Wik.
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