Southwest executive predicts strong return to business travel

A Southwest plane takes off from McCarran International Airport on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in ...

As Las Vegas continues to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the key pieces of the puzzle is the return of business travel.

Leisure travel has rebounded, as evidenced by passenger numbers at Harry Reid International Airport. Last week, the airport announced that it started the year with 3.1 million travelers passing through its doors, a 109% increase from the January 2021 total.

Still, that was well below the 4.2 million passengers the airport recorded in January 2020, just before the pandemic began to impact travel, as the business segment lags behind. in relation to leisure travel.

Southwest Airlines, Reid’s busiest carrier, accounted for 1.1 million January travelers, up 119% from a year earlier but still below the 1.3 million travelers in January 2020.

Despite the slow return, Dave Harvey, vice president of the airline’s business travel unit, Southwest Business, said the city is better organized than most to attract those business travelers.

“Even though business has been really depressed over the past two years, Vegas has actually punched above its weight, because even though there haven’t been big meetings of 100,000 people, there have still been a lot medium-sized gatherings,” Harvey said. “These have helped support Vegas better than many other markets.”

There have been several conventions in Las Vegas over the past few months, including SEMA, World of Concrete, and CES. But outside of SEMA, most have not reached pre-pandemic attendance numbers.

This was especially evident last month when the city’s largest annual convention, CES, drew just 40,000 attendees, down 75% from the usual average of around 170,000 attendees.

One possible reason for optimism, Harvey said, is that Las Vegas resorts and convention centers offer on-site COVID testing options, helping attendees be sure it’s a safe environment. .

“Obviously they want people to feel like they’re not taking a risk to get to an event,” he said. “Because you can see the events that take it seriously, you actually see an increase in overall attendance.”

Another reason is that Las Vegas offers many extracurricular activities that companies and their employees can participate in after their work is done. From gaming, nightlife, dining, entertainment and professional sports, business travelers have plenty of options to build their team. Additionally, there are over 150,000 hotel rooms, allowing the city to host multiple events in the same week.

“Everyone knows the ability is here (Las Vegas),” Harvey said. “There’s a lot of excellent air access, south-westerly and many more, non-stop.

“So if people want to get some work done, but get a group together and have fun at the same time, there’s no better place to do it than here,” he added. “Vegas is on a lot of people’s minds.”

With safety measures in place and vaccinations now widely available, confidence is growing among business travelers, Harvey said. As a result, he expects business travel to Las Vegas to approach pre-pandemic levels by next year.

“With the last surge in late December, early January…a lot of the January business was canceled and February definitely softened up,” Harvey said. “But basically in March and beyond, all these events and meetings took place. And those who pulled back in January and February say they can’t wait until January and February 23, so they’re all working to reschedule into any spring open window. The spring is going to be very strong.

“I would say the later in the year your event is, the better chance you have for more normality and a full return.”

Contact Mick Akers at [email protected] or 702-387-2920. To follow @mickakers on Twitter. Send your questions and comments to [email protected]