Is Las Vegas returning as a family-friendly destination?

December 16, 2023 12:45 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
December 16, 2023 12:45 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

The post-pandemic upswing of parents with children making Las Vegas a vacation destination hasn’t slowed in 2023. In addition, married people are returning to the city in greater numbers, while Millennial visitation is also increasing.

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These are among the trends captured in the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s third-quarter survey of visitors, part of the annual profile released every March.

One of the bigger surprises, according to Kevin Bagger, vice president of the LVCVA’s research center, is the percentage of visitors under 21 traveling with their families holding steady. That number stood at 5% in 2019 prior to the pandemic, then rose to 21% in 2021 in what Bagger said was likely a reflection of remote work and schooling and families looking to travel together after the onset of the pandemic. It fell to 16% in 2022 and was 16% during the third quarter this year, according to the LVCVA.

“It had hovered at 5% to 8% of visitors who brought kids with them and it’s interesting that it’s remaining as high as it is,” Bagger said. “We know why it bumped up during COVID; people were working virtually, kids were at home during the shutdown, and partially out of necessity, they were traveling more with their kids. Now that schools are back to normal, a large portion of our visitors are still bringing their kids with them.”

Bagger is uncertain whether that’s due to the flexibility of the virtually working parent, calling it an “interesting dynamic” that he’s still assessing. “I expected it to return to pre-COVID levels. I’m curious to see what it does going forward.”

Some industry observers have suggested the trend is here to stay and that Las Vegas is now viewed as more of a non-gambling destination.

“Hotels have invested heavily in non-gaming experiences, which allows families to come and have a great time,” Bagger said. “It’s obviously not our target audience, but Vegas can give people with kids a lot for enjoying their stay.”

Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of B Global, said the numbers show that Las Vegas caters to family, business, and solo travelers. “Look at what Vegas offers now versus pre-pandemic — the Raiders, the Sphere, a ton more concerts, and soon the A’s. People can come here for business and bring their family along. We are one of the few places that can offer everything to everyone.”

Bagger agreed that the rise in sporting events in Las Vegas explains part of the increase: The Raiders relocated from Oakland, the Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup championship last season, the Las Vegas Aces won their second WNBA championship in a row, UNLV hosts the NBA Summer League, and world-class soccer matches are held at Allegiant Stadium.

“That sports has emerged as a major part of the experience in a relatively short period of time has broadened the appeal of Vegas for people with or without kids.”

With plans for the Oakland A’s to build a $1.5 billion stadium on the Strip, family-friendly baseball could increase visitation over summers in the future.

“That will be a new experience to add to the list,” Bagger said. “You’ve had attractions over the years like roller coasters at New York-New York, the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, ziplines, and Area 15. Of course, the pools are fantastic and Vegas has outdoor experiences that you can enjoy if you bring kids.”

Corey Padveen, a partner with t2 Marketing, worked on a study on what could drive family attractions and suggests Las Vegas can be a family destination much like Times Square. He said they didn’t focus on the topic at the time, when Las Vegas lacked sports teams, but they’re now a huge draw, especially for visitors.

“Secondary components — additional non-gambling activities for families — will come from them,” Padveen said. “You can spend a full day in the city, not step foot in a casino, and still find plenty to do.”

Oliver Lovat, president of the Denston Group, said families going on vacation to Las Vegas for baseball and other attractions will continue to grow.

“Not all of the resorts have to cater to families, but there’s a clear market there,” Lovat said. “One of the things we do in this city is meet demand and there’s clearly demand for families and family attractions.”

When people come with their families, they don’t gamble as much as they do on their own, but they spend money on rooms and attractions and at restaurants and bars, Lovat said. “We’re leaving money on the table, which is something Vegas doesn’t do very well.”

The median age of Las Vegas visitors so far in 2023 is 43.7, a jump of three years from 40.7 in 2022. It can be attributed to an increase in Millennials between 27 and 42 and a decline of those in their early 20s. Prior to the pandemic, the median age was 46.2 years, which means older patrons have yet to return in full.

That’s borne out in statistics showing that only 9% of visitors in 2023 are 65 and older, compared to 19% in 2019. It was 6% during the third quarter.

The median age has also risen on the strength of the 40-49 age group, the peak earning and spending segment.
The 21-29 group went from 16% in 2019 to 23% in 2022, but fell to 11% in the third quarter.

That increase in age may also correlate to more married couples coming to Las Vegas, even though it’s still short of 2019 totals, when 73% of visitors were married. It fell to 58% in 2022, while non-married couples, which made up 27% in 2019, rose to 41% in 2022. It’s 35% so far this year.

“During COVID, we had a lot more younger visitors,” Bagger said. “Older travelers, more vulnerable to the pandemic, were holding back. Generally, younger visitors are less likely to be married than older visitors and as we come out of COVID, the mix of visitors is gradually returning.”

Padveen said the casino resort industry has worked to shed the “old notion of Sin City,” while focusing more on being a couples’ and families’ destination.

“The investments aren’t in single-men’s-only, but are being made in a lot of couples-friendly dining, entertainment, and experiential components — great for groups, but ideally catered to married couples,” Padveen said. “For spontaneous travelers, if you look at the huge number of two-income households with no kids coming from California, the easiest thing to do is hop on a plane or drive over and spend the weekend. It’s a nice and easy getaway for a couple.”

Lovat suggested couples are coming to Las Vegas in greater numbers for shows and meals, not to party like single visitors.

Josh Swissmann, founding partner with GMA Consulting, said younger single patrons came to Las Vegas in greater numbers at the start of the pandemic because it was the only entertainment option open at the time and there were good room deals. “Now that everything’s back to normal outside the casino industry and room rates are higher, it puts downward pressure on that younger segment. It’s not quite the value for them.”

The good news, Swissman added, is that the category between 30 and 49 makes up 57% of the visitors in 2023, up from 43% in 2019. Casinos have looked at Millennials as a hard-to-attract and a key customer base to replace Boomers, especially in playing slot machines. “I think that’s exciting, because for a long time, everyone has talked about the best way to future-proof the slot floor, so it appeals to a younger demographic.”

Visitors who gamble increased from 80% during the third quarter of 2022 to 84% in the third quarter of 2023 and the bankroll of $851 is elevated over previous years. It was $591 in 2019, according to the LVCVA.

“We keep an eye on things to look for red or yellow flags and as yet, the snapshot through the third quarter doesn’t show any,” Bagger said. “There’s strong spending. We keep track of news about the economy and whether a recession will emerge and despite economic news that may be negative or ambiguous, this picture shows me the visitor continues to be a strong spender.”

The increased spending can partially be explained by wealthier people coming to Las Vegas in greater numbers. Households with income of $100,000 and above made up 29% of the marketplace in 2019, but rose to 44% in the third quarter after reaching 33% in Q3 2022. In contrast, households earning less than $40,000 made up 16% of visitors in 2019, falling to 6% in this third quarter.

“It used to be you could go to Vegas, stay at a hotel for $35 a night, have a steak dinner for $17, and play $5 blackjack,” Padveen said. “Outside of the Orleans or Palace Station, not too many places that offer $5 blackjack. In most places, you’re lucky to find $15 and your standard is going to be $25. Crap minimums at night can jump to $50. How many people can afford to enjoy the full scope of entertainment when they need to bring $500 to $600 to get any form of fun from their time on the floor? You’re seeing them move off the Strip — if not outside of Las Vegas.”

Bagger said they don’t adjust for inflation, so some of those households could have increased their wealth since the last survey. “We’ll keep an eye on that going forward.”

For now, room rates remain elevated and gaming revenues are strong and continue to set records, but Bagger said there are options for all visitors. “One of the strengths of Vegas is a strong appeal across price points. A lot of product has been added on the higher end, so higher-income people can enjoy themselves at a variety of properties. We’ll keep an eye on whether that mix continues to evolve and change, but these higher-income visitors highlight that we’re providing experiences they enjoy.”

Bagger was thrilled with the high satisfaction numbers reported by tourists in the third quarter at 89%, up from 76% in Q3 2022. It was 94% in 2019. “Visitor satisfaction is basically back at pre-COVID levels. It dipped by Las Vegas standards during COVID and it’s good to see it ramping up.”

Also in the survey, Las Vegas had increased visitation from western states so far in 2023, with 61% making up that total in the third quarter, up from 51% in 2022. Southern California made up 33% of the total, followed by Arizona at 11%, a big jump from 5% in 2022. Eastern states made up 7% in the third quarter, down from 10% a year ago, while Midwest visitors made up 8%, down from 11%, and Southern visitors made up 13%, down from 19%. International visitors ticked up to 12% in the third quarter, up from 10% a year ago, but Bagger said that’s an estimate and is still being calculated.