Las Vegas: Airport sets July record, most international passengers since pre-COVID

August 28, 2023 10:12 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
August 28, 2023 10:12 PM

Las Vegas set a record for the month of July for passengers who traveled through Harry Reid International Airport. On pace for another record year, it prompted one casino consultant to call for speeding up plans for a second airport to keep the tourism dollars flowing.

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A total of 4.94 million passengers went through the airport in July, just behind the second-highest in history at 4.95 million in May and 5.17 million in October 2022. The 290,546 international passengers were the most since the 309,091 in January 2020 prior to the pandemic.

For the year, international travel is 41.4% higher than 2022.

How the air-travel numbers translate to gaming revenues won’t be known until Wednesday when the Nevada Gaming Control Board releases its July numbers. Las Vegas set an all-time record for excessive heat in July that impacted many people, especially locals, from leaving their homes.

Visitation numbers that will be released Wednesday by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority are the accurate depiction of travel to the marketplace. Many locals go on vacation in July to escape the excessive heat, reflected in airport travel numbers.

July’s airport passenger total was 1.7% higher than the 4.86 million in July 2022. The total reflected a 1.1% increase in domestic passengers and a 13.5% increase in international passengers year over year.

For the year, the airport has handled 33 million passengers, 13.5% higher than the 29.1 million through the first seven months of 2022. Of those, 1.82 million were international passengers, up from 1.29 million year over year.

Casino consultant Brendan Bussmann, managing director of B Global, said the numbers will only get better, because there’s still some “room for growth” among international travel.

“It also goes back to the resilience and bounce-back that we’ve seen domestically,” Bussmann said. “People want to come to the world’s capital of sports and entertainment.”

Bussmann said he can’t predict Wednesday’s revenue numbers, but anytime there’s increased air travel, it bodes well for gaming.

Despite the good news of increased air travel, Bussmann said it’s a warning sign that more needs to be done to move forward with plans to build a second airport in the Ivanpah Valley southwest of Las Vegas near Jean.

Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, has said the airport could reach 63 million to 65 million annual passengers around 2030. Harry Reid International Airport served 52.6 million passengers in 2022, surpassing the previous high of 51.5 million in 2019. She noted that the earliest a secondary airport could open is in 2037.

Bussmann considers that too late. The airport will max out at the rate of its current growth well before then, which would prompt delays and increase air fares.

“If you can’t get them in, you can’t put heads in beds,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t have a new airport before 2037. Fourteen years to build a new airport that a decade and a half ago was getting shovel ready is a problem. What happens between 2030 and 2037 when you’re still growing and people can’t afford to come to Vegas? It’s supply and demand. When supply is limited, you increase prices and pricing out some of your key customers.”

Southwest Airlines led the way, handling 1.89 million passengers in July, a 10.3% year-over-year increase. Southwest was followed by Spirit Airlines with 642,512, a 6% decline.

Delta Airlines handled 435,910, a 7.4% increase. American Airlines had 360,157, a 7.9% decrease, while Frontier Airlines had 359,196, a 18.9% decrease. Frontier was the third leading carrier in July 2022.

Air Canada was the leading international carrier, handling 46,516 passengers, an 8.5% increase over July 2022. British Airways handled 24,861, a 40% increase over the 17,788 in July 2022.

Aeromexico was third with 17,479 passengers, a 20.2% increase year over year.