Business Events Impact Soars in Las Vegas


Skift Take

Three recent major industry gatherings showcase how Las Vegas perpetuates long-haul return on investment for itself and meetings groups alike — and why partnering with the airport is a must.

Three recent major industry gatherings showcase how Las Vegas perpetuates long-haul return on investment for itself and meetings groups alike — and why partnering with the airport is a must. 

Over seven days in mid-October 2022, amid other high-octane business events in town, some 40,000 U.S. and international delegates descended on Vegas for a trifecta of industry-leading global trade shows. Meetings industry juggernaut IMEX America and the American Gaming Association’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E), both serial customers, ran concurrently over four days, followed two days later by the return after nine years of the World Route Development Forum, or Routes World.

The mission-critical networking, meetings, and relationship-building at this power trio speak volumes about Las Vegas as the host destination.

“Meetings, gaming, and aviation are among our largest industry sectors, which affirms why organizers partner with Vegas to deliver on their event needs and objectives,” said Lisa Messina, chief sales officer at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “They come here because they trust in our people, consistency, and execution excellence.”

Vegas’s $11.4 billion meetings economy means billions in business. Following our post-show report, IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer deemed the 11th edition of IMEX America’s ongoing Vegas residency a “business-fuelled bounce-back.” Final statistics included 62,000 business meetings between buyers and suppliers and more than 3,300 exhibiting companies from 180-plus countries. More than 4,000 global buyers from 69 countries came well-funded. Most (75 percent) had annual budgets of over $1 million, with 39 percent having spending power of $5 million and above. Many were looking long-term, with RFPs and business being placed out to 2028.

With the $53 billion U.S. commercial gaming market on pace for another record-breaking year, the 22nd annual G2E rolled back strong with 25,000 global attendees. That’s nearly twice as many as 2021 and close to 2019’s total of about 27,000. Exhibitor volume also increased by 42 percent.

While smaller with 2,300-plus attendees, in its 27th year, Routes World has maximum propulsion in making business and other travel possible in the first place.

Las Vegas is Rooted in Routes

Exclusively concerned with global air service route development, Routes, an Informa Markets business based in Manchester, England, connects leaders and key decision makers from airlines, airports, and related stakeholders at global and regional events held throughout the year. At Routes World, members of the global route development community network, meet, negotiate, and decide on new air service routes.

Launched in 1995 in Cannes, France, this annual flagship circled the globe before making its U.S. debut in Las Vegas in 2013. Co-hosted by the LVCVA and then McCarran International Airport (renamed Harry Reid International in 2021, LAS for short), it was the first Routes World to involve a convention and visitor bureau.

“Normally, we work with airports,” stated Simon Parker, managing director of then show organizer UBM Live, since acquired by Informa, at the time. “We want to use this as a model going forward.”

The LVCVA had already defined the standard with what Steve Hill, LVCVA CEO/President calls “a special, if not unique,” partnership with LAS. With aviation sector DNA dating back to the World Congress of Flight, the 1959 event that inaugurated the original Las Vegas Convention Center, the LVCVA pioneered the CVB-airport partnership model in the early 2000s as a way to increase domestic and international air service through a unified selling front.

As the $35 billion economic engine that drives Southern Nevada’s core tourism and meetings industries, LAS is completely synergized with the LVCVA’s perpetual broadening of Las Vegas as a global platform for business and leisure tourism, entertainment, and most recently, an increasingly dominant sports and special events market.

Flight Plans

Recalling the “excitement” of the first Routes World in 2013, the year she was appointed Director of Aviation for Clark County, Rosemary Vassiliadis credits the event with the gateway’s record success since.

“Hosting Routes World in 2013, which also provided the opportunity to showcase our new Terminal 3 and world-class destination, is responsible for our increase in global connectivity, which today includes service from 18 international cities across four continents,” said Vassiliadis, who directs operations at LAS and oversees four other general aviation airports in Southern Nevada. “I am confident that the current show will yield similar results.”

Her optimism is well supported by the data. According to Routes’ independently conducted research, Routes events are a proven catalyst for growing a host destination’s route network. Routes World hosts could expect an additional million-plus passengers through their airport after three years.

LAS has charted remarkable growth since 2013, hitting a record 51.1 million passengers in 2019. In 2021, it was the world’s tenth busiest airport, servicing just under 40 million passengers. According to Hill, it is also the “most recovered,” with 12 new post-pandemic domestic connections and international lift just 15 percent shy of full return.

“Without air service to Las Vegas, Las Vegas would not be what it is today,” stated Hill, whose team and partners are “creating exceptional demand for the airline industry over the next several years.” Drivers include new venues and properties, and most significantly, the return of Formula 1 racing with the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November 2023, followed by the destination’s first Super Bowl in February 2024. “That four-month stretch will be one of the most important periods in the history of Vegas,” Hill said.

From “upgauging,” the switching out of smaller aircraft for bigger birds in response to event-driven and other unique demand, to studying the behavior of traveling sports fans and other new passenger types, Vassiliadis and her team are fueled and ready to meet the critical challenges ahead.

Destinations and Airports Should Work Together

Noting that “the world’s air services are built on partnerships between airlines and airports and the destination they serve,” in his opening remarks, Steven Small, director of events for Routes, called LVCVA and LAS, “The best practice example, arguably best in class, of how a destination and airport should work together to secure and increase air connectivity.” He added, “It’s one of many reasons we brought the global route community back to Las Vegas — a destination synonymous with business.”

While encouraged by “the significant increase of destinations and a wider stakeholder group now involved in the conversation over the past few years,” Small wants to see “even more destinations working with airports to increase air connectivity.”

Those are words to the wise for CVBs yet to make the connection between airlift and putting business heads in beds. Routes World has the highest concentration of senior airline network planners under one roof of any event, with more than 70 percent of airline attendees the sole or joint decision-makers in launching new routes. Over 8,000 meetings are scheduled in advance, with thousands more taking place on-site. These conversations and negotiations have produced more than half (53 percent) of the world’s air services in recent years.

Conversing with delegates around the show floor is akin to a round-the-world business class ticket. From major Asian-Pacific and Middle Eastern airports and European governmental agencies to national tourism agencies and regional CVBs, all are sold on the Routes World value proposition.

“Easily accessible from anywhere around the world, including market access to four billion people within a seven-hour flight radius, Singapore is ideal for business events,” Ivan Tan, group senior vice president of corporate and marketing communications for Singapore Changi Airport, said. “Our MICE industry supports more than 34,000 jobs with an economic value of $2.6 billion. Business travelers are high-yield, spending almost double that of leisure travelers. Hence, investment in airlift and global route connectivity positively impacts the economic development of a city.”

As the seat of the European Union and European Parliament, Brussels is among the continent’s leading conference and congress destinations. “Recovery of business and governmental-related travel supports the Belgian economy,” said Leon Verhallen, director of aviation development at Brussels Airport Company. To that end, “Routes World means 60 to 70 face-to-face meetings and presentations in three days, versus numerous travel days and expenses meeting with airlines individually. It goes without saying that each conversation at Routes World may result in an HQ meeting as a follow-up or next step.”

Affirming that “investing in airline route development can lead to increased flights and visitation to a destination, business events included,” Matthew Yarrow, Virgin Australia’s head of network management, cited several key benefits to attending the show. “Routes World gives us the opportunity to engage with our partners and gain key insights, trends, and data, which is very important in the post-COVID environment. The data and information that airports provide assist in our market analysis and help to identify opportunities. And it is a great way to establish and strengthen relationships with new airports and those we already fly to.”

If LAS has a peer in the airport-CVB union, it is Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). Producing over $37 billion in economic impact each year by connecting people through business and leisure travel, DFW is the second-largest economic driver in Texas and the world’s second-busiest airport.

“At shows like Routes World, we are basically the salespeople representing the North Texas region,” said John Ackerman, executive vice president of global strategy and development. “Being part of a dynamic economy gives us a strong hand. We are successful because the region is successful. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the region grows, we grow, and vice versa.”

Owned by the Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, the airport is closely aligned with Visit Dallas and Visit Fort Worth. “From significantly investing in both to jointly targeting new cities and planning mission trips around the world, those are key relationships for us,” said Ackerman, who sits on the Visit Dallas board. “We also liaise with other area CVBs. The goal is to work together to bring business and other opportunities into North Texas.”

Taking Off For the Future

Representatives from Meet AC, Atlantic City’s CVB, and Atlantic City International Airport were also at the show.

In addition to making a big announcement — in August 2023, Atlantic City is hosting TakeOff North America, the Routes event designed specifically for the domestic air service development community within North America — the delegation came in search of new airline relationships.

“From a meetings standpoint, we’ve long struggled with the lack of airlift,” said Meet AC President and CEO Larry Sieg. “We are a prime drive market but lose out on national business. At Routes World and looking ahead to TakeOff, our goal is to engage with carriers and gain their consideration of expanding service to our airport.”

Delta Airlines and CES, the annual blockbuster tech event that kicks off Vegas’s convention calendar each January, are working together to get the estimated 100,000-plus people in and out of the city for CES 2023. Delta is boosting service to Vegas from 16 U.S. and three international cities. According to the carrier’s website, the nearly 320 new inbound and outbound flights represent an approximately 50 percent seat increase over the regular January schedule for Vegas.

As LAS and the LVCVA jet ahead with an ever-expanding base of fly-in business and event customers, Vassiliadis indicated that “all roads lead to (Las Vegas) needing another commercial airport.” In fact, that process, now in the financial analysis, is moving solidly along and may land on the federal docket as early as next year.

The Routes World takes place next October in Istanbul. For CVBs not yet on board, the ROI is hard to ignore. “As yet another benefit, Routes World’s impact on other tradeshows and events in a given destination is vast,” said Small. “The ease of accessibility to a destination cannot be underestimated in driving event attendance.”

Business travel is coming back slowly. There is also an effort underway to slash visitor visa interview wait times.

For a deeper look into the airline industry, Skift Aviation Forum is being held on November 16, 2022. Click here for details.

Photo credit: Valeriia Neganova / Unsplash