This story originally appeared in Vegas Inc. by Bryan Horwath.
One of the top tourism officials in Las Vegas says the city might be in a renaissance that rivals — or exceeds — the boom it witnessed during the late 1990s.
Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said what he sees now in the city reminds of a period from about 25 years ago.
“We had a (resort) opening about every year from 1996 trough 1999,” Hill said during the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce’s “Preview Las Vegas” at Allegiant Stadium. “It just felt like we were the place to be. We kind of stood out in the late 1990s. Now, Vegas is the top choice for people in the areas of tourism, entertainment, hospitality, sports and transportation to invest their money.”
During the dot-com boom in the 1990s, as Hill pointed out, Las Vegas was expanding with a plethora of new resort openings, including Luxor, Excalibur, the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay.
Then came the terrorists attacks of 9/11, which quickly led to a drastic downturn in air travel and an overall recession in the United States.
Since then, Las Vegas, a city that relies on tourism dollars, has gone through a handful of down periods caused by various events, including the Great Recession in 2009, the 2017 mass shooting on the south end of the Strip, and the global coronavirus pandemic.
With recent resort openings — Resorts World and Circa Las Vegas — and with the success of the $2 billion home for the Las Vegas Raiders, leading the way, Hill and others think the city could be in the midst of a new golden age.
The recent announcement that the NFL’s Super Bowl will be in Las Vegas in 2024 seems to have stoked the idea that the city and region are on a big upswing. There’s also talk of a Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer team eventually coming to Las Vegas.
“Those teams, leagues and events want to be here,” Hill said. “People are seeing the financial opportunity and they’re investing here. It’s the first place they’re turning. It’s a hard position for a city to get into, but it’s a real opportunity for the business community here.”
Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of local advertising firm R&R Partners, said the city has the same momentum that was seen in the 1990s
“We’re reinventing,” Vassiliadis said. “It feels like the 90s. We reinvented this destination three or four times during the 90s, and we’re in the middle of a reinvention right now that will make the 90s seem like it was just OK.”
A big part of that reinvention centers on sporting events.
Hill noted that Allegiant Stadium attracted over 1 million fans to NFL and college football games, concerts and other events during the last six months of 2021, even though the country was still in the midst of a pandemic.
In just those six months, Hill said, Las Vegas welcomed about 400,000 visitors who likely would not have come to the city if not for events held at Allegiant Stadium.
The Raiders moved to Las Vegas from Oakland, Calif., in 2020, but fans were not allowed to attend games during that season due to safety concerns about the virus. During a non-pandemic year, Las Vegas attracts about 42 million visitors. In 2020, that number was off by about 50%.
“If you walk through Mandalay Bay or Caesars Palace or the Bellagio prior to a game or a concert, there’s an energy,” Hill said. “It’s making a huge difference. If this stadium had not been built, it would be a different day-to-day for this community. This stadium works.”
Though tourism officials, and many others in Las Vegas, are keeping a close eye on the behavior of the virus and its multiple variants, Hill said the city will be in the national sporting spotlight again during next month’s NFL Pro Bowl at Allegiant Stadium and the NFL Draft in April.
“We’re going to have the best NFL Draft the league has ever seen, and I think they know that,” Hill said.
Hill said it’s not out of the question at all that Las Vegas eventually also host a college football national championship game, though that would likely depend on the future of a playoff expansion.
Hill added that a college football title game — which has been rumored — in Las Vegas likely wouldn’t work if it were to take place during the same week in early January as CES, the largest annual convention on the Las Vegas trade show calendar.
Whether or not a college football national championship game does come to Allegiant Stadium, Hill said the city is in great shape for the next few years as it continues to recover from the casinos shutdown of early 2020.
Hill pointed to early 1994, when Las Vegas was featured as “The New All-American City” on the cover of Time Magazine.
“We were America’s city,” Hill said. “Now, this is the first place people want to be, and this is just the start.”