TRAVEL TITANS: Airport, traffic and Las Vegas as an emerging sports hub top ‘Travel Talks’ confab

Airport security, motor-vehicle traffic and the oncoming wave of more major-league sports and other live entertainment events in Las Vegas dominated a conversation of more than two dozen travel and tourism leaders Aug. 14 at the Delano Las Vegas. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA, which produces Las Vegas Newswire) and the U.S. Travel Association hosted the “Travel Talks” roundtable.

“Las Vegas is the leader in innovation when it comes to tourism and travel,” said Lee, who noted that her husband, Dan Lee, current CEO of Summerlin-based Full House Resorts, has been in the gaming industry for 25 years. “There is no state in this country where travel and tourism is as vital to our economy as this state.” She noted the importance of immigration and security issues, as well as the continued fight against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and the need to find storage alternatives.

“In this divided time, there is one area where I have hope that we can come together as a Congress and produce some legislation — and that is infrastructure,” she said. “It’s so vitally important to this state in making sure that we are getting people moved in and out of our state but also around our city.”

Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis put the centrality of tourism in stark terms: “Seventeen percent of the people who put a head in a bed on any given night in Southern Nevada aren’t from here. That’s as high as anywhere in the United States.” He noted the city’s 150,000 hotel rooms, McCarran International Airport as the second busiest origination destination airport in the country and 300,000 people employed in tourism-related jobs.

Lee said that full participation in next year’s U.S. Census is crucial to to get full federal funding. Federal funding for transportation and Homeland Security should be based not only on population but also visitation, several participants agreed.

Warren Eales of the Department of Homeland Security discussed how McCarran is handling increased traffic from Asian, Central American, Mexican and European carriers. He referenced  McCarran that is a pilot port leading the way with facial recognition technology. “Facial recognition technology has improved so much in the last few years that we’re more and more confident that this is going to be the best way to go, and it expedites things,” Eales said.

Those at the table reminded Lee of the urgency of funding for additional airport security staffing for peak times such as the massive CES convention in January.

Expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will also help alleviate the stress on local security staffing and infrastructure, said Treon Glenn, senior director of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association. He noted that the program helps ensure that “other countries have to do more in terms of upgrading their security protocol and sharing information on security threats.”

Traffic congestion in the resort corridor and on Interstate 15 was another major concern for those at the roundtable. Angela Castro of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) provided an overview of traffic concerns in the resort corridor and on Interstate 15, noting the RTC was working closely with Lee and her staff on surface transportation funding.

Steve Hill, CEO and President of the LVCVA, and a member of the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure, said the panel recommended that a national passenger travel plan be created. A national freight transportation plan already exists. The committee also recommended “corridors of regional significance” to encourage better coordination between states for highways such as Interstates 15 and 11, Hill said

“Most of Interstate 15 is in California, but the prime worry is often more in Nevada than it is where the funding has to come from in order to make the improvements that are necessary,” Hill said. “Thinking about those corridors on a regional level rather than a state-by-state level is an important step.” He also said there is momentum to form an Interstate 15 corridor coalition of private stakeholders in California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada to augment the coalition made up of state departments of transportation.

Transportation needs in the resort corridor and on Interstate 15 into California are only going to intensify with the addition of the Raiders and its new home, Allegiant Stadium. That’s in addition to the Vegas Golden Knights games at the T-Mobile Arena, six-to-eight annual UFC events, two annual NASCAR weekends, the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA and Las Vegas Lights FC of the United Soccer League. A representative of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway noted that 465,000 people attended Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival in May and organizers want to grow it 15 percent each year without sacrificing the attendees’ experience.

“The excitement is incredible. In our last visitor profile, six out of 10 visitors attended a live event or sporting event. Those numbers are dramatically going to shift (upward),” said Lori Nelson-Kraft, LVCVA’s senior vice president of communications and government affairs. “We’ve been very opportunistic with all these great new venues and teams to really drive a lot of high profile sports events thanks to the Raiders. We have a partnership with the NFL to bring the draft (next year). We just announced and got funded the PAC-12 Championship game to come here, and the opportunities are really endless.”

Mark Shearer, senior vice president and chief revenue officer of the Raiders, had one of the last observations about the coordination needed when multiple big events are happening at the same time. “Conversations like this are beyond helpful,” Shearer said. “To get all this stuff on table, whether we’re talking about airport and how we get people around and being ready for 15,000 more rooms, a 65,000-seat stadium, or God willing, a playoff game on top of CES.”

 To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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