Updated July 4, 2021 - 4:18 pm
Gaming and tourism industry insiders were expecting hundreds of thousands of visitors to descend on Las Vegas for what promised to be the busiest holiday weekend since before the pandemic.
Judging by early afternoon crowds gathered at McCarran International Airport’s bustling baggage claim on Friday, it appears they won’t be disappointed. Outside, lines of folks waiting for an Uber or Lyft were visible, but the lines didn’t appear excessively long.
Arriving passengers inside seemed ready to have a good time, some stopping to snap selfies at an Instagram spot with a ”What happens in Las Vegas only happens in Las Vegas” backdrop, and others waiting for luggage gazed up at an overhead LED screen playing an advertisement showcasing newly opened Resorts World Las Vegas, followed by one touting the return of Cirque du Soleil’s “O.”
And why wouldn’t they be? It’s the first major holiday weekend since COVID-19 restrictions on capacity, gatherings and crowd sizes were lifted across the state in June, and Fourth of July falls on a Sunday, setting up an optimal three-day weekend.
“In a way, it’s really New Year’s Eve as it’s the beginning of the post-COVID-19 world,” UNLV hospitality professor Amanda Belarmino said.
She expects the holiday weekend to be significant for all U.S. travel destinations, but particularly Las Vegas. She said this weekend could draw the city’s biggest crowd since 2019.
“U.S. consumers are engaging in a surge of traveling and spending, and I would expect this weekend to be incredibly busy,” she said.
It’s also a weekend of firsts in Las Vegas. Not only is it the first major holiday in the state since the pandemic without COVID-19 restrictions, but also the first concert at Allegiant Stadium with Electronic Dance Music performer Illenium and first Fourth of July weekend for the Las Vegas Valley’s three new resorts.
The weekend also marks the return of entertainers such as Dave Chappelle and Bruno Mars. It was the chance to see Mars perform that propelled Rockville, Maryland, residents Rick and Jenny Levine to fly to Las Vegas for the weekend. They gushed about Las Vegas while waiting for their luggage to round the corner at a baggage claim carousel at the airport’s Terminal 1.
The couple is staying at Park MGM this weekend, where they’ll attend Mars’ Saturday night concert. That’ll allow Jenny Levine, 60, to cross off that item from her “bucket list.”
She and Rick Levine, 61, have visited Las Vegas every few months since 2017, when they came for a family wedding. Before then, she said, she was skeptical of Las Vegas. That impression changed on that first trip. “Well, I came for her wedding, and I’m like, ‘I’m hooked,’ ” she said.
Now, she said, she and her husband love the restaurants, hotels, activities and energy.
Tourist Kris Mummel won’t forget her visit here anytime soon. It marked her first time flying, first time in Las Vegas and soon-to-be first time zip lining.
“Oh, I got to touch a palm tree,” she added. “Never seen a palm tree before. Didn’t know they had ’em out here. I was like, ‘Oh, look at the trees!’ ”
Mummel, a 58-year-old resident of Mattoon, Illinois, and her partner, Vince Trimble, stood in the middle of The Linq Promenade on Friday evening and pointed their phones up at the zip liners overhead. That was their next stop.
The two, who are staying at the Sahara Las Vegas, said they decided to come to Las Vegas because it was time for a vacation. They said they needed a break from working, redoing their pond and building a beach at their country home.
Big numbers anticipated
The couple are among the 300,000 expected to visit Las Vegas over the long weekend.
Neither the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority nor the airport provided visitation projections, though a McCarran airport spokesman said the number of airplane seats coming to Las Vegas is within 5 percent of the total around Fourth of July 2019.
In 2018 and 2019, about 330,000 people visited Las Vegas during Fourth of July weekend and spent more than $235 million, according to the convention authority.
“We have long viewed Fourth of July weekend as an important weekend for the destination now that we’re fully reopened with the return of beloved live shows, concerts and an array of ‘Only Vegas’ experiences for our visitors to enjoy,” spokeswoman Lori Nelson-Kraft said Friday. “To top it all off, we’re thrilled to be hosting a spectacular fireworks show that will light up the skies Sunday night from one end of the famed Las Vegas Strip to the other.”
Several Strip hotel-casinos are set to launch from their rooftops Sunday night, with Plaza lighting up the downtown skies on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Station Casinos will have its own fireworks shows at 9 p.m. Sunday at Red Rock and Green Valley Ranch resorts.
‘Vegas is back’
If tourists hadn’t heard the “Vegas is back” message, then they’d see it on the Strip — literally. A political ad on a digital billboard at the corner of Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard showed “Vegas is back. America is back. Thanks Biden/Harris. Thanks Democrats.” It displayed while Vice President Kamala Harris visited union workers several miles away on Saturday afternoon.
Some visitors on the Strip Saturday felt the sentiment. Shekeya McCallister was out with five friends for the weekend on her fourth visit to the city.
“I know a lot of businesses had to close and some stayed closed, so it’s good to see the lines,” McCallister, a Texas native, said. “I saw the new hotel that opened; it’s very nice. Hopefully it’ll stay strong.”
The group arrived Thursday and are staying at an Airbnb while they explore the Strip, ride ATVs and attend the Megan Thee Stallion concert at Omnia Nightclub in Caesars Palace.
The group said it was special to get together for a girl’s trip since they’re from across the country.
“So far, despite the weather, it’s been very adventurous,” McCallister said. “I’ve never been to a concert here before, and to go with a group of girls is fun, too.”
Around the Strip on Saturday afternoon, tourists wandered into air-conditioned casino floors with dozens of full tables and chiming slot machines. Groups cheered while crossing pedestrian bridges, took pictures with showgirls and waited for fountain shows. Wedding parties posed in front of the crystal chandeliers at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Dozens of guests waited to get into the Flamingo pool as the temperature passed triple digits. Caesars Palace patrons were slowly working through the line to enter the Bacchanal Buffet.
Still, some tourists said they didn’t feel it was overcrowded. Chris and Kay Spence, of Arkansas, arrived Saturday morning with their two teenage sons to spend the week in Southern Nevada. The couple said they didn’t have trouble at the airport or any other points while traveling.
Kay Spence, who’s visited Vegas three times, said it wasn’t the only vacation she and her family took in the last year and a half — but it was their first time back to Vegas. Compared to previous visits, she said it seemed less rowdy.
“It’s a little less busy, but that’s nice,” she said.
‘Extra, extra busy’
Josh Swissman, founding partner at The Strategy Organization consulting firm, said earlier this week that he thinks a confluence of vaccinations, lifted restrictions, pent-up demand, the holiday itself and the three-day weekend are the recipe for an “extra, extra busy” weekend.
Then factor in the return of nightlife, entertainment and day clubs and the June 24 debut of the $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas megaresort, not to mention the openings in recent months of Circa and Virgin Hotels Las Vegas and their pool complexes.
It’s an invigorating mix. Rick Levine said he and his wife considering retiring in Las Vegas. In the meantime, they’ll enjoy their stay and figure out a place to watch fireworks on Sunday. Maybe they’ll just watch from their hotel room, he said.
“How many cities (are there) where people come to the city for Fourth of July knowing it’s going to be 105, 110 degrees? Not many places,” he said.