Las Vegas, Other Resort Cities Bear Brunt of Federal Travel Cuts
Following several high-profile conference scandals, federal agencies have shied away from hosting meetings in resort destinations like Las Vegas, according to a USA Today analysis. But tourism officials say the city is still attracting record numbers of private-sector events.
Sin City is doing quite well on the tourism and convention front, if they do say so themselves. That’s despite reports of a sharp downturn in business from the federal government.
According to recent USA Today analysis of federal spending data, the U.S. government spent $92,736 on Las Vegas hotel rooms during fiscal year 2013. That’s down from a high of roughly $2.5 million in FY 2010—the year the General Services Administration (GSA) spent $800,000 on a training conference at a Las Vegas resort that featured taxpayer-funded parties, expensive dinners, and clowns and mind readers.
A follow-up investigation uncovered more wasteful spending by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service on conferences held in Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, which eventually led to restrictions on federal travel and conference spending.
USA Today’s analysis showed that federal contracts for hotel rooms in Las Vegas were down 81 percent. Major decreases were also seen in Honolulu (down 88 percent) and Orlando (down 100 percent).
But outside the realm of federal meetings, the picture is brighter. Las Vegas continues to host some of the largest industry tradeshows in the world—the number of conventions held in the city has been on the rise since 2010—and visitors continued to show up while the country was facing a major recession, according to city tourism officials.
“The meeting and convention industry is thriving in Las Vegas,” said Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “Las Vegas hosted more than 22,000 meetings and conventions in 2012, the highest amount since 2008, and we are on pace to beat that number in 2013.” (Final figures for last year are not yet available.)
Last May, members of Congress from Nevada introduced legislation in the House in an attempt to lift a ban that bars federal agencies from holding meetings or conferences at resorts or casinos. The Protecting Resort Cities from Discrimination Act (H.R. 1880) remains in committee.
Not everyone is shying away from holding their meetings at those locations. In September, the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) held its annual conference in Honolulu.
“We’re talking about where the U.S. Pacific Command is, Army Pacific, Air Pacific. It seems to be a natural place for us to have our meeting,” retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., president of NGAUS, told Associations Now before the event. “Why would we change? … We’ve got so many people from Hawaii who’ve done so much work and preparation for putting this thing on.”
LVCVA’s Meyer noted that the meetings and convention industry still has a major impact on the Las Vegas economy, generating $6.7 billion in revenue in 2012—a number the city was on pace to exceed in 2013.
“Every major sector of business is drawn to Las Vegas, and it’s because of the overall value proposition that the destination offers,” he said. “Research shows that on average, attendance increases 13 percent when meetings and conventions rotate into Las Vegas and that attendees spend more time in meetings and on the tradeshow floor.”