Muoio worked as an event coordinator for an external electrician and carefully choreographed the electricity requirements for exhibitors, moderators and participants at trade fairs in the huge hall.
“There are very long days and you are on your feet all the time,” said Muoio, 39. “Sometimes you don’t even have time to eat.”
During a typical January, the presence of CES in and around Las Vegas is unmistakable. Hotel prices are skyrocketing, restaurants and clubs are full, and workers like Muoio are logging extra hours to make sure everything goes smoothly with the big money-making show and related events. Last year, the 170,000 CES attendees generated an estimated $ 169 million in direct spending and a broader economic impact of $ 291.2 million, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
The move to prioritize health and safety during the Covid-19 pandemic is another blow to a city already hit by the current health and economic crises.
The money is running out
The Las Vegas labor market was hardest hit during the pandemic among major US metropolitan areas. The region relies heavily on travel, discretionary spending, business conferences and large gatherings, but has found these key tenons turned off.
In April 2020, shutdowns in Las Vegas resulted in an unemployment rate of 34%. Though it has since improved, Las Vegas still has the highest unemployment rate among major metropolitan areas, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of November 2020, the Las Vegas metropolitan area unemployment rate was 11.5% and 128,000 people – including Muoio – remained unemployed.
After a vacation in March, Muoio was finally released in August.
Since then, she has applied for hundreds of jobs – including the event coordinating roles and positions in customer service or marketing – but nothing permanent to do yet.
Muoio lived without health insurance and was waiting for an application for state unemployment benefit that had been pending since August. She was fortunate to have saved some money on an eventual down payment on a house.
“The money is dripping slowly, slowly,” she said. “I’m running out.”
Brandon Geyer faces a similar situation. He has been unemployed since March.
“In March when this first happened, I got the impression that we were going to be closed for a couple of weeks, no big deal,” he said. “Another week goes by and another week goes by and suddenly I haven’t gone to work since March.”
For nearly 49 years, 49-year-old Geyer had tended the bar at Main Street Station, a casino, brewery, and hotel in downtown Las Vegas that are temporarily closed due to the pandemic. And while the crowd grew when CES hit town, Main Street Station attracted a loyal clientele, many of whom Geyer had got to know well over the years.
Geyer said he was grateful to receive unemployment benefits, that his wife was still in her job, and that they had some cash to save to support themselves and their two children. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 has also helped raise weekly food aid and groceries.
But the loss of full and steady income takes its toll, Geyer said. He is confident his union is pushing for Clark County, Nevada, to introduce a “right of return” policy that requires employers to give laid-off workers the right to return to their old jobs when businesses reopen.
“We’re just wondering when we’ll be back to work,” he said.
Boyd Gaming-owned Main Street Station is expected to reopen sometime in 2021, CEO Keith Smith said during the company’s latest earnings call in October.
Around this time last year, optimism was high that 2020 – and CES 2021 – would be quite successful for Las Vegas, said Steve Hill, the chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
“We had set [room tax dollars] Records in seven of the last 10 months, “he said.” It looked like it was going to go on for sure. “
Hotel and resort construction projects were underway, and in addition to hosting the NFL draft in April, the city was also due to fill the dazzling $ 1.94 billion Allegiant stadium with fans to celebrate the recently relocated Raiders NFL Cheer on the team. And for January 2021, CES would be the first nearly $ 1 billion expansion in the Las Vegas Convention Center, and serve as the debut for a futuristic people-mover project by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company.
Instead, the new 1.4 million square foot West Hall is eerily empty, Hill said.
Hotels that were charging more than $ 400 a night for rooms during the week of CES 2020 have announced prices in the range of $ 25 to $ 45 this year, according to hotel data collected by the Las Vegas Review-Journal .com. Some hotels, including the Mirage and Encore at Wynn, have even closed rooms during the week due to low demand.
Both the visitor authority and CES organizers are expected to return the event to Las Vegas in 2022 and beyond. Though it will likely look a bit different when it comes back.
“The future of events will most likely have a digital component,” officials from the Consumer Technology Association, which hosts CES, said in a statement. “The events industry had to innovate, change business models and adapt to our new circumstances during this pandemic.”
On Monday evening, more than two dozen tents in homes along the famous Las Vegas Strip were lit with the message, “We miss you, CES. I can’t wait to see you back in 2022.”
And on Twitter, the CES 2021 account returned the feeling and tweeted, “I’m homesick, but I’ll see you in Vegas soon.”
“All bets are closed”
Quoting data from research firm Tourism Economics, the US Travel Association estimates that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in cumulative losses of $ 500 billion to the country’s travel industry since March, putting an estimated burden on the federal, State and local taxes have resulted in $ 64.4 billion in revenue. While vacation travel is designed to fuel the recovery of travel and tourism, those trips are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022, Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, said during a US Travel Association webinar in December. It will likely be until 2024 or later for business and corporate travel to return fully, he said.
For cities like Las Vegas to see significant economic improvement, people need to feel comfortable again, be back inside and be ready to spend, said John Restrepo, director of RCG Economics in Las Vegas.
And until vaccinations are widespread, “all bets are closed,” Restrepo said.
Nevada’s lack of industry diversification is likely to hinder job recovery, much like it did after the Great Recession, he said. After the 2008 downturn, it took the state nine years to surpass its pre-recession employment numbers.
This time around, Restrepo predicts it will take at least three years for the state to match the constant annual growth rates seen in key economic indicators leading up to the pandemic. It will take even longer before the real levels of jobs, sales taxes, gaming revenues and congressmen are reached again.
“It will be a long way out of this rut here in southern Nevada,” he said.