The year 2020 was among the most difficult in modern history for people and organizations around the world, but few sectors were impacted as swiftly and deeply as travel, hospitality and gaming. The Las Vegas Strip went dark for the first time ever, and operations were dramatically overhauled to incorporate sweeping, never-before implemented health and safety protocols. The public health and economic damage wrought by the virus hit gaming communities especially hard, and we have worked around the clock to provide support to employees, their families and others at risk.
Despite the devastation of the last year, I am optimistic about the prospects for our country, our industry and our future. I believe the first half of 2021 will mark the beginning of a much brighter day for Las Vegas and our company.
Innovation has delivered solutions.
In the United States, we now have two highly effective vaccines approved for widespread use, with three more in phase three trials. As of today, more than 24 million doses have been administered. While distribution challenges persist in many states, with improvement, it’s possible we could begin seeing significant benefits from the vaccine by summer and a potential resurgence of travel in the second half of this year.
A gradual end of the winter wave and a possible plateau or even reduction in rates into spring—along with incrementally increased immunity—will ultimately lead to safe and gradual easing of most stringent Covid safety restrictions and the beginning of the return to a sense of normalcy. This will include expanded capacity and the ability for more amenities and larger-venue attractions to come online.
MGM has proven resilient in the face of uncertainty.
Challenges of the scale like those we have faced test the soundness of corporate strategies, the strength of portfolios and the capability of leadership teams. While we did not foresee the crisis we ultimately experienced, the strategic plan we put in place in 2019 improved our efficiency and strengthened our balance sheet, allowing us to attract new partners, bolster new businesses like BetMGM, our fast-growing sports betting platform, retain and expand a seasoned leadership team and continue to plan for the future. We believe 2021 will witness the largest year of growth yet in expanded sports betting and online gaming markets.
Las Vegas remains an incomparable travel destination. The city has refused to yield to dark times and deep challenges of the past. Further, it has evolved in ways that were unthinkable ten or even five years ago. The addition of professional sports to our city’s already enviable suite of entertainment offerings had only begun to attract an entirely new generation of visitors when the pandemic hit. With the NFL, the NHL, the WNBA, NASCAR, professional soccer and one day soon—we hope—the NBA, Las Vegas has become a place where serious sports fans celebrate.
Lastly, as we look towards welcoming back meetings and conventions, which are a critical piece of our business in Las Vegas, we are encouraged by insights we are seeing within the industry. According to recent research from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 74 percent of business travelers believe that Vegas will be prepared to safely host in-person conferences, conventions and trade shows by the second half of the year and 77 percent of those surveyed would prefer to attend meetings in person, rather than virtually.
For all these reasons and with warming weather fast at hand, a trip to Las Vegas—along with other travel and tourism destinations—will start appearing on a growing number of itineraries.
While positive change is ahead, the coming months will no doubt be difficult, and scores of gaming and hospitality employees remain out of work. I am eager to restore individual livelihoods when full operations return. Until then, we remain steadfastly focused on the development and implementation of customer-centric services like contactless check-in and mobile enabled room service and on the health and safety of our guests, employees and the communities in which we operate.
As 2021 begins I am confident we will again fully and freely embrace our mission: to entertain the human race. Las Vegas is poised for a strong return.
Bill Hornbuckle is CEO of MGM Resorts International. A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn on January 28, 2021.