Updated November 30, 2021 - 7:54 pm
Tourism leaders locally and nationwide are getting jittery about how the COVID-19 omicron variant could affect tourism so soon after the United States opened its borders to restart international travel.
The World Health Organization labeled omicron as a “variant of concern” last week.
Most believe it may be too early to tell whether the variant President Joe Biden called a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic” would prevent people from arriving in Las Vegas for events such as CES.
Several nations on Monday joined the United States in restricting travel from eight “high-risk” African countries. Restrictions have been added for South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
No nonstop flights are offered from any of those countries to Las Vegas, but there are several airlines that offer connecting services.
Health experts are recommending that passengers who have traveled to or through those countries in the past 14 days undergo 14 days of quarantine and COVID testing.
“As with the delta variant, the impacts of omicron will be hard to predict,” said Amanda Bellarmino, an assistant professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV.
“The shutdown from the African nations may not have a direct impact on Las Vegas since we just reopened to international tourism, however, the ripple effect may have an impact,” she said. “Until we know the severity of the omicron and its ability to be transmitted, we will be uncertain as to its impacts. In the short term, it may increase our domestic tourism as people fear further lockdowns. In the long term, I think it may push back further international travel.”
A representative of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority concurred that more details are needed to assess an outcome.
“Until there’s more known and understood by medical experts, it’s too early to tell,” said Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications for the LVCVA.
The Washington-based U.S. Travel Association called on Biden to revisit the reinstatement of country-specific entry bans in the near term and said greater vaccination rates are the answer to the problem.
“COVID variants are of concern, but closed borders have not prevented their presence in the United States while vaccinations have proven incredibly durable,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association. “That is why America’s travel industry is a vocal proponent of everyone getting a vaccine.
“With a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S. we continue to believe that assessing an individual’s risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States,” she said.
The next major Las Vegas event involving an international audience is CES, the annual consumer electronics trade show at several convention centers across the city. About 10 percent of the usual more than 170,000 CES attendees have typically come from foreigh countries according to the sponsoring Consumer Technology Association.
The four-day event, open to consumer electronics professionals, begins Jan. 5, but media representatives will arrive days earlier. The event isn’t expected to be as large as in past years, but more than 1,700 exhibitors already have committed to participate in the show.
“The safety of our participants and partners is a top priority,” Jeanne Abella, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Technology Association, said Tuesday. “We are actively tracking the emerging news and science around the new omicron variant and continue to follow guidance from the CDC and WHO, as well as relevant federal, state and local government requirements. While it is too early to determine the impact of this latest variant, we will continue to monitor and adjust our plans and health protocols as necessary.”
Proof of vaccination will be required for admission, chairs will be set up to provide social distancing at meetings and presentations and hand-sanitation stations are planned throughout all venues.
Abella said third parties, including Clear, will oversee the process of verifying proof of vaccination and the pickup of CES access badges to attend the show.