LAS VEGAS — The hearty American consumer appears to have considered the largest mass shooting in modern American history — been saddened by it, and a little worried — and decided not to end a love affair with Las Vegas.
Hotels along the audacious Strip (quietly) acknowledged some cancellations, and some businesses said they saw a slight fall-off in sales in the first three days after Sunday night's attack outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. But most customers, merchants and investors appear to think the business of fun and excess is still good business.
Visitors from China, France and Appleton, Wisconsin, continued to gape at the Bellagio’s water show. Lines continued to form at check-in desks up and down Las Vegas Boulevard. Couples in shorts and flip-flops still slurped from their three-foot-tall daiquiri decanters, but now under glowing Jumbotrons that proclaimed “VegasStrong.” And customers filed steadily into giant CVS and Walgreens stores along the Strip, packing out bags full of cigarettes, energy drinks, DayQuil and 12-packs of beer.
“Take a look at that line,” said a Walgreens clerk. “What happened doesn’t seem to have dampened anyone’s courage.”
Clearly there were those who decided in the immediate aftermath of the shooting that they were too anxious to come to town. Others said they didn’t want to celebrate in the wake of the tragedy. They canceled their reservations, according to employees at several of the largest hotels on the Strip. None of the staffers wanted to say how many rooms had been left vacant, though a clerk at the modest Travelodge, half a mile north of the Mandalay Bay, said she took eight cancellations the day after the attack.
But the view forward looked promising. A spokeswoman with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said “there is no evidence of cancellations at this time” among the hundreds of groups and companies booked for conventions this year. And the Travelodge employee said her hotel would be 90 percent full this weekend.
The resilience of the visitor economy comes after a year Vegas set a record, hosting 6.3 million business travelers who attended 21,864 meetings, according to the visitors authority. In 2016, the city hosted 57 of the 250 largest trade shows in the country.
The financial markets seemed weary, but only slightly, with stocks for the biggest gambling and resort companies dipping slightly early in the week, before recovering on Wednesday. MGM Resorts International, owner of more than a dozen properties in the city, dropped 3 percent before rallying. Caesars Entertainment Corp. barely budged before returning to $13.40 a share, near its high for the year. Boyd Gaming Corp. hovered near a three-year high, at more than $25.50 per share at midweek.
“Expect Resilience With the U.S. Traveler,” Nomura Securities headlined its note to investors after the attack.
“You go back to a shooting in a casino in Manila, the Orlando incident, Paris, in each of those instances the city recovered. And we expect the same for Las Vegas,” Harry Curtis, a managing director and senior analyst at Nomura told CNBC. (He was referring to a shooting and arson in the Philippines in June that killed 36; the 2016 nightclub massacre in Florida that left 49 dead; and the 2015 assault on a French concert hall and other venues that claimed 130 lives.)
Determined to reinforce the trend of resiliency, James J. Murren, the chief executive of MGM, met Wednesday with conventioneers from the software maker Ceridian and their customers. He told the gathering that the attack on Sunday (launched from an MGM property) was tragedy enough and that the damage would only be compounded if visitors turned away from Las Vegas, according to a couple of businessmen who attended the event.
Gambling and entertainment concerns will not escape the attacks unscathed, said Curtis, the analyst. He said the companies would have to endure cancellations and make refunds, which the big resorts agreed to do, waiving normal cancellation policies. Higher security costs should also be expected, Curtis added. (The Wynn Las Vegas and Encore hotels, for example, used hand-held metal detectors to screen some visitors on Tuesday.) But those moves will only amount to a cost increase of about half of 1 percent, Curtis predicted.
The stakes could not be higher for Las Vegas, a city wedded to human diversion in the way Detroit used to be bonded to the auto industry. And, as both cities learned, good times can be very, very good. Last year, Vegas tourism generated $59.6 billion in revenue, spawned 407,000 jobs — nearly 44 percent of the city's total labor force — and generated nearly $17 billion in wages and salaries.
The unusual nature of Sunday night’s attack — with hundreds of bullets raining down on country music fans right off Vegas’s signature boulevard — makes it hard to predict how potential visitors might respond in the future, said Stephen M. Miller, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research.
"Orlando went through a similar episode recently, and evidence suggests that event didn't have a major effect on tourism,” Miller said. “But the difference is the nightclub wasn't on Main Street in Disney World."
Jeff Waddoups, chairman of UNLV’s Department of Economics at Lee Business School, said security improvements will help assure consumers who might still have doubts. He cited a 1980 fire at the MGM hotel in Las Vegas that killed 85 people and noted that laws were changed — including a requirement for sprinkler systems — to help prevent another tragedy.
“That's what I think we need to do now — but with gun control,” said Waddoups, raising a hot-button issue that both Nevada and U.S. office holders have been reluctant to address. “Business and political leaders need to come together to increase security so that people feel safe here."
A spate of immediate cancellations notwithstanding, the vast majority of visitors chose to stay in Las Vegas after the attack, or to go ahead with plans to come to the city in the hours and days that followed.
Holly Herd, a teacher from Midland, Texas, arrived Wednesday, and was waiting near the T-Mobile Arena for six other women, who would be celebrating her niece’s 21st birthday. Her niece worried whether she could have fun after the terrible loss of life. “It’s sad. It’s so sad,” Herd agreed.
But her group shucked off thoughts of canceling. “It was too many people involved and too many logistics,” Herd said. “And, come on, it’s her 21st birthday! We have T-shirts that match and all that. I mean, come on, we have to do this for her!”
Jean Van Roo of Wisconsin arrived with a cousin and a girlfriend Sunday afternoon and slept right through the fusillade that night, in a hotel room just a long block away from the Mandalay Bay. She said the trio, all retirement age, never thought about heading home.
“We had tickets for Celine Dion,” she explained. “We saw her last night and it was fantastic. ... I actually feel safer with the police presence. I think that guy was loony-toons and it was an isolated incident.”