The Pandemic Is Ongoing, but Brands Are Encouraging Travel Again

From Alaska Airlines to Las Vegas casinos, deals and discounts abound

derek stevens las vegas skyline
Derek Stevens, who owns two hotel-casino properties in Las Vegas, bought flights for 2,000 visitors to be redeemed when the resorts are allowed to reopen. Getty Images
Headshot of Ryan Barwick

Key insights:

How many Americans would travel to Las Vegas in the middle of a pandemic if their flight was paid for? Evidently, at least 2,000.

With social distancing still the recommended course of action in the U.S., travel remains at a low. While some airlines have noted a small uptick in travel, Memorial Day traffic was down 88%, falling from 9.5 million travelers in 2019 to 1.2 million across the weekend, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Despite this, airlines and hospitality brands are still beginning to prepare for the summer travel season. It’s perhaps more important to the industry’s bottom line than ever: The travel sector as a whole is still struggling in the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. Airlines are expected to lay off workers come Oct. 1, when their agreement not to fire workers in order to be eligible for bailout money from the federal government expires.

To stem their losses during the busy season, the travel industry is attempting to lure back customers with sales and incentives to get people moving again—and to remain top of mind when travel does in fact return.

Las Vegas gets ready to reopen—mostly

On Thursday, Derek Stevens, owner of The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate, announced that his company would purchase 1,000 one-way tickets for travelers who can spring for a trip to Sin City the day its casinos are officially able to open on June 4.

Within two hours, all the flights had been claimed—so Stevens added an additional 1,000 tickets.

The idea had been in the works for a couple of weeks, Stevens told Adweek, and he was able to negotiate a group rate with Southwest, Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit and Sun Country airlines (he declined to specify how much the stunt cost). The flights leave most cities between June 3-11. Participants taking the free flight will still have to pay for their hotel once they land in Vegas and their flight home.

“I just felt like there was a huge amount of pent-up demand,” Stevens said. “We knew there would be an opening day, we just wanted to jump-start it.”

Those travelers will see a different sort of Las Vegas when they arrive. Stevens’ casinos are implementing social distancing measures, such as limiting three people to a blackjack table or a dice game. Half of the casinos’ chairs will be removed.

There’s also anticipation that leisure travel will be first to return, and property owners are act accordingly.

“We focus more on the independent traveler; the convention business is a little more difficult,” said Stevens, as most corporate travel and live events remain on hold.

Stevens feels his promotion follows the directives set out by Las Vegas health officials.

“We have actively followed all CDC guidelines and all state guidelines; we’re going to meet or exceed all of these,” Stevens said. “Everyone has a different situation: Some people want to go out, some people [will] not for a long time, and that’s OK. We need to be able to be sure we can provide a safe, clean and fun environment for those that do want to come back.”

In late May, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city’s destination marketing organization, ran a spot called “Imagine Vegas, Just for You” on television, encouraging travelers to picture Las Vegas as their own private playground.

“We’re working to make it more intimate, with more space, and the excitement you’ve come to expect,” a voiceover says during the ad. “If you’ve ever imagined a Vegas that was just for you, it’s only here. And when it’s ready, you’ll be the first to know.”

Returning to the skies

Airlines have also been promoting summer travel, particularly with fare sales. Budget airline Frontier offered a 90% discount on certain routes for flights booked before June 25.

Alaska Airlines took a regional marketing approach. Using its own social channels, Alaska offered a 20% discount targeted at graduating seniors across the country (though anyone could take advantage of the promotion) with the help of celebrities from the Pacific Northwest, including Russell Wilson, Ciara, Macklemore, and basketball players Damian Lillard and Sue Bird.

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@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.