Las Vegas is famous for its magic acts and currently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is bracing for its new trick: Magically making meetings materialize. The city was on a roll until last winter, expecting a record year beating the 42.5 million visitor numbers of 2019. Then COVID-19 hit and the people disappeared. Visitor counts went down to 12.7 million as of August from 28.4 million for the same months in 2019. Hotel occupancy vanished by more than 50 percent.
For a city built for and based on attracting tourism from far and wide, these numbers did not sit well. But the city is also based on brilliant pivots and bellwether reinventions that shape trends and headline the news. The pandemic, while a formidable challenge, may just be another era for Las Vegas. This is a city that rose from the dust and has lived to face down organized and disorganized crime, recessions, inflations, mass shootings, wars, sell-offs and buy-ups, droughts and a climate that could welcome the devil. But every time, it comes out on top.
Bringing back business travelers and meetings attendees may be the neon gaming mecca’s best bet amid the rabid unpredictability of the coronavirus culprit. It’s a big job and many destinations are competing to do this. But they do not have the buying power and fleet-footed visionaries available to create meaningful moves. Las Vegas does. The city that turned dining into celebrity chef entertainment and hotels into monuments of architectural imagination has yet more cards to turn and rabbits to pull out of thin air.
As some casino resorts are scaling back operating hours, closing off guestrooms, and imposing limitations on admission into public spaces – unprecedented in a 24-hour town with no casino clocks – MGM Resorts is saying “bring it on,” when it comes to meetings, and putting in cutting edge solutions to ensure health safety for all participants.
MGM’S MAGIC MOMENT
In a dramatic move that even David Copperfield would envy, MGM Resorts International, which owns and operates ten properties and entertainment venues along the Las Vegas Strip alone, is partnering with Cue Health of San Diego to make testing of guests quick and accurate so that meetings attendees can convene with confidence, knowing the people around them are not carrying coronavirus.
The testing manufacturer, backed by Johnson & Johnson, enables conference participants to register their information at a phalanx of kiosks manned by trained attendants. They receive a quick nasal swab at the bottom of the nostril, have that specimen placed in a singleuse cartridge that is processed professionally on site, and have their result within 20 minutes. The result will be posted in the attendee’s meeting profile. The palm-sized portable test kit is designed to detect the ribonucleic acid (RNA) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The exclusive partnership between Cue Health and MGM Resorts extends beyond the meeting rooms to the airport through a layered partnership between MGM and CLEAR, the private “fast-line” answer to long security queues at US airports. The partnership is part of MGM’s Convene with Confidence plan, a seven-point safety program that includes the option for syncing test outcomes with CLEAR, in the event a negative COVID test result is necessary to board a plane, as several US and international destinations have required in recent months.
The system is in beta testing now and MGM officials expect to have the procedure available by the end of the year for the meetings scheduled in coming months. Accuracy of the tests skews to what is returned in PCR tests, which take several days to process at present. The Department of Health and Human Services has been working with Cue Health based on preliminary data from an independent study – as yet unpublished – of the test's accuracy administered by the Mayo Clinic. Cue is scaling up for demand with a goal of manufacturing 100,000 test kits per day, following a $481 million investment from the federal government.
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