Escapism on rebound: Strat exec excited by possibilities of Vegas tourism comeback

The Strat’s Stephen Thayer says the Boring Company’s underground transport system can be a game-changer for the resort corridor.

Stephen Thayer joined Golden Entertainment in 2019 with visions of growing the Strat’s brand in the resort corridor.

Shortly after, a new challenge became more important: Leading the north Strip property during the global pandemic.

Thayer, the Strat’s vice president and general manager, sat down with the Sun to talk about the Las Vegas recovery and why he’s optimistic about the future of the property — and city.

Here are highlights of the conversation, which have been edited for clarity.

Is Las Vegas back?

We’ve seen it time and time again where we’ve had downturns in Las Vegas for various reasons. Each time, Vegas seems to come back stronger than it was before. It feels like that is what's happening this time. We’ve seen some great trends that make it appear Vegas is coming back, for sure.

In the months after the mandatory casino shutdown in Las Vegas, last summer and fall, most of the people who visited were from drive-in markets like Los Angeles or Phoenix. Is the Strat now seeing more fly-in tourists?

If you had to categorize it, I’d say it’s still primarily drive-in traffic, which really sustained the early part of the comeback. The passenger numbers coming from McCarran (International Airport) are looking stronger, though. International travel is not back to what it used to be, but we’re just starting to see some of that come back. With convention business, it’s the same thing — we’re just starting to see that return, especially with the World of Concrete show last week. When international travel comes back, and when all the group business comes back, that will really round out the recovery.

The Boring Company’s underground transport system is now operating at the Las Vegas Convention Center campus, though there are plans to expand the system throughout the tourist corridor. Would that include a stop at the Strat if the expansion becomes a reality?

The majority of Strip properties have signed on to have a stop at their property. We intend to have a stop — we’re starting the final design phase now — and (the Boring Company) has some work left as far as permitting and where that process will go. In the meantime, as long as their process continues forward, we plan on having a stop here, which would pull you right up to our porte cochere. That system will be a game-changer. They’re anticipating possibly going to McCarran, and a trip from McCarran to the Strat would take maybe eight minutes. If they can do what they anticipate what they’ll be able to do, it will change this city to make it more of a fluid city.

When you talk to guests these days, what are they saying? Are they happy to be out and about after such a long period of relative isolation?

People are excited to get that Vegas experience again. If you have a vaccine now, you’re not required to wear a mask, so this is more of the Las Vegas that people remember it being. We’re seeing entertainment open up across the city now, restaurants are open, and it just feels more like that full Vegas experience. Every day you see more shows being announced. At the Strat, we just announced that we’ll have Xavier Mortimer, an award-winning illusionist, and there’ll be more where that came from. People, those who feel comfortable traveling, want to relax, have a few drinks, and forget about what we’ve been worrying about for the past year-plus.

It wasn’t long after you started in your role at the Strat that the pandemic hit. What’s the experience been like for you as a Strip resort general manager?

Look, it’s been a difficult year. It was difficult to see this place close, to see the Strip close. The impact on our employees and to go through that process, it was heart-wrenching. To see the Strip empty, that’s something I never thought I’d see. For me, it is starting to now get back to normal, and it’s exciting to be able to think about what the next thing is for the Strat, instead of worrying about the pandemic. I still worry about our team members’ safety, that never goes away.

What is that "next thing" for the Strat?

Some people just tried to hold on during (the pandemic), but Golden Entertainment took the opportunity to really go out and think about what it could do to grow the Strat and grow our position within the market. There are a lot of things in the pipeline that we’re not ready to get out there yet, but we have some exciting things coming for this property. With all that’s going on around this north Strip area, we can think about some things we could do with land that we own around the property. I think there will be exciting news in the not-too-distant future.