Lincoln, Las Vegas Teach Travel Lessons

Business trips remain vital, but Covid-19 has trimmed domestic, international flights

Our instructors this month in Business Travel 101 are a couple of guys named Abe and Pat. They will teach us about the importance of business travel, and the challenges imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Importantly, numbers will be supplied. 

This statue of Lincoln With Boy on Bridge in Davenport, Iowa, recalls his handling of a key test of the railroads.

The Abe is someone known to us all. Yes, I’m referring to that Abe — Lincoln. 

His name popped up the recently when I was doing my homework on L&W Bedding, a factory-direct based in Moline, Illinois, and the subject of an upcoming Retail Road Trip in BedTimes’ sister magazine, Sleep Savvy. Moline is part of the Quad Cities, an area in Iowa and Illinois divided by the Mississippi River. 

Steamboats had the run of the Mississippi before a business disrupter — railroads — chugged onto the scene. When a railroad company built a bridge across the Mississippi in 1856, a steamboat operator smashed into the bridge and sued the railroad company. That company hired a veteran attorney, Abraham Lincoln, to ward off this challenge to its expansion plans.

As he prepared his case, Lincoln did something critical: He visited the area for his own in-depth study. That visit is memorialized in a statue, Lincoln With Boy on Bridge, in Davenport, Iowa, also part of the Quad Cities.

That business trip was a pivotal one for Lincoln and the nation. His firsthand research into the river’s currents and pilots’ practices helped him argue that the steamboat crash could not be blamed on the bridge.

While the case ended with a hung jury, it was a victory for the railroads, who were not stopped in their growth plans and went on to play a key role in the growth of the United States.

Lincoln won praise for his handling of the case, and his rising star helped put him in the White House a few years later.

While our business trips are not that consequential, they are vital to success in our relationship-focused industry, as I’ve argued before. Face-to-face meetings still are the gold standard in the bedding industry. And that leads us to Pat — Pat McCarran, whose name graces the sprawling airport that we pass through on our trips to the Las Vegas Market.

There is plenty of talk about how much the pandemic has trimmed business travel, conversations that are usually short on facts and long on estimates. But when it comes to air travel, precise numbers are available. 

Through August, arriving and departing domestic passenger traffic in Las Vegas was down 25.3% in 2021 compared with the same period in 2019. International arrivals and departures in Las Vegas were down 87.2%. 

I think that travel to Las Vegas, popular with both tourists and businesspeople, is a good indicator of overall travel trends. The numbers show domestic travel down significantly, with international travel largely curtailed.

Interestingly, August, when the airport served 3.8 million passengers, was the first month of 2021 to show travel declines in Las Vegas. Its travel totals grew from 1.5 million passengers in January to almost 4.2 million in July. We need to get through this latest wave of Covid-19 cases, and then, hopefully, we will see travel resume its upward course again.

I’m thinking 2022 will be a more normal year for business travel. I’m really looking forward to that. Honest.

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