'It has changed the whole idea of being in Vegas': Can Sin City recover after the mass shooting?

Some Canadian tourists cancelled their trips to Las Vegas after Sunday's mass shooting, but others like the Bradleys came to Sin City anyway because they wanted to show that the bad guys can't win.

Reminders of the tragedy are all over the city, but tourists try to carry on as if nothing happened

Viva Las Vegas on a memorial, as the Bellagio fountain show plays the same song on the loudspeakers (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

So close to the famous Bellagio fountains you can practically feel the spray, there's a memorial to the victims of Sunday's shooting. On the railing there's a Canadian flag, and no shortage of Canadian tourists walking down the Las Vegas strip who stop to sign it.

Among them are Kiley and Caitlin Bradley from Prince Edward Island. In the wake of the shooting, they were on the fence about making the trip.
In one of the alcoves overlooking the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas is a memorial for the victims of Sunday's mass shooting. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"She was nervous about coming," Kiley says, looking at his wife.

Many of their friends cancelled. But the Bradleys got on the plane. Can't let the bad guys win, they say.

"I told her the worst thing that could happen to us down there is that you may not get the Las Vegas story," he says.

The "Las Vegas story": a myth built on the promise of escape. A fantasy land where the Jacksons from the Vancouver area had hoped to leave everything behind. To "feel like a kid again."

"Just enjoy yourself with not having to deal with the stresses of outside life," Todd Jackson says.

Kiley Bradley says he and his wife almost didn't come to Vegas after the shooting, but they wanted to show that the bad guys can't win. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Now everything seems different, he says, as though Las Vegas were just another city.

"You can tell the atmosphere here in Vegas has changed and people are a little more reserved," Jackson says. "You see people with tears in their eyes like myself."

As he speaks, a tear rolls down his cheek.

"It has changed the whole idea of being in Vegas," he says, "wondering what's going to happen next, is there going to be anything that happens?"

Todd Jackson tears up as he discusses the ties that bind Canada and the United States. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

All over the strip you see reminders of the tragedy. Several electronic billboards outside the strip's hotels — normally promoting hot chefs or upcoming shows — now commemorate the fallen. The hospitality industry is forced to walk a fine line between respecting the victims and bumming out its customers.

The Sinclairs, who arrived from Muskoka, Ont., the night of the shooting, are trying to carry on with their holiday as if nothing had happened

"We stayed in our hotel basically for the first day kind of in shock, and then realize you know, people have got to move forward, move on," says Jeff Sinclair.

Outside several Vegas hotels and casinos are billboards reflecting on the tragedy. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Police presence everywhere

Sinclair suspects this tragedy might prompt other international visitors to pick a different destination. Already in 2017, international tourism in the United States has slid about four per cent. This latest mass shooting, Sinclair says, may not help.

"There's a big problem with guns in the States, as far as my wife and I are concerned," Sinclair says.

There are now police everywhere along the strip, often posing for selfies, doing their best to seem like just another Vegas attraction. But paradoxically their presence makes some visitors like Saskatchewan's Ben Babey even more nervous.

Police pose for pictures and selfies on the Vegas strip, as they temporarily beef up their presence outside the hotels. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

He, along with a buddy and their wives, have parked their scooters on the strip not far from the memorial. Nearby, a group of six police officers stand talking in a circle.

"The police that you see here, you've got to wonder what the heck," Babey says. "That's a lot of cops just to try to keep you safe."

And their presence, he says, has changed the vibe in Sin City.

"With this happening, now I'm seeing less and less smiles and having a good time," Babey says. "They're more serious, trying to figure out whether or not you're a nut."

This ostentatious police presence is temporary; by the end of the week there are now fewer units posted outside the Vegas hotels than there were in the days immediately after the shooting. Babey's friend Chris Clarke says beefing up policing isn't as important as making more permanent changes, like improving security and screening inside the hotels.

"They have to do something in order to make it feel safe for everybody to come," says Clarke. "It's going to be an extra added expense. And unfortunately everybody's going to be paying for it in the long run."

Ben Babey says the increased police presence is ruining the Sin City vibe, while his friend Chris Clarke believes more rigorous hotel security is needed. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Installing high-tech monitoring systems

Even before Sunday's attack, some Las Vegas hotels had begun installing high-tech monitoring systems with the aim of preventing this kind of mass violence. At the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, a Canadian company is installing a radar-based weapon detection system that guests can't see.

"There isn't a single silver bullet," says Martin Cronin, CEO of Burlington, Ont.,-based Patriot One Technologies. "What security managers in Las Vegas will be looking at is how they can supplement existing security measures … not making people live in a fortress or an open prison. We have to try to balance the ability of people to go about their lives with improved measures of security."

For the Jacksons, Las Vegas will never be the same. But that doesn't mean they won't be back.

"As Canadians, we want to make sure we're showing that Vegas is still a great place to come, and we have to take care of our partners, our American friends," says Todd Jackson, who lives a seven minutes' drive from the border. "This is a way of us giving back and saying we are always going to remember what went on, and we're here for you."

The best way to show their support, he says, is through "retail therapy."

The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino is beefing up its security by installing a Canadian radar-based security system that can detect hidden weapons. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

They leave the memorial and walk hand-in-hand towards the nearby shopping gallery. The show, they say, must go on. Their views are distilled by a tourist from London, Ont., who scrawled on a memorial placard in white marker "Viva Las Vegas." Elvis's hit of the same name plays over the Bellagio's loudspeakers as the fountains splash and dance. 

About the Author

Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.