INBOUND recently spoke with Elliot Calloway director of contracting, brand strategy & secondary markets at Bonotel Exclusive Travel, which is headquartered in Las Vegas. Calloway was at the country music festival the evening of Oct. 1, when a gunman began shooting at a crowd of open-air concert goers, leaving 58 persons dead and more than 500 others injured. Following are excerpts from our interview.
Q: So, what it is that brought you to the concert on Sunday night? Are you a country music fan?
Calloway: I am a country music fan. This was the first time I’ve ever gone. Three-day ticket packages are pretty expensive, so I’ve never really gone before. I had been in Boston on business and finished by Friday, so I re-scheduled my Sunday flight to Saturday and got back a day earlier. On Sunday, a friend texted me that he had another ticket and asked, ‘Do you want to go?’ ‘Absolutely,’ I texted back.
Q: Where were you in relation to the stage? In relation to the Mandalay Bay?
Calloway: We were on the east side of the venue—in one of the VIP sections that had tents. We were a little bit further from the general admission area where there were a lot of people who ended up in harm’s way.
Q: When did you/others first realize that someone was actually shooting?
Calloway: Oh, I knew what it was right away. I was talking with the wife of a friend of mine when I heard the sound. Soon, there were people running off the stage.
Q: Could you take us through what happened for the next 10 to 12 minutes—as the shooting continued?
Calloway: We jumped inside the tent for cover. Then it stopped for a while. “We’ve got to get the hell out of here,” I said. I grabbed her (my friend’s wife) and told her, ‘We’ve gotta go!’ We ran and took cover in an area where there were some vendor stands.
The gun fire stopped again. So we ran east out of the area and down a private road that went to a airplane hangar (that was empty). A few of us broke a window so that we could let others get through and inside.
There’s still gunfire. It was dark, we didn’t know it was from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay … or if there were multiple shooters. We took off running again and ran into a tall fence. Several of us propped it up from the bottom so that the others could get through. It got down to me—I was the last one—and a couple of guys held it up for me so I could get through. By the time we had got under the fence and on the other side, the shooting had stopped. We didn’t know that, though, because there was a loud ‘boom!’ which turned out to be the SWAT team breaking into the hotel room (where the shooter was).
We found (another) private airplane hangar. As we approached, we were greeted by a security guard who directed us inside with others. There was a group of about 150 people inide. That’s when I noticed that a guy in our group had been shot in the leg. There was a nurse in the group who came to him to help. She said that she needed a tourniquet. So, I took off my belt so she could use it as a tourniquet.
(Calloway chuckled as he told us that, in order ease the tension and stress of the moment, he was ‘trash talking’ with the guy who was shot in the leg—he was from Michigan, while Calloway is from Ohio. Michigan State and Ohio State are huge football rivals. ‘After it was over, I asked for my belt back,’ he joked. However, the two have kept in touch since the Sunday night massacre.)
Ten or twelve minutes? It felt like it took an hour.
Q: Did you see what was happening to other people?
Calloway: Some people had simply stopped. They were in a state of shock. We had to get them moving. Others were running and screaming. … I would describe it as utter chaos.”
(Calloway spoke at length about Las Vegas, which has a reputation as a place that people visit—that no one is really from there, but the way people from Las Vegas conducted themselves that night belied that perception. ‘It was amazing,’ he said, ‘how quickly the first responders got there and how they handled things.’)
The way that this city has gotten together is something else. Right now, you can’t even get an appointment to give blood for a week! At the convention center, they’ve received too much water and
Q: Has this changed your outlook on life in any way?
Calloway: Oh yeah. Guns are something I’ve never thought too much about … that’s changed quite a bit.’ … Also, to others who were affected by the shootings, I tell them ‘Get with someone and talk about it.’
(Note: As it turns out, a CBS TV affiliate, Channel 8, did a report on Elliott Holloway and his experience on Sunday night, Oct. 1st. See it by clicking on the link below.)
The tour and travel industry in Las Vegas, is like a family. Everyone seems to know what another, especially those of us in group sales or international sales.
I hope this episode doesn’t deter people from coming to the city. It is a safe place to visit. The police presence is always there. You’ll see a police officer on every block . … But nothing could have stopped what happened on Sunday night.
Q: Any after thoughts in the days that have followed the attack?
Calloway: After a couple of days, it came back to me in my sleep. But what I feel more than anything is grateful. I’m incredibly thankful to be alive. Fifty-nine chairs are going to be empty at Thanksgiving Dinner this year. I’m grateful to be alive.
(Calloway also took the time to note that “the outpouring of support I’ve had is overwhelming. The number of people who’ve called or e-mail or texted me—I’ve even heard from people I do business with in Australia and the UK.”