Tourism experts betting on Vegas

Jun 19, 2001 10:04 AM

When 8,000 delegates and 350 exhibitors gather this week for the Las Vegas International Hotel & Restaurant Show, the mood will be bullish.

"The majority of Americans are still going on vacation," says William Fisher, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. "The latest American Express survey shows 82 percent are planning trips that are comparable or better than last year."

Fisher says this spells good news for Las Vegas, which he calls one of three "recession-proof" markets in the country (the others being Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla.). He ticks off some reasons to bet on Vegas:

*"The growth potential is still good. The average age is getting older, which means more disposable income.’’

*"In most cities, [hotel] occupancy rates are in the mid-60 percent range. You’re running around 88 percent."

*"Atlantic City is the pits."

Recent numbers back Fisher up. Last quarter’s passenger count at McCarran International Airport totaled 8.8 million, up 6.1 percent from a year ago. And though gaming revenues were soft in April, the latest month available, room rates and retail sales appear strong. A steady influx of world-renowned restaurants has helped boost revenue per seat along the Strip to record levels.

Looking ahead, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority predicts the city will need 15,000 more hotel rooms over the next five years to meet projected demand.

And investment firm Bear Stearns & Co. says the local market is well-positioned to capitalize on convention business. "We believe Las Vegas is probably the only venue in the country that can support three major exhibit venues," the firm states.

While Fisher warns that some metropolitan areas may be "super-saturated," he believes that southern Nevada will continue to tap both the low and high ends of the tourism sector. Richard Lee, a commercial market analyst with First American Title, agrees.

"Gas prices and energy concerns may keep Californians from going to Yellowstone, but they’re not going to keep them from driving over to Las Vegas," Lee theorizes.

On Friday morning, Fisher will quiz a panel of gaming executives at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Topics will include an assessment of the energy situation, technology and the Japanese economy, as well as a six-month economic outlook.

MGM Mirage’s Terri Lanni, Mandalay Bay’s Glenn Schaeffer, Park Place Entertainment’s Tom Gallagher, Hilton Hotels’ Dieter Huckestein and Best Western’s James Evans are scheduled to appear.

Other speakers at the convention, which begins Thursday, include Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, comedian Rita Rudner and restaurateurs ranging from Brad Brennan of Commander’s Place to Mark Miller of Coyote Cafe.

By the numbers...

*Through the first four months of 2001, convention attendance in Las Vegas was 1.76 million, up 19.9 percent over a year ago. The economic impact of those conventions totaled $2.12 billion, up 29.5 percent.

*Conventions accounted for about 4 million room nights through April, up 18.9 percent from the same period last year. General tourist room nights were down 6 percent.

*The Strip’s gaming win for April was $372 million, off 4.3 percent from a year ago. The Boulder Strip, Mesquite and the rest of Clark County posted gains averaging 13.5 percent.

*80 percent of all visitors in 2000 were repeat travelers to Las Vegas.

*85 percent of all visitors gambled while here. The average visitor gambles four hours per day.

*20 percent of visitors received comp rooms or casino rates, while 27 percent paid a rack room rate.

*The average room rate was $74.30.

*46 percent of visitors arrived by air.

Sources: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Nevada Gaming Control Board.