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Conventioneers make Las Vegas No. 1 in ‘03

Dec 31, 2002 3:38 AM

Las Vegas ranks No. 1 in convention business, and that’s welcome news for Strip casinos.

   The authoritative Tradeshow Week magazine rates the city first in North America, with 163 major tradeshows slated for 2003. The closest runners-up are New York City, with 141 shows, and Toronto, with 140.

   Las Vegas is so dominant in the West that it will host more tradeshows than San Diego (76) and San Francisco (71) combined. Los Angeles didn’t even make the top 10.

   “We had record attendance in 2001, topping 4 million people,’’ said Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokeswoman Erika Brandvik. “This year’s numbers are tracking 2.6 percent ahead of that.’’

   Enticed by the addition of the 1.8 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center next month, several major tradeshows are returning to Las Vegas. Among them: the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the men’s apparel MAGIC International (spring and fall), the World of Concrete, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Specialty Equipment Market Association and Comdex.

   And coming back after a nine-year layoff is the National Association of Home Builders, which is expected to draw a throng of 75,000.

   Conventioneers clearly love Las Vegas. “Tradeshow organizers know that shows held here routinely draw 15 to 20 percent more attendees than do shows held in other cities,’’ said Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of marketing for LVCVA.

   Casinos benefit, too, because conventioneers spend more per capita than the average tourist, Brandvik said.

   Mandalay’s new convention center, which is completely booked with five shows in January, has also helped to boost weekday room rates at its adjacent hotel for the month. Not coincidentally, Mandalay Resort Group is the only one of the big three Strip operators to post a room rate increase over last year, according to Bear Stearns.

   In addition to the big shows, Las Vegas is raking in conference and meeting business. The Bellagio and other Strip resorts that cater to the business-class crowd are rapidly filling up their datebooks for 2003.

   Brandvik said the convention center, which recently added 1 million square feet, is 60 percent booked for the coming year. Seventy percent is considered full capacity because of the downtime required to move exhibits in and out of the sprawling complex.

   With the new Mandalay center upcoming, Las Vegas has nearly 9.5 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space. The city now boasts three of the nation’s 10 largest convention facilities: the Las Vegas Convention Center (3.2 million square feet), the Sands Expo (1.9 million square feet) and Mandalay.