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Benjamin Spillman

Few rooms left for Vegas New Year's Eve

22 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For locals the Stratosphere is a distinctive feature of the Las Vegas skyline.

For tourists who want to celebrate New Year's Eve in Sin City, it's a G-rated description of where local hotel room rates are heading.

The supply of rooms available Dec. 31 is rapidly dwindling and likely to sell out.

And posted rates for the ones that remain are as high as $680 and as, um, low as $237.

Anyone who decides to leave the hotel for a swanky New Year's Eve party on the Strip can expect to pay as much as $550 to get in.

Add it up and it comes to a little more than $198 million in nongambling revenue for the local economy, according to an estimate from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"It is our biggest day of the year," said Michael Gilmartin, spokesman for the Stratosphere Hotel.

New Year's Eve dining at the fittingly named Top of the World Restaurant, located on the 1,149 foot-tall Stratosphere tower, is $125 per person from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Dining from 9 to 11:30 p.m. is $350 and a Twilight Room party from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. is $275.

Gilmartin expects the hotel to sell out.

"We definitely will be if we aren't already," he said.

The Web site lists 25 nightclub parties ranging in price from $300 at the ghostbar or Rain in the Palms to free at the Beauty Bar on Fremont Street or Krave in Aladdin.

The VooDoo Lounge in the Rio is charging $200 for general admission beginning at 8 p.m. The lounge also has packages that include no waiting in line, a table, booze and champagne. They range from $1,200 for four people indoors to $4,800 for 12 people outside.

Of the 300,000 people expected to visit Las Vegas for New Year's Eve, as many as 17,000 will pay $80 for a party under the psychedelic lights of the Fremont Street Experience.

The event, billed as America's Party, will be broadcast live to a national audience on DirecTV.

"That is going to be pretty hot this year," said Michael Zaletel, CEO of the hotel-booking Web site "There is really no other place in Vegas that can have a block party like that."

Zaletel said there's still time for tourists to book rooms, but it will cost them.

The Web site lists one night at Caesars Palace for $680.

"I wouldn't be surprised if people could still book Saturday, last minute," Zaletel said. "Certainly, it is dangerous to take that risk."

Hotels typically make rooms available in blocks, seeking to leverage their inventory as much as possible.

The site has been booking rooms since 1999, but Zaletel said it is still difficult to predict when prices will rise or fall.

For example, a hotel could drop rates to fill empty rooms at the last minute or it could keep them high to capitalize on procrastinators.

"It is like the stock market," he said. "You think it is going to go down then it goes up."

Industry experts call the practice yielding rates.

"There are whole departments, staff who just work on yield," said Rob Stillwell, spokesman for Boyd Gaming.

The company has 5,500 hotel rooms in Las Vegas.

"It is a very precise science," Stillwell said. "It is just smart use of your assets.

The method means rate restrictions, like a requirement that guests book a certain number of nights, can be volatile.

Guests at popular Strip and downtown hotels are frequently required to book Friday and Saturday nights together. On weeknights there are typically fewer restrictions.

But because of demand, many hotels will require multiple-night bookings around New Year's Eve, even though the party night is on a Sunday and the holiday is a Monday.

"We will take arrivals right up until Sunday, but the customer has to agree to stay for three nights," said David Strow, spokesman for Harrah's Entertainment, which has about 20,000 rooms in Las Vegas.

Harrah's, like many others, is still holding some rooms for last-minute accommodations.

That means even with full occupancy it's always possible for a few more tourists to squeeze into Las Vegas for New Year's Eve.

"If people haven't booked yet, they shouldn't give up trying," Zaletel said.