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Benjamin Spillman

Las Vegas draws record visitor count in October

13 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- More than 40,000 dentists and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers helped Las Vegas attract a record number of visitors in October.

Nearly 3.4 million people visited Las Vegas and Southern Nevada in October, up 2.5 percent from the previous record for the month set in 2005.

The record month increased visitation for the year to 32.7 million people, up 1.1 percent from the same point last year.

Although the overall number of visitors set a record for October, the number of nights tourists spent in hotel rooms during the month declined 9.5 percent from 2005.

The October convention of the American Dental Association drew 41,000 people, representing about half of the visitor increase compared with 2005.

Overall convention attendance was up 55 percent for October and is up 2.9 percent for the year so far.

"That growth this year has been driven by conventioneers," said John Piet, senior research analyst for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Conventioneers had a nongaming economic impact of $624 million for the month, bringing the year-to-date total to $7.2 billion, up 8 percent from last year.

Other events, like the Vegoose music festival with headliners like Tom Petty, the Black Crowes and Widespread Panic, also attracted visitors.

But tourism visitation, or at least the number of nights tourists spent in hotels, was down for the month and up just 1.2 percent for the year.

Piet said the flat numbers are the result of a flat room inventory in the region. There are only 100 more rooms available in Las Vegas this year compared with 2005, which doesn't leave much room to add guests considering occupancy rates are more than 90 percent.

"In the next three to five years we are going to see a considerable amount of inventory come online, then we will see stronger growth rates," Piet said.

The average daily room rate for the month in Las Vegas increased 28 percent over 2005 to $135.

In Laughlin, overall visitor traffic was down 14 percent in October and for the year to date. The average daily room rate there increased 3.6 percent to $34.

Visitation to Mesquite was up more than 11 percent for October and is even with 2005 year to date. The average daily room rate in October is up nearly 100 percent to $100. It was $50 in October 2005.

The statistics on special events during October weren't as clear as the overall visitor numbers.

Total attendance for special events during the month was down 52 percent in Las Vegas, according to a monthly report by Las Vegas Events. It was down 56 percent in Laughlin and 53 percent in Mesquite.

Tourism officials took the downturn in stride because, they said, special event statistics are more volatile month-to-month than overall visitor numbers.

"It is really a matter of reporting from year to year, month to month," Piet said.

Part of the reason for the volatility is that events don't always fall in the same reporting period every year. Other events don't come to Las Vegas every year, which means the numbers one year after a large nonannual event look low in comparison.

In Mesquite, for example, the results of the 2006 American Sand Drag Association Nationals didn't make the October figures.

"It takes typically 45 to 60 days after the event occurs," said MaryAnne Beaman, event programming director for Las Vegas Events, which recruits and promotes events.

The large numbers of people who attend a single event can compound the volatility.

For example, tourism officials surveyed just one fewer event in Las Vegas in October compared with the same month in 2005. But that amounted to 89,750 fewer people in the 2006 tally, a difference of 52 percent. But over the course of a year, as more numbers come in, the statistics level out.

The National Finals Rodeo and the New Las Vegas Marathon drew tens of thousands of visitors, which should push special attendance figures ahead of the 2005 pace by year's end.

"The trend is up," said Jim Gans, senior vice president of operations for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "By the end of the year we should be looking really good, in the black again."