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Benjamin Spillman

Leap day saves February visitation from decline

16 April 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- An extra day on the calendar -- not five-star dining nor gilded new hotels --is what brought more people to Las Vegas in February.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority on Monday reported that more than 3.1 million people visited Sin City in February, a 3 percent increase from the same month last year.

But February had an extra day because 2008 is a leap year, which resulted in the gain.

When calculated on a daily basis, visitation dropped about one-half of 1 percent.

The dip makes sense considering the nation appears to be mired in recession and fuel prices are making air and auto trips to Las Vegas more expensive.

"It is in line with the trend we've seen in the last few months," said Kevin Bagger, the authority's director of Internet marketing and research.

For the year, visitation is up 1.2 percent compared with this time in 2007. However, on a per day basis, visitation is down slightly, less than 1 percent.

The decline was more pronounced in room rates. The average daily rate in Las Vegas sank 5 percent on the month to $129. It was the third time in four months rates have dropped.

With the addition of the $1.9 billion Palazzo in January, room inventory is up more than 1 percent from last year. And with fewer visitors, there is more pressure on hotels to cut rates to sell rooms.

It is a situation that has already grabbed the attention of Wall Street, which views premium room rates as a primary motivator for investment.

Senior analyst Joel Simkins at Macquarie Capital in New York recently said he expected a sagging economy and higher transportation costs would dent Las Vegas visitation.

"Every customer is going to take a closer eye to what it costs to fly out there," Simkins said.

But it wasn't all bad news. The destination managed to attract more than 893,000 convention visitors in February. That was an increase of nearly 16 percent from February 2007. The percentage increase was nearly 12 percent even after subtracting the extra day.

News from Clark County's outlying markets was grimmer. Even with an extra day, Laughlin posted a 3 percent decline in the number of visitors. Mesquite showed a 2.4 percent increase, but visitation there is down 1.5 percent for the first two months of 2008.