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Benjamin Spillman

Looking for bang with Labor Day buzz

4 September 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- There are two ways to sense a big weekend in Las Vegas.

One is to take a cold, hard look at room rates and the other is to gauge the buzz in the air.

Heading into the holiday weekend those litmus tests show different results.

Hotel rates, at least on one room-selling Web site, are down 8 percent from last year.

But with two much-hyped nightclubs set to open in top-tier resorts and Las Vegas getting yet another nod as the top domestic destination in America for the fall, this time by travel agents, the Labor Day buzz-meter is running high.

"I think that is just a recipe for a monster weekend," said Sean Christie, operator of Blush, the nightclub that opened Friday night at Wynn Las Vegas.

Christie, who has pretty much been living at Blush during the last-minute push to open for the holiday, said his club and LAX, the nightclub at the Luxor that hired Britney Spears to host its opening this weekend, are generating national buzz for Las Vegas for a weekend that is already one of the busiest of the year in the nightclub industry.

"It definitely provides that pop you want to open it," Christie said of the confluence of club events with the three-day weekend.

Whether hotels in Las Vegas will capitalize on the buzz as much as the night clubs remains to be seen.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority projects the city will get 288,000 visitors for the weekend who will contribute about $201 million in nongaming economic impact. The number of visitors is an increase of less than 1 percent from Labor Day 2006 and the economic impact projection is up almost 7 percent.

But data from the Web site suggests hotel rooms aren't fetching as much this year as they were this time last year. The average daily rate on rooms booked through the site is down $6.

Web site operator Michael Zalatel said it is probably an indication the hotels didn't adjust the room rates quickly enough to match the dynamics of a three-day weekend.

In short, with most people off work Monday, peak demand for Las Vegas hotels shifts from Friday-Saturday to Saturday-Sunday, Zalatel said.

But if hotels wait too long to lower Friday rates to reflect the shift they wind up being forced to go lower than necessary to fill rooms at the last minute, Zalatel said. That can lower the average daily room rate for the entire weekend.

Zalatel said large gaps between Friday and Saturday night rates are evidence of the phenomenon.

For example, the site has rooms at the Excalibur for $97 on Friday and $181 on Saturday. At The Venetian, a room for Friday costs $199 on the site but jumps to $448 on Saturday.

"When that happens it means the hotel waited too long to drop the price," he said. "They shouldn't have to get that desperate to fill up Friday night."

Nevertheless, there's no reason to shed a tear for Las Vegas hotel operators. Zalatel's site mostly reflects demand for leisure travel. The average room rates go up after factoring the higher room rates paid by conventions and by last minute guests who book directly through the hotels.

"They dropped (Friday) down for the last minute. But they are not dropping Saturday down," Zalatel said. "If anything it will keep going up."

Another indication of how hectic it gets in Las Vegas this weekend comes Monday. Ask Christie's employees at Blush how they feel after opening a new nightclub on a three-day, holiday weekend.

"I think the staff is going to be pretty tired at the end of it," he said. "But in the club business you only get one shot."