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Benjamin Spillman

Vegas sees smallest decline in seven months

8 May 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- More than 3.2 million people visited Las Vegas in March, a 6.5 percent decline from the previous March.

It was the smallest visitation decrease in seven months and, perhaps, suggests customers are responding to steep room discounts.

The average daily rate was down 31.6 percent to $92.46.

"Maybe we're turning a corner, maybe the lower rates are bringing people back," said Michael Zaletel, operator of the room-booking site But Zaletel stopped short of declaring a turnaround.

Even if people are returning, the drastic drop in room rates shows they are unwilling to spend much money.

"They are coming and they are taking the budget route," he said. "I think the city has to adjust itself."

Convention attendance also fell in March by 30 percent to 446,588 people.

Much of the decline was blamed on show rotation. ConExpo-Con/Agg, a construction industry show, was held in March 2008 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. But the show only comes here once every three years, making it hard to meet the previous year's performance standard. There was also a 19.6 percent decrease in the number of meetings and events held.

For the year, Las Vegas visitation is down 8.7 percent with 8.8 million visitors in the first three months.

March visitation was also down in Laughlin by 17.1 percent to 234,142. It fell 24 percent in Mesquite to 113,378.

The recession and room surplus that drove down rates in March, as well as in the previous several months, is continuing in May.

It's especially apparent downtown where rooms for the upcoming weekend were still available for less than $50 as of Thursday afternoon.

El Cortez and Fitzgeralds each had rooms for $43 while Binion's had rooms for $29.

The Stratosphere, which is categorized with the downtown properties in regulatory reports but is located closer to the north Strip, had rooms for $79.

At $81, the Sahara is among the cheapest Strip properties for the upcoming weekend. But Bill's Gamblin' Hall, Imperial Palace, Tropicana, the Riviera and Circus Circus had rooms under $100.

Matt Weatherford, operator of the Las Vegas travel site, says Las Vegas companies will need to get used to surviving on less money than in the past.

He said the era of easy money from pricey nightclubs and trendy ultralounges is over.

"You are going to be hard-pressed to find people willing to spend on bottle service or $17 beers now," Weatherford said. "Eventually people are going to be stupid with their money, but it is going to take a few years."