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Best of Benjamin Spillman
Benjamin Spillman
 

Vegas supplying low rates this weekend

22 May 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- Bob and Donna Schmisseur are movin' on up in the Las Vegas pecking order.

The longtime visitors from Pratt, Kan., are among thousands of tourists who will spend the holiday enjoying Las Vegas luxury at Reno roadhouse rates.

"I've taken her to the Imperial Palace a whole lot of times over the years, I probably owe her something on the other end of the spectrum," said Bob, 57, who landed a room in the five-star-rated Wynn Las Vegas for $119 per night for the couple's 33rd anniversary.

"It is just a heckuva price," he said.

Depending on the source, Las Vegas room rates are dramatically lower or at previously unheard-of-levels for the holiday weekend -- at least they were for early bookers.

The Web site Vegas.com says its average daily rate for the upcoming weekend is $122.88, down 27 percent from $169.02 for the 2008 holiday.

Another hotel-booking site, i4Vegas.com, reports an average daily rate of just $76, down 14.6 percent from $89 in 2008 and down nearly 39.2 percent from $125 during the 2007 holiday weekend.

"Hopefully consumers will take advantage of it and at least fill the place up," said Michael Zaletel of i4Vegas.com.

Ken Van Vechten, a writer from Riverside, Calif., is visiting with his wife, Terri, after the couple got an offer they couldn't refuse -- a free room at the Suncoast near Summerlin.

"We're quarter video poker players and we're getting these crazy offers," said Van Vechten, 48.

In addition to the Suncoast offer, Van Vechten said he got an offer of $69 per night at Mandalay Bay on the Strip.

"I was just down in Florida and paid more than that for a roach motel at the side of the road," he said.

The upcoming holiday is the second Memorial Day weekend since Las Vegas has been in full-blown recession mode.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority projects an estimated 296,000 visitors will spend the holiday in Southern Nevada, about the same as last year. But the authority expects those visitors to spend a combined $178.5 million, a decline of 5.7 percent from last year's total.

There are also more than 140,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas this year, compared with about 136,000 last year. That means the occupancy rate is expected to fall from more than 96 percent for the weekend last year to 93.5 percent, which has a deflationary effect on room rates.

Zaletel says room rates are the lowest they've been since he started tracking them back in 2002.

According to the i4Vegas.com archive, the average daily rate for 2002 Memorial Day weekend was $128. The lowest since then, before the recession set in, was $112 in 2005.

The authority reports that the average daily room rate in May 2002 was $78. But that figure includes all of May, not just the peak rates commanded during the long holiday weekend.

Zaletel said the current rate average is especially extraordinary because the building trend has been toward luxury, with older properties like the Stardust and New Frontier being imploded and new luxury hotels like Wynn Las Vegas, Encore and Palazzo replenishing the room stock.

"If anything, that should bring up the (rates)," he said.

But no amount of marbled flooring, iPod ports or flat-screen televisions that mark modern Las Vegas luxury can overcome the law of supply and demand.

Las Vegas visitation is down 8.7 percent through March, the latest available figures, and on pace for 35.2 million for the year, which is below the 2003 level. Yet there are about 14,000 more rooms today than 2002.

Hotel executives have complained about low rates and even vowed to limit the discounting. But the gap between demand and supply has much greater control over rates than all the hotel owners and executives in town.

"There is so much inventory it would take almost an industrywide or citywide arrangement" to raise rates, Zaletel said. "Which, obviously, you can't do."

The good news for hotel operators, and anyone else with a tourism-dependent business, is the low rates seem to be attracting attention from visitors. Last-minute rates for the weekend are higher than the Web sites' average rates so far, suggesting higher demand for the remaining inventory.

On Vegas.com the Flamingo, a mid-to-low-level Strip property, had an average daily rate of $241 for the weekend. Trendier properties such as MGM Grand and the Palms were above $200 per night. Luxury resorts Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas were $352 and $372 per night, respectively.

Some extra foot traffic is all hospitality businesses can ask for, if they hope to take advantage of sporadic bursts of sunshine breaking through the economy's dark clouds.

"We get a good overflow when it is a holiday crowd," said Jeff Morris, owner of Bad Habits Cigar Co., a tobacco shop on Fourth Street near the Fremont Street Experience.

Bad Habits was nearly empty Thursday afternoon, but Morris was confident that holiday tourists combined with the Indianapolis 500 race on his shop's television would make for a successful weekend.

"I'll have all the seats full in here for the auto race," he said.