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Benjamin Spillman

Vegas tourism fall accelerated towards end of year

11 February 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The number of people who visited Las Vegas fell 4.4 percent to 37.5 million in 2008.

And now for the bad news.

The decline accelerated toward the end of the year, paced by a 14.2 percent dip in December to 2.7 million.

Ten of 12 months in 2008 showed declines.

People who track the numbers say falling home prices and rising fuel costs contributed to the declines early in the year.

More recently, massive layoffs and other frightening economic news cut further into the number of people willing to pay up for a trip to Las Vegas.

"It has been decades since we've seen all these things happening at once," research director Kevin Bagger told the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors on Tuesday when he presented the numbers. "They all reflect the impact of the economy. We saw challenges in every sector."

In addition to the drop in visitor volume, the average daily room rate fell 9.8 percent to $119 for the year.

In December, the average rate fell to $96. It is the first time the rate has fallen below $100 since December 2005.

Convention attendance fell 5 percent to 5.9 million for the year.

Bagger thinks the declines will continue in 2009.

He projected visitation will fall another 4 percent to 5 percent this year and occupancy will hover around 81 percent to 83 percent.

The impact of falling room prices is hurting stock values of major resort companies and also local governments.

Brenda Siddall, the authority's vice president of finance, said room tax revenue was down 11.5 percent for the year. In December, it was down 25 percent.

"Lower revenues are going to impact subsequent fiscal years also," she said.

The authority has already implemented a hiring freeze and cut back on travel expenses.

Outside Las Vegas, other Clark County destinations faced hard times in 2008.

Visitation to Laughlin fell 7.6 percent to 2.9 million. Visitation to Mesquite was down 10.5 percent to 1.5 million people.

Room rates in Laughlin were up 2.7 percent to $43.04. In Mesquite, rates fell 33 percent to $53.19.