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Vegas visitation drops 8 percent

8 April 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Deep discounts helped attract tourists to Las Vegas resorts but not enough to offset a lousy economy, according to tourism figures showing local visitation fell 8 percent in February to about 2.8 million people.

Visitation numbers from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority painted a picture of a struggling destination that's pulling out all the stops to attract business.

"You can't just sit there and wait for tourism to go back up," said Michael Crandall, director of business affairs for the Siegel Group, which owns the Gold Spike downtown.

Crandall and owner Stephen Siegel are in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation despite the economy.

They're offering rooms for $19.99 per night on major travel Web sites and have managed to fill the hotel 15 of the last 25 nights, even though the city posted its lowest citywide occupancy rate for a February since 1991.

"Is it scary out there? Yeah," Crandall said. "But it is not going to slow us down."

The February occupancy rate of 83.9 percent was 5.5 percentage points lower than February 2008 and the lowest February rate since 82.2 percent in 1991, although back then the city had fewer than 75,000 available rooms compared to an inventory of 140,729 today.

In the first two months of 2009, about 5.6 million people visited Las Vegas, a drop of 10 percent from the pace set last year.

More dramatic, though, were the discounts hoteliers are offering to attract customers.

The average daily room rate in February was $99.25, a 22.9 percent decrease from last year's price of $128.80.

The decline in February visitor numbers was worsened by the fact that 2008 was a leap year, meaning February had an extra day last year. After accounting for the lost day by adjusting figures to show daily visitation, the decline was 4.7 percent fewer visitors per day in 2009.

The visitation decline was steepest among people who arrive by air.

Traffic at McCarran International Airport was down 15.2 percent for the month compared to just a 1.9 percent decline in the number of vehicles driving in and out of Nevada.

Daily auto traffic on Interstate 15 at Primm, where most California visitors pass en route to Las Vegas, fell just 0.1 percent.

February was also a slow month for conventions.

Not only did dates for several major conventions shift to different months, February was also when President Barack Obama publicly scolded bailout-accepting banks for scheduling meetings in Las Vegas. Many of the companies ultimately canceled or moved their meetings to other cities.

Convention attendance was down 34.8 percent in February to 583,168.

Date-shifting of events into January or March by two outdoor sporting events, a wireless technology event and a hospitality event accounts for about 77,000 visits being tallied in those months, according to the convention authority.

Straightforward budgeting decisions by companies trying to save money on travel accounts for an untold portion of the decline.

Concern by companies about the appearance of hosting or attending an event in Las Vegas may also have contributed.

"Part of it we think is the perception issue we had," said Kevin Bagger, director of Internet marketing and research for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "It is hard to separate that from other things."

New York-based money and markets blogger Mark Gimein, who blogs at, said the bad publicity associated with the fallout of the bank bailout controversy could linger.

"For the next year, year and a half, it is going to make people a little gun shy," he said.

The news wasn't any better for the Clark County gambling towns of Mesquite and Laughlin.

In Mesquite visitation fell 31.9 percent to 94,005 people for the month. The average daily room rate fell 13.3 percent to $59.38.

Laughlin visitation was down 17.2 percent to 206,563. The average daily room rate there fell 3.4 percent to $37.94.