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Chris Jones

Holiday Visitors Undeterred

28 May 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Expensive oil and new threats from those whose countrymen largely produce it aren't expected to deter more visitors from spending this Memorial Day weekend traveling to Southern Nevada and other popular destinations.

Tourism industry sources said neither skyrocketing fuel costs, including surcharges and fuel-driven fare increases tacked on by some major air carriers, nor new threats from alleged al-Qaida operatives have dulled travel's appeal over the coming holiday period.

"We have never seen, and this goes back 25 to 30 years, that high gas prices are a deterrent to travel, outside of the 1973 Arab oil embargo and Iranian revolution in 1979 when there was a disruption of supply," James Cammisa, Miami-based publisher of Travel Industry Indicators, said Thursday.

"There's always some television station that's going to find someone at a gas pump who's going to say, as the numbers (on the pump) are twirling, `I'm not going on vacation this year.' But there's no evidence to support that."

Cammisa also said airline fuel charges "don't seem to be sticking," adding that low-fare carriers primarily determine prices in the industry and that their heated competition should help keep prices down for consumers.

He also downplayed the effect of this week's terror scare, saying people's habits will be shaped by "how much hype" the media gives to the threats in the coming weeks.

That opinion was seconded by Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Travel Industry Association of America.

"I don't think we'll see any lasting effect on summer travel" because of terror alerts, Keefe said. "Most people have already made their vacation plans for this weekend and for the next few weeks. And they're going to travel as planned.

"People feel a very strong need to get away ... and we've realized terror alerts are going to be there. You can hole up at home and live in fear or continue with your daily life, which includes travel."

As for fuel costs, Keefe said trip-related costs aren't as important as the cumulative effect of higher gas prices, which translates to less disposable income for many U.S. households. Rather than abandon travel plans altogether, Keefe expects most Americans simply will alter their trips by taking shorter vacations, staying with friends or family or visiting less-expensive destinations.

"When you fill up your tank every four days and it costs $50 each time, you feel a dent in your pocket," Keefe said. "Do you cancel your trip? No. But you modify it."

Despite recent complications, an average of 281,000 daily visitors are expected in town today through Sunday, up 1.8 percent from last year's holiday period, according to a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimate.

John Piet, senior research analyst for the convention authority, said those guests are expected to have a nongaming economic impact of $168.7 million, up 1.4 percent from a year ago.

Citywide occupancy rates are projected at 95.9 percent compared with 94.7 percent a year ago despite the addition of more than 2,000 more hotel and motel rooms than were available here a year ago.

Piet also said this week's terror warning from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has had no measurable effect on people's travel plans so far in this market.

"The terror stuff is obviously new, but in the past we haven't seen a dip in travel due to terrorist alerts," Piet said. "It looks to be a strong weekend for us."

Transportation Security Administration officials also said Thursday they're aware of no specific threats to Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport or the nation's aviation industry. Still, Deputy Federal Security Director Jose Ralls said local screeners are "always at the maximum level, no matter what time, place or event."

TSA plans to use a combination of full- and part-time screeners, as well as overtime hours, to minimize wait times at McCarran this weekend, Ralls said.

Federal officials advised summer travelers to expect delays at the nation's airports this summer, a season during which more than 200 million passengers are expected to be screened for travel. TSA is advising passengers to plan ahead, allocating at least two hours for ticketing and screening procedures and ensuring that banned items are packed away in advance rather than mistakenly carried through checkpoints.

"Passengers play an important role in the efficiency of the screening process," said Ralls, who encouraged travelers to consult TSA's Web site,, for additional tips on how to ease the screening process.