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Chris Jones

Las Vegas March Visitor Numbers Near Record

13 May 2004

LAS VEGAS -- The combination of stock car racing, college basketball, a crowded convention calendar and warm spring weather helped make March the busiest month of what's already been an unusually busy year for the local tourism industry.

Nearly 3.3 million people visited the Las Vegas area in March, up 9 percent from the same period a year ago, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said Wednesday. That total represented the city's second-busiest month in history, trailing by less than 9,100 visitors the slightly more than 3.3 million visitors reported in March 2001.

Year-to-date, Las Vegas' nearly 129,500 hotel and motel rooms have housed more than 9.26 million guests, up 6.4 percent from a year ago and on pace to obliterate the city's best-ever year, when 35.85 million visitors were reported in 2000.

"At the beginning of the year we put out a conservative estimate that this would be the destination's busiest year ever," Kevin Bagger, senior research director for the convention authority, said Wednesday. "Right now we're between major property openings and still the destination is doing very, very well."

Bagger attributed the growth to several factors, most notably an improving U.S. economy and rebounding travel industry.

The month got off to a quick start with a series of auto races surrounding the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing's annual pit stop at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway the weekend of March 5-7. Those events alone brought an estimated 92,350 visitors to town and pumped a projected $142 million into the local economy.

Coupled with heavy sports book activity associated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association's "March Madness" basketball tournament and a March 13 boxing championship at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas was a sports fan's paradise during this year's third month.

"Over the last five years NASCAR fans have realized the event in Las Vegas is one of the premiere events on the entire schedule," said Chris Powell, general manager of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "They know they can get first-class entertainment and all that Las Vegas has to offer, as well as a great sports weekend" at the race track.

Citywide occupancy rates averaged 92.8 percent in March, up 7.2 percentage points from the same month a year ago when travel was negatively affected by the start of warfare in Iraq and Asia's outbreak of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Thanks to the past 12 month's cumulative addition of 2,000 local hotel rooms, Las Vegas' room nights occupied total climbed by 10.1 percent to more than 3.7 million. Leisure travel was up 7.7 in that category, while room nights occupied by conventioneers improved by 14.6 percent.

The March convention calendar offered no huge shows, but multiple small and midsize events, including the 38,000-attendee Nightclub & Bar Convention & Trade Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Overall, citywide convention activity brought 618,258 delegates to town, up 4.3 percent. Those visitors had an estimated economic impact of $744.4 million, up 6.4 percent.

The average rate visitors paid for a hotel or motel room in March was $94.25, up 8.2 percent. For the year, that average improved to $94.80, up 8.7 percent compared with the first three months of 2003.

March was also kind to businesses in the outlying resort communities, convention authority data showed.

Laughlin welcomed 397,539 visitors during the month, up 1.9 percent from the same period a year ago. Year-to-date, the Colorado River gambling center has hosted slightly more than 1.1 million visitors, up 2 percent from last year's first quarter.

Farther north, Mesquite's hotels and casinos reported 158,119 March visitors, a 3.7 percent monthly gain. Through March, its nearly 2,900 hotel and motel rooms hosted 434,729 visitors, up 1.6 percent.