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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Visitor Count Breaks Record

11 May 2006

LAS VEGAS -- The March winds blew yet another travel industry record into Las Vegas, this time the highest monthly visitor count in local history.

More than 3.4 million people came here in March, or 11,821 more than were reported for the same month a year ago, the previous titleholder for Las Vegas' busiest month.

That 0.3 percent increase seems small, but an insignificant change in percentage belies the strength of Southern Nevada's booming travel industry, one expert said.

"You're dealing with such high numbers each year that the percentage changes don't look that large. But we're continuing to break records," John Piet, senior research analyst for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said Wednesday.

March is traditionally one of the city's busiest months, capitalizing on a mixture of moderate weather and special events that fill hotels, restaurants, casinos and convention centers throughout the valley.

Piet credited two sporting events for this year's spring surge.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament, a monthlong event known as March Madness, brought tens of thousands of travelers here to bet on games at the city's legalized sports books.

In addition, March hosted the state's largest live sporting event, a four-day series of auto races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Speedway spokesman Jeff Motley said Wednesday the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, a NASCAR contest held March 12, drew 157,7000 fans.

Estimates show nearly 95,000 of those fans came from out of town as race lovers satisfied their need for speed in a town that's built to accommodate travelers both slow and fleet.

"Each year we try to make our facility and event bigger and better," Motley said. "The sport is growing in attendance and TV ratings. What better place to take in a world-class sporting event than Las Vegas?"

Were it not for a quirk in the convention calendar, this March would have been even bigger.

ConExpo-ConAgg, the largest U.S. trade show of 2005, did not return to the Las Vegas Convention Center this March because the massive construction event occurs every third year.

Smaller events filled some of the void left by ConExpo-ConAgg and its nearly 98,000 attendees, but March convention attendance was still down 7.4 percent vs. 2005.

Conventioneers' economic impact was still more than $850 million, down 3.6 percent.

Fewer convention attendees contributed to a 0.4 percent decline in occupancy, though the city's 131,762 guest rooms were still filled at a 94.1 percent rate.

Average daily room rates were $125.25, up nearly 11 percent.

McCarran International surpassed 4 million monthly travelers in March, a first for Las Vegas' primary passenger airport.

But auto traffic from Southern California was down 5.1 percent, a potential trouble sign given recent increases in gasoline prices.

Year-to-date, Las Vegas' 9.56 million visitors was nearly 2 percent better than last year's pace.

The city hosted nearly 38.6 million visitors last year, a 12-month record.

Laughlin and Mesquite continued to struggle.

Laughlin's March visitor count was 338,391, down more than 13 percent. Its year-to-date count of 927,831 visitors was off 12.1 percent.

Mesquite reported 149,070 March visitors, down 4.6 percent, while its first quarter count of 393,285 guests was 7.2 percent below last year's pace, the convention authority reported