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Chris Jones

March Yields Record Mark for Visitation

16 May 2005

March's mixture of fast cars and flying fists, basketball bedlam and warm spring weather worked its usual magic for the local tourism industry.

Toss in a parking lot full of earth-shaking construction equipment and you've got the makings of Las Vegas' busiest month ever.

Nearly 3.4 million visitors came here in March, a record tally that easily eclipsed the prior monthly best of 3.33 million set in October, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said Friday.

"Everything was working in the destination's favor in March," said Kevin Bagger, the authority's director of Internet marketing and research. This year's March total was 3.2 percent better than a year ago.

Year-to-date, the city's nearly 9.4 million visitor count was 1.4 percent better than last year's three-month pace.

Las Vegas hosted a record 37.4 million visitors last year, with preliminary estimates for 2005 calling for a 2.1 percent jump to approximately 38.2 million.

March featured a busy convention calendar that included a 52,000-attendee Associated Surplus Dealers/Associated Merchandise Dealers show; the 38,000-attendee Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show; as well as the National Association of Pizzeria Operators' annual gathering, which drew another 10,000 or so attendees.

The month's two largest events, however, focused on machinery of the fast and heavy variety.

More than 124,000 business travelers came to the Las Vegas Convention Center in mid-March to check out the latest bulldozers and other construction equipment at ConExpo-ConAgg, a triennial construction trade show last held in 2002.

Separately, local visitor volume also benefited from racing fans who traveled here to see the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

That March 13 auto race, as well as preceding races and events associated with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing's annual Southern Nevada tour stop, attracted an estimated 325,000 fans, most of whom were from elsewhere, Speedway spokesman Jeff Motley said.

"We've estimated about 80 percent came from out of town," said Motley, who added he frequently heard tales of travelers who struggled to book last-minute air reservations around this year's race weekend.

Racing wasn't the only sport that brought people to town. The State Gaming Control Board said Wednesday that Nevada's sports books handled nearly $171 million in basketball wagers alone during March, a 16.7 percent year-over-year increase.

That included bets on both National Basketball Association games, and the increasingly popular National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament commonly known as March Madness.

Separately, Mexican boxer Erik Morales' March 19 decision over Filipino Manny Pacquiao brought a sellout crowd of 14,623 to the MGM Grand Garden, including an undeterminable number of fans from those competitors' native countries.

Overall, monthly convention attendance was up 14.2 percent to 705,795. Convention attendee spending was up 18.6 percent to $882.5 million.

The citywide occupancy level was 94.5 percent, up 1.7 percentage points, while room rates surged by nearly 20 percent to $113 per night. Room nights occupied data show convention traffic was the month's primary driver.

March returns were less positive outside the Las Vegas Valley. Laughlin reported 390,282 visitors for the month, down 1.8 percent from a year ago.

For the first three months of 2005, the Virgin River resort town near the Arizona-Nevada-Utah border has hosted 1.05 million visitors, down 4.2 percent.

Laughlin had 156,190 March visitors, down 1.2 percent.

Through three months, the city's 2005 total of 423,640 visitors was a 2.6 percent decrease.