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Chris Jones

Nevada Tourism Slowdown Continues

1 September 2006

NEVADA -- After several months of little to no growth in Southern Nevada's visitor counts, perhaps it's fitting that this year's summer travel season concludes with little to no growth as well.

The Las Vegas Valley will average approximately 279,000 daily visitors over Labor Day weekend, up 1.1 percent from last year's 276,000, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's forecast.

The 133,347 local guest rooms will be 91.6 percent occupied, up from last year's 90.7 percent when there were 257 more rooms to fill.

Visitors' nongaming spending is projected at $183.5 million, up 6.3 percent from last year's $172.5 million.

July and August's visitor data have not been compiled, but early returns show that the local tourism industry suffered through a slower-than-normal late spring and early summer. March and April each posted year-over-year visitor volume growth rates of 0.3 percent, while May and June saw decreases of 0.9 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Industry leaders blamed the slowdown on changes in the city's convention schedule, higher gasoline prices and widespread economic uncertainty, particularly within the housing sector.

But one authority number cruncher believes better times will soon follow.

"Now is where we start to peak, going into the fall season," John Piet, senior research analyst for the authority, said Thursday.

Piet said Las Vegas historically does well in the summertime, but he added that the season's high number of family vacations often results in travelers heading to more kid-friendly destinations.

Once school resumes, he said, Las Vegas typically enjoys an increase in both leisure and convention visitors.

AAA spokesman Michael Pina said weekend travel will be flat nationwide due to high gasoline prices and the pre-Labor Day start of classes at many U.S. schools.

Air travel will dip slightly, he added, due to widespread media coverage of the recent terrorist plot in London as well as the subsequent rise in air travel security measures.

Nevertheless, MGM Mirage is expecting high occupancy at its 10 Strip hotel-casinos this weekend, with several on track to sell out, spokesman Gordon Absher said Thursday.

"Labor Day is one of those convergence weekends where we find a lot of different things coming together," Absher said. "A lot of folks are looking to get one last weekend in before the summer ends. With kids going back to school it can be a stressful time of year, and Las Vegas is a good place to take a break."

Local attractions this week include the kickoff of the college football season -- always a busy period for Nevada's sports books -- as well as concerts by country music stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw; hip-hop singer Mary J. Blige; and nostalgic music acts The Doobie Brothers and UB40.

AAA Nevada earlier this week said high gasoline prices would slow outbound travel this weekend among the Silver State's residents. The travel agency expects 330,000 Nevadans will venture more than 50 miles from home this weekend. That's up less than 1 percent from a year ago.

On the national level, 34.8 million Americans plan to travel around the Labor Day holiday, up 1.2 percent, AAA said.