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Chris Jones

Tourism: 37.4 Million Magical for Las Vegas

9 February 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Those who visit the Grand Canyon typically go there expecting to see a humongous hole in the ground.

But once they've arrived, that hole's vast size and scale still make for a memorable sight to behold.

The same holds true when studying Las Vegas' 2004 tourism numbers: Though most everyone predicted big gains, even high expectations couldn't overshadow what was a remarkable year for the local travel industry.

Slightly more than two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks widely thrashed the global travel sector, Las Vegas recovered in 2004 to post its strongest year ever with 37.4 million visitors. And more such growth is expected this year and beyond, a local tourism official said Tuesday.

"2004 was a great year," Kevin Bagger, research director for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said Tuesday during a presentation to his organization's board of directors.

Last year's visitor total was 5.2 percent better than 2003's 35.5 million, and more than 4 percent better than 2000, the city's previous best year with nearly 35.9 million visitors.

Experts have repeatedly credited Las Vegas' recent success to its strong convention industry; low-cost and abundant air service; recovering economic conditions; and a popular advertising campaign, among other factors.

Of equal importance to local businesses, visitors here also opened their wallets, purses and pocketbooks with increased fervor in 2004, Bagger said, noting double-digit increases from 2003's average expenditures on food and beverages, local transportation, shopping and entertainment.

Lodging expenses jumped to $90 per night, up from $83 in 2003, while visitors' average gaming budgets climbed from $491 to $545.

"If you ask how much they spent, how much they won or lost, they won't be very candid," Bagger said of the measure. "So what we ask is, `How much did you budget?' "

The citywide room occupancy rate was 88.6 percent, up from 85 percent in 2003, despite having added 1,000 rooms. Weekend occupancy was 95 percent, a record figure, Bagger said.

Las Vegas occupancy totals also blew away the national average, and those of most key competitors. New York reported 81.1 percent occupancy last year, while Oahu, Hawaii, enjoyed a 79.7 percent success rate. However, those areas have far fewer rooms than Las Vegas.

The nationwide hotel and motel occupancy rate was 61.3 percent last year, up 2.2 percentage points, Bagger said, citing data from Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research. Local convention attendance last year was 5.7 million, up 1.2 percent from 2003.

Thanks to this year's scheduled April opening of Wynn Las Vegas, the yearlong Las Vegas centennial celebration and the expected continued release of pent-up travel demand, Bagger said he expects Las Vegas to host 38.2 million visitors this year, up 2.1 percent from 2004's record level.

"Anytime a major resort opens on the Strip, it generates a tremendous amount of positive demand for the destination," Bagger said.

Wynn Las Vegas will be Las Vegas' first new megaresort since Aladdin opened in August 2000.

Numbers were mixed in two outlying resort destinations. Laughlin hosted nearly 4.05 million visitors last year, down 3.5 percent. Still, visitors' gaming expenditures there were up nearly 7.7 percent through November.

Fueled by an increase in single-day visitors, Mesquite's visitor count grew 2.7 percent to 1.74 million. Gaming revenue there was up 9.2 percent through November, Bagger added. December's statewide gaming revenue report will be released later this week.


.Percent that gambled 87% 87%

.Hours spent gambling per day 3.6 3.3

.Average trip gaming budget $491 $545

.Food and beverage $209 $238

.Local transportation $49 $65

.Shopping $97 $124

.Shows $42 $47

.Lodging per night $83 $90

SOURCE: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority