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Chris Jones

Up to 70,000 Expected at Center's Debut

20 July 2005

Some Las Vegans enjoy the summer because it offers a relative break from the usual congestion caused by tourists and conventioneers.

Those Las Vegans should think about leaving town next week.

On Monday, up to 70,000 people are expected to flood the city for the weeklong debut of World Market Center, which will eventually become a $2 billion furniture showcase, as well as the Association of Woodworking & Furnishing Suppliers, a sister trade show that runs July 27-30 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

And, like it or not, their presence should mark the beginning of a biannual boom for downtown Las Vegas, as well as a much-needed summer win for Southern Nevada's travel industry.

"In June, July and August, we've got to do a lot of promotions, a lot of discounts, to get people in during this hot time of year," said Dan Shumny, the Golden Nugget's vice president of marketing. "Not only will (next week's furniture shows) be good for the entire city, but I think it's going to give downtown a shot in the arm."

Summer's heat, as well as many travelers' seeming preference to take leisure getaways while their children are out of school and the weather is suitable for camping trips or beach excursions, typically melts Las Vegas' otherwise vibrant convention industry.

Last year, June, July and December were the only months in which the city failed to draw more than 300,000 conventioneers.

August saw nearly 333,000 local conventioneers, which made it the only other month with less than 400,000 local business travelers.

The city's monthly average convention attendance in 2004 was approximately 477,000.

Because this is World Market Center's first event, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority did not release the show's projected economic impact.

But Terry Jicinsky, the authority's senior vice president of marketing, said the show should provide "a significant bump" in July's visitor volume.

Approximately four months before its inaugural trade show, World Market Center began securing blocks of hotel rooms for those expecting to attend. So far, 32,000 room nights have been purchased at 17 partner hotels, which represents a higher-than-normal ratio of guests who have booked lodging through the show rather than independently.

"Traditionally, you hope to get about 10 percent of your attendees booking through the block," said show director Briana Mackey, who added 40,000 or so people had preregistered for the show as of Monday afternoon.

Most attendees are traveling here from the 49 other states and 60 foreign countries.

Mackey said show organizers tried to arrange a mix of hotel options within the block, including Strip and downtown sites as well as nongaming properties.

Contracts are already under way for World Market Center's January show, which could include up to 40,000 rooms set aside for show attendees.

Advance booking patterns also show many visitors will mix business with pleasure by arriving this weekend, or staying in town through July 31. In addition, some exhibitors have had employees in town for the past four weeks to prepare their space for next week's debut.

Such stays in excess of the show week is more good news for local hotel and motel operators.

Shumny said World Market Center clients purchased 500 of the Golden Nugget's 1,900 rooms next Monday through Friday at prices that exceed its normal summer rate. Though management appreciates the hotel revenue, it also plans to keep a close eye on visiting furniture buyers' spending habits during their initial stay.

"The wild card is, `Will this turn into another Comdex in terms of gaming revenue? Will these folks be so busy doing their business that they'll disappear from the casinos for 12 to 15 hours a day?' " Shumny said, citing attendees of the long-running technology show's reputed lack of interest in anything but computers and topless dancers.

"We're happy to get the premium on the room rates, but we don't know that the impact is going to be on our casino."

Jicinsky was less concerned about next week's likely spending.

With more than 1,200 exhibiting companies on hand, he expects plenty of after-hours sales pitches to occur in the city's fancy restaurants and high-priced showrooms.

World Market Center is not open to the public. Instead, it brings together manufacturers and other exhibitors to showcase new products before buyers, who will select which goods to sell to consumers in retail stores such as Walker Furniture, Levitz or R.C. Willey Home Furnishings.

Though they cannot attend the show, locals may have to contend with traffic caused by those who can. To minimize any problems on the streets, Mackey said, World Market Center will operate up to 80 buses that will carry attendees between its downtown campus, the Las Vegas Convention Center and the 17 partner hotels.

Shuttles will depart every 10 minutes during peaks periods, and every 20 to 30 minutes during the midday stretch.

World Market Center has also hired 20 off-duty Las Vegas police officers to direct traffic near its 1.3 million-square-foot downtown headquarters just east of Interstate 15 at Bonneville Avenue.