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Chris Jones

Vegas Blooms in Spring

18 March 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Thanks to last week's auto races, Thursday's tip-off of the National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament, spring break getaways and a steady stream of conventions, springtime is clearly the time for a Las Vegas visit, several out-of-towners said Thursday.

"It's a great atmosphere," said John Kesler, an Arizona State University student in town to ingest extreme doses of college basketball with some friends. "I was here last (March), and I was here two years ago (in March). The camaraderie between the sports fans makes this place really exciting."

Alongside friend Peter Ellingsworth of Los Angeles, Kesler said he planned to spend Thursday afternoon watching, and betting on, college basketball games at the Stardust's race and sports book. And when those games are done, the duo plan to hit the casino before retiring to the Westward Ho, where Kesler plans to stay through Sunday.

"Well, maybe we'll get to the casino," Ellingsworth said, adding his evening's activities would hinge upon the outcome of his basketball bets made earlier in the day.

Because the NCAA games are played over a nearly three-week span that also features temperate weather, spring break and dozens of conventions, it's impossible to estimate the tournament's effect on Southern Nevada's tourism industry, said a researcher with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the agency tracking traveler activity in Southern Nevada.

But last year's occupancy numbers clearly support March's overall popularity among Las Vegas visitors. Regardless of what brought them here, each of the month's four weekends in 2004 featured citywide occupancy rates of 97.9 percent or better.

That springtime surge continued -- and strengthened -- in April. Four of its five weekends had occupancy rates of 98.9 percent or better, including the weekend of April 16-17, whose 99.4 percent rate was as close to sold-out perfection as Las Vegas came last year.

The month's lone hiccup occurred the weekend of April 9-10, when the Easter holiday likely played a role in lowering citywide occupancy to 95.7 percent, the 35th busiest weekend average last year.

The city's full-year occupancy rate was 88.6 percent, which means approximately 116,500 hotel and motel rooms were filled each night last year. Nationally, last year's average occupancy rates were 61.3 percent, Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research reports.

Basketball and beachlike pool parties aren't Las Vegas' only springtime draw. After all, briefcases, boardrooms -- and this week, bulldozers -- also belong in that batch.

"We usually have to have an excuse to get away," said George Catherwood of Aylmer, Ontario, who has stayed at the Westward Ho since Monday with his wife, Carole.

Like 135,000 or so others, the Catherwoods were drawn to the desert to attend ConExpo-ConAgg, a triennial construction trade show that concludes Saturday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It didn't take much persuading for them to leave their hometown's wintery weather (Today's expected high: 34 degrees).

"It's a slow time of year (businesswise) so we're glad to take a getaway," George Catherwood said. "She does the gambling, but we both had a chance to see new machinery, new ideas and meet some nice new people."