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Chris Jones

Vegas Economy: 'Excellent Start for 2004'

16 March 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas' tourism industry this year enjoyed its best-ever January, with more than 3 million visitors reported.

Several factors contributed to the early travel surge, local tourism leaders said Monday, including strong holdover attendance following the city's annual New Year's Eve celebration, a resurgent International Consumer Electronics Show, as well as robust interest in the Strip's traditional Chinese New Year and Super Bowl-related parties and events.

Coupled with a five-Saturday calendar, an improving U.S. economy and nearly 3,000 more local hotel rooms than were available a year ago, Las Vegas was poised to start this year with a flourish, said Rossi Ralenkotter, executive vice president with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"It's an excellent start for 2004," said Ralenkotter, whose organization expects Las Vegas visitor volume to grow by roughly 1.4 percent to 36 million this calendar year. "If (January) is any indication, we're tracking well-above that (1.4 percent growth) projection. This was just one month, but it's still very positive for us."

January's visitor volume was up 4.8 percent from a year ago.

Occupancy rates in January were 84.2 percent, up 1.8 percentage points from a year ago. January is typically known as a strong convention month, but this year's growth was largely attributed to leisure travelers, convention authority data showed.

"The trend within the country is for more leisure travel," Ralenkotter said. "People are looking for escape destinations, and with all Las Vegas has to offer, we've been the hot destination, which is reflected in these numbers."

Ralenkotter's claims were supported by the Travel Industry Association of America, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization whose data showed consumers' perceptions of their ability to take and afford pleasure trips in this year's first quarter reached their highest average total since late 2002.

"Americans' positive perceptions of the affordability of travel and the fact they feel they have enough money and time to travel are all positive signs as the industry continues its recovery," William Norman, the association's president and CEO, said in a statement Friday.

Las Vegas rooms occupied by tourists topped 1.56 million in January, up 15.6 percent from the same period a year ago. The average daily room rate climbed to $97.98, up 15.5 percent from January 2003's reported $84.86 average.

Rooms occupied by business travelers fell by 3.4 percent to 1.83 million despite stronger-than-expected attendance at this year's CES trade show, which drew an estimated record attendance of more than 130,000 people Jan. 7-11 and later backed up outbound traffic for several hours at McCarran International Airport.

Despite CES's growth, the city's overall January convention attendance was down 7.8 percent to 824,362 reported delegates. Much of that downturn could be attributed to the absence of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association International's Super Show, an 80,000-attendee event that left Las Vegas a year ago to begin a three-year run in Orlando, Fla.

"With CES and an IBM convention that had more than 16,000 attendees, (the convention sector) still looked really good," Ralenkotter said.

Laughlin reported 348,217 January visitors, up 2.3 percent compared with the same month a year ago. Mesquite saw a 5.3 percent decrease in its monthly visitor total, to 135,605.