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Chris Jones

Visitor Volume Increases 5.2 Percent in February

13 April 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Winter's chill did little to cool off Las Vegas' white-hot tourism industry in recent months as the city enjoyed its third consecutive best-ever month in February.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said Monday more than 2.91 million people traveled to Las Vegas during the month, a 5.2 percent improvement from February 2003. That 29-day total also eclipsed the city's previous-best February visitor total of 2.87 million set in 2000, also a leap year that added an extra day to the shortest month's typical calendar.

Coupled with best-ever monthly totals reported in December 2003 and January, the local tourism industry is enjoying an unprecedented resurgence that, if uninterrupted, would likely blow away the city's best-ever visitor total of 35.85 million set in 2000.

"If we held this kind of rate, we'd be well into the 36 million (annual visitors) range," John Piet, senior research analyst for the convention authority, said Monday.

Piet's estimate was conservative, at least by the numbers. For the first two months of this year, Las Vegas' nearly 5.97 million visitors is 5 percent better than last year's pace over the same period. Carried over 12 months, a steady 5 percent increase would result in more than 37.3 million annual visitors this year.

Last year, Las Vegas welcomed approximately 35.5 million visitors, and local tourism leaders have repeatedly said they hoped to top the 36-million mark this year.

Piet credited an improved U.S. economy with the recent surge, an opinion that was seconded by Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman with the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America.

"We're entering a strong recovery phase for this industry, something that started in the fall and is steadily increasing" in early 2004, Keefe said Monday.

Keefe added many Americans, as well as foreigners, held back from traveling since summer 2001 thanks to varying economic challenges compounded by that year's Sept. 11 terror attacks. Now that consumer confidence has improved, she said leisure destinations such as Las Vegas are benefiting from previously pent-up demand.

Las Vegas' leisure travel, measured in total room nights occupied by tourists, was down 1.2 percent compared with February 2003. But a 13.8 percent increase in room nights occupied by conventioneers helped boost the city's overall performance during the month.

Even the loss of the 73,000-attendee World of Concrete trade show, which this year rotated to Orlando, Fla., after appearing in Las Vegas in February 2003, was not enough to bring down the city's convention activity, which increased by 8.6 percent to 702,582 monthly attendees.

Piet credited some of that improvement to the semiannual Men's Apparel Guild in California's MAGIC Marketplace, which brought more than 90,000 people to town this February, up 14 percent.

Citywide occupancy rates were 86.9 percent for the month, virtually unchanged from a year ago despite the addition of 2,158 hotel rooms.

Daily room rate averages were up 2.7 percent to $92.13, another factor that shows strong demand for the city. Year-to-date, room rates are averaging $95.11, up 9 percent from a year ago.

Business was also good in outlying areas of Southern Nevada. Laughlin's 356,137 February visitor total was up 2 percent compared with the same month a year ago, while Mesquite's reported 141,005 total was a 6.5 percent improvement from February 2003.