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Chris Jones

Visitors Keep Nevada Cash Registers Ringing

28 July 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Despite its sparse population and lack of political clout, there's still one category in which Nevada ranks among the nation's heavyweights.

And while the Silver State's status as a world-renowned travel destination is apparent to anyone who's ventured near the busy Strip in recent months, the strength of Nevada's dominant industry has also been recognized from afar by one of the nation's most-respected travel organizations.

Foreign and domestic visitors spent more than $20.2 billion in Nevada in 2002, the sixth-highest total among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, a July report from the Travel Industry Association of America, a Washington-based interest group, shows.

Expenditures in Nevada trailed only California, Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois, whose large populations, multiple metropolises and varied amenities could easily overshadow Nevada's limited travel options highlighted by Las Vegas, Reno and the Lake Tahoe area.

Association spokesman Allen Kay admitted Tuesday the latest numbers are dated because TIA can't produce a 2003 report without that year's international traveler statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Still, he said the new report suggests Las Vegas' brand recognition helped Nevada's travel industry remain strong despite many challenges and large rivals.

"Look at who you're competing against," Kay said, citing California's size and key international gateways, Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla., and the global business and leisure attractions of New York City. "There's no question that Nevada comes in consistently among the industry's heavy hitters ... and I think that says a lot about how it markets itself."

Kay praised Las Vegas' efforts to build brand awareness among potential travelers, adding the city has created "a worldwide fascination" that makes up for its relatively small size.

"You can have a great product, but it doesn't mean anything if people don't know about it," Kay said. "That's why Las Vegas and Nevada are major players."

States such as New York or California also benefit from the high volume of travelers who go there to visit family or friends, a draw that's not nearly as prevalent in Nevada, Kay said. That disadvantage makes this state's high ranking more impressive, he added.

Despite its high ranking, visitor spending in Nevada was down 2.6 percent from 2001. The association said the sluggish U.S. economy and continuing security concerns hampered the industry in 2002, as evidenced by a 1.9 percent decline in nationwide traveler spending that year.

Domestic and international visitors spent a combined $537.6 billion within the United States in 2002.

The report divided each state's visitor spending into multiple categories such as lodging, airfare, shopping and automobile-related expenses, among others.

At more than $8.6 billion, Nevada's largest segment was entertainment and recreation, a catch-all category that included gaming, outdoor recreation expenses and the cost of admission to sporting events, nightclubs and concerts, among other activities.

Entertainment and recreation generated $3.3 billion in payroll expenses within the state in 2002, employing nearly 141,000 Nevada residents or 46.7 percent of the state's jobs, the report said.

Including all categories, Nevadans with travel-related jobs earned more than $7.3 billion in 2002. The industry accounted for more than 336,000 employees, or 32 percent of all nonfarm jobs in the state.

2002 Travel Expenditures

State Expenditures Related Jobs Payroll

California $68.2 billion 820,200 $19.6 billion

Florida $54.5 billion 742,600 $15.3 billion

New York $34.4 billion 383,300 $10.1 billion

Texas $34.2 billion 534,400 $12.4 billion

Illinois $22.1 billion 304,800 $7.7 billion

Nevada $20.2 billion 336,300 $7.3 billion