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Howard Stutz

Vegas makes room for stranded visitors

20 April 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Strip picked up a few extra visitors over the weekend, and it had nothing to do with rodeo fans and country western music aficionados.

Trans-Atlantic flights canceled because of a massive volcanic ash cloud have paralyzed air travel throughout Europe.

At McCarran International Airport, daily round-trip flights by British Airways that connect Las Vegas with London's Heathrow Airport have been grounded since Wednesday, stranding Las Vegas tourists hoping to return to the United Kingdom. Virgin Atlantic, which operates flights between McCarran and London's Gatwick Airport, has also seen the company's planes grounded.

The canceled flights have left some casino operators with an overflow crowd of European guests who can't get home.

"Every one of our properties has seen some sort of impact," MGM Mirage spokeswoman Yvette Monet said Monday. "We have travelers who have extended their stay in Las Vegas due to flight cancellations."

She couldn't put a total on the number of customers affected by the cancellations. Some European guests have chosen to leave Las Vegas for other destinations in the United States and Canada while they wait for the ash cloud to dissipate.

MGM Mirage operates 10 resorts on the Strip, including the recently-opened 4,004-room Aria at CityCenter.

"Our resorts have been addressing each case individually, according to guest needs, [but] we are extending preferred rates to stranded travelers," Monet said.

The weekend was complicated somewhat by visitation centered around two special events: the Professional Bull Riders World Cup Event at the Thomas & Mack Center and the Academy of Country Music Awards, which was held at the MGM Grand Garden on Sunday night.

Other Strip resorts reported similar impacts as MGM Mirage, but not at the levels the Strip casino giant experienced.

Harrah's Entertainment spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson said tourists holed up in Las Vegas because they couldn't get back to Europe were given rooms at discounted rates. Harrah's, which operates nine Strip resorts including the Rio, had to move guests to different properties because of weekend sellouts at some resorts.

"We did what we had to in order to accommodate everyone," Peterson said.

Any slowdown in European visitation to Las Vegas sends shudders through the city's tourism industry, which has relied on foreign travelers to augment a slow domestic visitor market that has curtailed discretionary spending in the past few years because of the sour economy.

So far, the restrictions in air travel have not been felt in Asia, allowing that segment of Las Vegas' international customer market to continue unimpeded.

A spokesman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority referred any comments on the flight restrictions to the affected airlines.

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic issued statements from their corporate offices Monday discussing the potential of flights into and out of London's airports resuming by today. "We will aim to operate long haul departures that were scheduled to depart after 4 p.m. and short haul departures scheduled to depart after 7 p.m.," British Airways said in a statement. "This will however be subject to the full and permanent opening of airspace."

Virgin Atlantic said it was working on contingency plans to resume some service today. "Our priority will be to get as many passengers back to their country of residence as quickly as possible," the airline said.
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