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Howard Stutz

Vegas visitor tally rises once again

10 February 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- More people have visited Las Vegas for four months in a row, spreading optimism through the offices of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

But it is cautious optimism, Kevin Bagger, the authority's senior director of marketing, was quick to point out Tuesday.

Las Vegas visitor volume fell 3 percent in 2009, with almost 36.4 million tourists coming to Southern Nevada. That is down from almost 37.5 million visitors in 2008, figures released by the authority show.

But visitor volume has climbed steadily since September.

December's 1.5 percent jump was the smallest percentage increase in past four months, starting with a gain of 4.3 percent in September.

The run came after 15 straight months of declines; some think that the bottom may have been reached and visitation numbers are starting to rebound.

"We are comparing against some significant declines that we had in the latter half of last year, but the numbers suggest we have bottomed out," Bagger said.

The convention authority is projecting that Las Vegas will attract 37.4 million visitors in 2010, a 3 percent increase that would bring the city back to 2008 levels.

Bagger admitted the estimate was a conservative figure, but he added that in the current economic climate, visitation numbers can be rather volatile.

The key indicator on tourism is consumer confidence, Bagger said. He said a national index shows confidence levels are half of what they were in 2007. Consumer spending, he said, takes longer to recover.

Convention attendance was down 23.9 percent for the year, while the number of meetings held in Las Vegas was off 13.6 percent compared with 2008. In December, however, convention attendance grew 11.6 percent and the number of meetings rose 10 percent.

Las Vegas, Bagger said, was hurt by "political rhetoric" that played a part in reducing business travel nationwide. Some recovery was seen toward the end of the year, he said.