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Rod Smith

Las Vegas Resorts Note Dip in Room Bookings

24 March 2003

LAS VEGAS -- Advance room bookings for Las Vegas resorts showed signs of weakening Friday, two days after the outbreak of war with Iraq.

Casino operators, analysts and reservation companies attributed the slackening demand to hostilities in the Middle East, the sluggish economy and faltering consumer confidence.

Advance room bookings placed through were down Friday between 15 percent and 17 percent compared with the average for the quarter to date, said a spokeswoman for the full-service travel site that is owned and operated by Greenspun Media Group.

Wall Street sources said forward group bookings at major casino properties were down significantly immediately following the outbreak of war, generally because of hostilities in the Middle East and the weak economy.

They said it is already clear that the new softness in leisure travel demand, which was resilient in 2002, will make it difficult to hold performance at fourth-quarter 2002 levels.

There was also a noticeable softening of bookings for late April and early May at the Stardust and Boyd Gaming Corp.'s downtown properties, company spokesman Rob Stillwell said.

"This is when customers would be making their reservations, but instead they're glued to their TVs. The faster this thing ends, the faster we can get back to normal," he said.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said the company's incoming call volume was down at the end of the week.

"That's certainly understandable, with people paying more attention to TV," he said.

Other operators asking not to be named said there was a decrease in advance room bookings Thursday and Friday, but they said it was too early to know whether it was a new trend or a fluke.

Similarly, advance travel bookings placed through Las Vegas-based Prestige Travel were down 3 percent to 4 percent following Wednesday's start of military action, company vice president and financial officer Leo Falkensammer said.

"We're down, but it's a lot less than what we expected," Falkensammer said. "The people who were going to travel are still going to travel" regardless of the war.

Furthermore, Falkensammer said, he attended a travel conference in Poland last week and sensed little apprehension toward travel among the Europeans he met.

Most major casino operators said they have experienced only normal levels of cancellations so far and are expecting high levels of demand over the weekend, thanks in large part to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. and spokesmen declined to comment.

However, the Expedia Web site was offering an "Exclusive Limited Time Offer for Expedia Customers," booking trips to Las Vegas and suspending its no-refund policy in the event of cancellations.

Gaming Wire writer Chris Jones contributed to this report.