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Rod Smith

Poll Finds More Visitors Growing Leery of Las Vegas

20 July 2004

A new MRC Group Research Institute survey suggests visitors are growing warier about Las Vegas as a travel destination, leading marketing experts to warn that tourism officials better be prepared in case attitudes sour further.

"We should look at this as an early warning sign. We need to study the attitudes to see if the trends accelerate and not stick our heads in the sand," said Jim Medick, chief executive officer of MRC, Nevada's largest public-polling firm.

The key finding of the new survey is that there has been a big shift away from visitors coming to Las Vegas because of heavily discounted air fares and room rates, he said.

In July, only 12 percent of those surveyed said they chose Las Vegas as a destination because of bargain air fares, less than one-third the 41 percent who cited it as a reason for visiting in June 2003.

Similarly, only 25 percent of those surveyed in July said they came here because of discounted room rates, half the 50 percent who said they came because of bargain room rates in June 2003. "The discounts aren't out there the way they were, and that's impacting a lot of peoples' decisions," Medick said.

Medick said the shift in attitudes is not surprising because the airlines and hotel-casinos are experiencing a boom in visitor demand and are not offering the steep discounts that were common in 2003.

But he said the survey also showed a change in the perceived value of a vacation or business trip in Las Vegas.

"Visitors were much more negative. They're seeing Las Vegas as getting more expensive and less of a value. Fewer said they'd recommend Las Vegas to their friends," he said.

Only 34 percent of the survey respondents said Las Vegas is getting better as a destination, a negative swing of 17 points since April.

At the same time, 62 percent believed Las Vegas was getting more expensive to visit, a swing of 11 points with only 4 percent feeling it was getting less expensive.

Similarly, 83 percent of respondents said they would recommend Las Vegas to a friend, down from 92 percent in April, and only 46 percent said they would be likely return, down from 61 percent in April.

"There's a perception this is becoming an expensive place to visit, and that could get to be a problem for the destination if it grows," Medick said.

However, Kevin Bagger, senior research director for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said whether visitors are coming in for bargains or other reasons, they're arriving in droves.

Still, University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson said the perception that Las Vegas is not a bargain will hurt the destination generally if it persists.

"The idea Las Vegas is a big bargain is important for our leadership position in attracting visitors. But it's a matter of marketing and public relations because here you can still get a room for half the rate of other cities," he said.

The survey also found that terrorism is back as a concern with visitors, with 15 percent of those surveyed citing security as their No. 1 concern compared with 7 percent in September and 8 percent in April

"What's happening in the world is definitely impacting us here in Las Vegas. That's not good news," Medick said.

However, Bagger pointed out that concern about terrorism increases whenever there are heavy media reports about problems, as there were during June, and ebbs when reports taper off.

The survey also found some drop in the impact of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's advertising campaign, with people who have heard of the tag line, "What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas," dropping to 49 percent in July from 62 percent in April.

However, Medick said the drop in recognition could be attributed to a lighter media buy in the early summer months than in the spring.

Thompson also said the decision to market blatant sexuality in the authority's advertising campaign also dimmed popular perceptions that Las Vegas is a value destination.

"Fundamentally, the core market of couples over 50 don't travel for sexuality. They travel for entertainment and dining and shopping and if we convince them visitors are coming for sex, we're sending them the wrong message," he said.

Bagger said the perceptions were part of a normal ebb and flow and that trends have to be tracked over long periods before conclusions can be drawn.Medick said the bottom line in the most recent survey is that "what happens there comes here," and that Las Vegas has to be in a position to market itself against national visitor trends.

"We're impacted by what happens nationally, whether it's media reports about terrorism or airlines offering discounts," Medick said.

The MRC Group survey randomly sampled 45,000 daily Grand Canal Shoppes visitors at The Venetian, 402 of which were interviewed through touch-screen computer monitors between June 30 and July 8. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.