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Rod Smith

Tourism: Visitors Find Las Vegas Vulnerable

6 January 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Visitors to Las Vegas have a newfound belief that the city is as vulnerable as the rest of the nation to terror attacks, an MRC Group Research Institute survey released Monday showed.

"Basically, where Las Vegas was feeling a lot safer than everybody else, we don't feel too safe (to visitors) anymore. We mirror what's happening in the rest of the country," MRC Chief Executive Officer Jim Medick said.

Over the recent holidays, 18 percent of the visitors to Las Vegas sampled in the MRC survey thought Las Vegas was very safe from acts of terrorism, about the same as the 17 percent who felt safe in the United States.

In surveys conducted in June and September, many more people said they felt very safe in Las Vegas as the United States as a whole (13 percent versus 7 percent in September and 21 percent versus 15 percent in June).

Still, Medick interpreted the survey results as good news for the gaming industry in Las Vegas.

"It bodes well for us. People recognize Las Vegas as a terrorist target. However, for the New Year's holiday, they said they're coming anyhow. Las Vegas is a strong enough magnet to make people want to come," he said.

Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Falcone said Las Vegas showed resiliency during the holiday period despite the attention on possible terrorist attacks.

He said early estimates show roughly 270,000 visitors still came here despite the media attention, with projected occupancy close to 99 percent despite earlier cancellations.

Falcone said room rates and nongaming revenues were strong over the holidays, despite heavy no-shows among high rollers.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson, attributed changes in polled attitudes and any soft spots in the market over the holidays to short-term media reports rather than fundamental shifts in public opinion.

"It's just publicity driven. But that's bad news for Las Vegas (because) we don't know what tough news is going to be coming out of the Middle East (or the Department of Homeland Security)," he said.

In the same survey, 9 percent of the visitors here who were surveyed over the holidays said they did not feel safe in Las Vegas, up from 8 percent who felt unsafe in September and 6 percent who felt unsafe in in June.

Las Vegas received heavy media attention late last month after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the national alert level from yellow to orange and named the city as a possible terrorist target.

"If we have a lull for two or three months, we'll be back to where we were before," Thompson said. "People will go back to their daily routines and they won't be hanging on the news quite as much."

Nearly half of those surveyed said it would it would take a red alert level to keep them away, up from 36 percent in September.

In addition, the survey found roughly half those polled came to Las Vegas because of discounted room rates, unchanged from earlier surveys, and the majority said the "What happens here, stays here" advertising campaign made no difference on their decision to come here.

Similarly, 22 percent said the campaign made them want to visit less often and 22 percent said it made them want to visit more often.

Medick called that part of the survey a wash.

"The ad campaign just sits there. It's getting a lot of press, but it's not affecting whether people come here or not," he said.

MRC, Nevada's largest market research and public polling firm, conducted the survey of Las Vegas visitors in the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian between Dec. 29 and Friday. The survey has a sampling error of plus-or-minus 5.2 percentage points and a 90 percent confidence level.