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Convention Attendance Plummets in May by 33% in Las Vegas


By Arnold M. Knightly, Las Vegas Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 9, 2009--Fewer meetings and poor attendance at two large conventions drove local visitor numbers down again in May. The number of visitors to the valley dropped 5.8 percent to nearly 3.2 million people, according to numbers released today by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The National Hardware Show and the International Council of Shopping Centers drew 25,000 attendees each where they drew 50,000 in years past, according to Kevin Bagger, director of Internet marketing and research for the authority.

The poor attendance, coupled with 565 fewer meetings and conventions in May, pushed down meeting attendance 33 percent to 341,846 attendees.

In Las Vegas hotels, occupancy dropped 5.3 points to 84.4 percent, with weekend occupancy dropping less than a percent to 91.8 percent.

Daily average room rates, however, dropped 28.3 percent to $96.96 per night from $135.17 per night in May 2008 as large hotel-casinos lowered rates to lure visitors.

"We think this reflects significant room discounts and aggressive marketing packages and programs that took place in May to stimulate demand into Las Vegas," JP Morgan analyst Joe Greff said in an investors note.

Bagger said the lower room rates suggest that leisure travelers are replacing the higher paying convention goers that aren't coming to town.

"The economy is still fragile," Bagger said. "We're happy that we continue to achieve occupancy levels that are higher than other destinations, but the numbers definitely show that spending is continuing to have a decline."

For the year, room occupancy is down 6.4 points to 82.8 percent with room rates declining 27 percent to $97.23 per night.

Visitor volume the first five months of 2009 is down 6.9 percent to 15.2 million visitors from 16.3 million visitors last year.

Convention attendance this year is down 28.6 percent with 2,441 fewer meetings held this year than last.

"Leisure is helping compensate for the challenges on the convention and business travel segment," Bagger said. "That is where the economy is continuing to have impacts on meeting planners' decisions to have meetings. It is also affecting the number of attendees at meetings."

In Laughlin, visitation was down 7.6 percent for May to 236,039. For the year, Laughlin visitation is down 13.9 percent, with 1.1 million visitors.

However, the average Laughlin room rate for the month increased 13.4 percent to $47.78 with room occupancy remaining flat at 73.1 percent.

Mesquite continued to struggle with the closing of the Oasis in December. Mesquite visitation was down 31 percent in May to 92,036. For the year, it's down 28.6 percent to 492,651.

Room inventory, however, is off 34.8 percent as Black Gaming has closed the Oasis resort, taking approximately 900 rooms out of the market.

With fewer rooms, room rates in Mesquite increased 5.1 percent to average $55.17 in May. Occupancy was up 4.3 percent to 87 percent.

"Any property like that being closed ripples through the numbers throughout the destination," Bagger said.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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Copyright (c) 2009, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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