|By Benjamin Spillman, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 6, 2009 - Not-terrifyingly bad news is the new sorta-good news, if April's Las Vegas visitation numbers are any indication.
Nearly 3.2 million people visited Las Vegas during the month, a 2.9 percent decrease from April 2008.
Although the decline was just 2.9 percent, it is important to remember that's a comparison to a time last year when visitation was already down 1.5 percent and has been in free fall ever since.
Also, convention attendance was down 23 percent for the month and the number of trade shows and meetings fell 29.7 percent.
That shows business travelers, who typically spend about twice as much money as leisure visitors, are still staying away.
But considering it was the smallest decline in 11 months, people are willing to take what they can get.
"The rate at which we're declining is slowing, which is encouraging on all fronts," said Jeremy Aguero, a principal at the business advisory firm Applied Analysis. "I think we are starting to accept the reality that what we are seeing today looks more like normal than what we saw even in mid-2007."
According to figures released Friday by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, lower room rates appear to be luring leisure visitors back to town.
The average daily room rate in April was $94.08, nearly 31 percent lower than at the same point last year.
It also appears guests were being swayed to stick around longer, perhaps enticed by many hotels offering specials that include an extra night for free. The number of room nights used increased 0.9 percent for the month.
Another high note in the visitation report came in the form of a weekend occupancy rate of 94.9 percent, up slightly from 94.5 percent last year despite there being about 4,000 more rooms to fill than there were 12 months ago.
"Obviously, the (average room rate) has been effective in stimulating demand," said Kevin Bagger, director of Internet marketing and research for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Still, the continued double-digit declines in convention and meeting travel and extremely low room rates suggest Las Vegas may not return to the go-go days of 2007 for years, if ever.
That's bad news for the nearly 10.5 percent of the local population who are unemployed.
It could also be bad news for future visitation if major resorts don't hire back some of the laid-off workers.
If visitation flattens out and stabilizes but resorts don't bring back workers, it could negatively affect customer service and discourage return visits.
"From a purely employment standpoint, I think we are already in overcorrection territory," Aguero said, adding the ratio of hospitality workers to available rooms is the lowest on record. "How long can you sustain that lower standard of employment before you really start to impact customer service?"
For the year, Las Vegas visitation stands at 11.9 million people through April, down 7.2 percent compared to the 2008 pace.
In Laughlin, visitation was down 15.3 percent for April to 221,040. For the year, Laughlin visitation is down 15.5 percent, with 874,384 visitors through April.
The average Laughlin room rate for the month was $46.69, a 24.7 percent decline from the year before.
In Mesquite, visitation was down 26.1 percent in April to 105,049. For the year, it's down 28 percent to 400,615.
Room rates in Mesquite averaged $59.58 in April, an increase of 0.4 percent. Occupancy was up 1.2 percent to 92.2 percent.
The rate and occupancy numbers in Mesquite are deceiving, however. Room inventory there is off 27.4 percent as Black Gaming, the primary operator in Mesquite, has closed the Oasis resort, taking nearly 1,000 rooms out of the market.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-477-3861.
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