Major auto trade show drives Las Vegas visitation for November

A key auto trade show helped drive local visitor volume toward prerecession levels, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported Wednesday.

On top of improving visitor numbers, the market saw a surge in average daily room rates.

The latest numbers bode well for the city, with experts noting that a jump to an unprecedented 40 million local visitors may come in 2012.

"We continue to see growth from where we were during the past couple of years," said Brian Gordon, of local research firm Applied Analysis. "With increased hotel rooms in the market, the fact that we continue to climb clearly benefits the leisure and hospitality industry."

Just more than 3 million tourists came to Las Vegas in November, up 3.2 percent compared with 2.9 million visitors in November 2010. Scott Russell, senior manager of research for the authority, credited the jump to better-than-expected attendance at the SEMA Show, a trade event for automotive specialty products. SEMA drew more than 60,000 people, helping boost convention attendance by 2.6 percent year over year in November.

Year to date through November, 36 million people visited Las Vegas, up 4.4 percent from 34.5 million in the first 11 months of 2010. Visitor volumes have grown for 21 months straight, Russell noted.

"People are recognizing they have the ability to travel again, and the destination is reinventing itself every day," Russell said.

Added Gordon: "We have more capacity (rooms) in the market, so a number of hotel operators remain aggressive with their offers and marketing activity to potential tourists. And from a demand side, we have seen some increased stability in markets outside Southern Nevada. That has allowed leisure and business travelers to contribute to the increased demand level that we're experiencing."

The authority won't tabulate 2011 spending data until it has December's numbers, but Gordon said there's evidence that consumers continue to spend considerably less than they did pre-recession, though gaming revenues and sales in restaurants improved.

If December's numbers meet projections, Las Vegas will have hosted just under 39 million visitors in 2011 -- near a 2007 peak of 39.2 million.

With visitor volume accelerating, hotels and motels commanded higher room rates in November as well.

The market's average daily room rate jumped to $103.34 year over year, the authority said. That was up 9.1 percent, from $94.73, in November 2010. The improvement came despite a 3.4 percent jump in room inventories.

But average daily room rates remain well off boom-era highs, and it'll be a while before they approach those levels, experts agreed. The average daily rate in 2007 hit $132, Gordon noted, so November's figure is a good 20 percent below peak prices.

Don't expect hospitality operators to close that gap anytime soon: Las Vegas now has 150,000 rooms to fill, up from 132,000 in 2007. That is likely to hold back big price gains at least through 2012, Gordon said.

Visitor volume, on the other hand, could reach a new threshold.

The authority predicts a 2 percent to 4 percent increase in tourism numbers in 2012. Even at the low end, say, a 2.5 percent rise, the city's visitor figures to around 40 million for the first time ever.

"I think 40 million visitors is certainly within striking distance," Gordon said.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@review or 702-380-4512.