Las Vegas resort operators aren't expecting Labor Day weekend to be the tourism market's savior.
They'll be satisfied if business associated with the traditional four-day, end-of-the-summer holiday mirrors the weekend business climate the casino industry has experienced in recent months despite the soft economy that has zapped room rates and sent gaming revenues to historic lows.
Tourism leaders are hoping that a mix of low hotel prices, special offers and other deals are enough to entice Las Vegas visitors to end the summer on a high note.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is predicting some 273,000 will come to Las Vegas this weekend, down slightly from the 275,000 who flocked to Southern Nevada over Labor Day a year ago.
The economic impact is expected to be about $158.9 million, down 9.6 percent from the economic impact of $175.8 million last year. Lower room rates and reduced spending are the primary reasons for the lowered expectations, authority research analyst Kris Tibbs said.
Occupancy over the weekend is expected to be 87 percent, which is also due to the 4,000 hotel rooms that have been added since last year including the Encore, which opened in December.
"The tracking so far still shows our weekend occupancy at about 90 percent and midweek at 70.5 percent," Tibbs said. "Weekends are still holding up better."
A year ago, Labor Day travel was sluggish. Occupancy was 88.8 percent for the weekend, compared with 93.5 percent occupancy for the same weekend in 2007. The January 2008 opening of the Palazzo added 4,000 additional hotel rooms to the market, but the economy was starting to sputter when Labor Day 2008 fell.
A month later, the bottom dropped out of Wall Street, credit markets were frozen and the economy tumbled into a recession.
Skip ahead 12 months and Strip leaders are hoping 2009's Labor Day will give casinos some kind of tourism boost.
"Like any weekend, we're hoping to see some room rate stability, maybe even some slight improvement," said MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman, whose company operates nine Strip casinos.
Through June, visitor volume has fallen almost 7 percent compared with the first six months of 2008. Room rates on average are down 26.8 percent from a year ago. On the Strip, gaming revenues are down 14.7 percent for the six months of 2009 compared to a year ago.
In conversations with analysts, casino operators have said weekend visitation picked up somewhat during the summer months, but midweek travel is still a challenge. Also, customers coming to Las Vegas aren't spending as freely as they did when the economy was strong.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. spokesman Ron Reese said the company's Venetian and Palazzo hotel-casinos are expecting strong crowds for the four-day weekend.
"(Labor Day) is always a strong weekend," Reese said. "It's the beginning of the college football season and the weather is still good. Weekends are not necessarily the problem."
The economy is not the only thing that AAA Nevada believes will put a damper on Labor Day travel plans. The calendar, which places Labor Day later than in 2008, could hinder travel.
The agency predicts 2.6 million people in the Mountain West region will travel 50 miles or more over the holiday weekend, a 6 percent decrease from 2008. AAA also predicts overall motor vehicle traffic will be down almost 4 percent while air travel will decline by 13.1 percent in the West.
Nationally, AAA expects 39.1 million people to travel 50 miles or more over the Labor Day weekend, a 13.3 percent decrease from a year ago.
"With Labor Day falling a week later this year than in 2008, many children will have returned to school," AAA Nevada spokesman Michael Geeser said. "So this year's decline in travel may have more to do with the calendar than the economy."
Labor Day weekend deals, low-priced special events and other offers abound in Las Vegas for customers who know where to look.
Boston resident Brian Austin found a hotel room in the Golden Nugget's Gold Club that averaged $130 a night over the holiday with the most expensive rate coming on Saturday. The trip was solidified when other plans fell through and he found round-trip airfare for under $400 a person.
"I started looking through the deals that were available in Vegas," Austin said in an e-mail exchange. "The room special at the Golden Nugget got our attention because we've been talking about spending a trip downtown. We usually stay on the Strip. My girlfriend was particularly interested in the Gold Club rooms and accompanying amenities."
Special events and other deals are not just confined to the resort corridor. M Resort is planning a Sunday festival at the hotel for local residents with free admission, low-cost food items, live music, family style activities and an 8 p.m. fireworks show.
Station Casinos is expecting 96 percent room occupancy over Labor Day, due in large part to its summer-long vacation package offer that ends Monday night. Company spokeswoman Lori Nelson said the large number of guests are a mixture of local residents and out-of-town visitors taking advantage of room packages of between $49 and $200.
Out-of-town visitors include family and friends of local residents.
"The long weekend seems to be one last getaway without leaving town," Nelson said. "It's matter of convenience."
Nelson said all Station Casinos properties are offering various restaurant, gaming and nongaming specials during the weekend to drive visitor traffic.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871.