Tourism experts are saying the three-day Fourth of July weekend that begins Friday is going to be hot and it has nothing to do with the weather.
Local industry leaders are anticipating one of the busiest midsummer holidays on record, not just because Las Vegas is listed as the holiday’s top destination in the country but because thousands of locals are expected to clog the highways and airport as they try to get out of town to escape soaring temperatures.
Orbitz, a national travel booking website, deemed Las Vegas the No. 1 travel destination in the world for the holiday, edging Cancun, Mexico; the Dominican Republic; New York City; and Chicago.
Hopper, a Boston-based travel information research website, says Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport will be the nation’s busiest this weekend based on booking data the company has accumulated. McCarran is followed by Los Angeles International, Atlanta, Chicago’s O’Hare International and Denver.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is expecting 330,000 people to visit Southern Nevada this weekend, the same number as a year ago. The organization that markets Southern Nevada to the world projects a nongaming economic impact of $220 million this year compared with $219.2 million in 2013.
The crowd estimate is just under the 335,000 that came to Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve this year. Independence Day, always observed on July 4 and never moved to accommodate a three-day weekend, fell just right on the calendar this year and moved the local AAA office to project that 3 million residents of the West would travel at least 50 miles or more from their homes.
Hotel bookings are strong at MGM Resorts International properties, a spokeswoman for the company said.
“Many of our hotels are full for the weekend,” said MGM spokeswoman Yvette Monet. “But probably the best news for the resorts is that the average daily room rate has been climbing.”
The Convention and Visitors Authority recently reported that Strip room rates are up 8.1 percent to an average $137.96 a night for the first five months of 2014.
THREE DAY WEEKENDS BOOST TRANSPORTATION
The high volume of visitors also is good news for the transportation industry.
Bill Shranko, general manager of Yellow-Checker-Star, which runs Southern Nevada’s second-largest taxi fleet, said the Fourth of July holiday is one of the most important to the cab industry.
“The beginning of July is usually the start of a slow season for us because there aren’t as many big conventions in the hot summer months and our drivers start taking their vacations,” Shranko said.
“But the Fourth of July gives everybody a good boost before that starts,” Shranko said. “It’s a special time and most of the tourists are in a good mood.”
Breck Opeka, general manager of Bell Transportation, said his company is always busy on three-day weekends and this one will be no exception.
“There’s not a lot of limousine transport from the airport so our busiest times will be on Saturday and Sunday,” Opeka said.
He said groups book limousines for shopping excursions, transportation to golf courses or just riding around under the neon lights.
“People will often drive in from neighboring states, then hire us for fun trips once they get here,” he said.
Cynthia Harris, a spokeswoman for AAA Nevada, said consumer confidence and a steady economic improvement are resulting in the pent-up demand to hit the road.
“With the Fourth of July weekend being the busiest summer travel holiday, we can expect increased airport congestion, highway backups and higher travel expenditures,” Harris said.
GASOLINE ON THE RISE
It’s a good thing consumers are confident. They’re taking to the highways at a time when gasoline prices are at an eight-year high.
The U.S. Energy Information Office said the national average for regular gasoline this week was $3.70 a gallon, the highest for an Independence Day holiday since 2008, despite spring price run-ups staying below average.
Southern Nevada motorists also will be dodging some highway traffic tieups that have frustrated them for months.
The Arizona Transportation Department is lifting some of its traffic restrictions on Interstate 15 through the Virgin River Gorge Friday through Sunday.
Construction work on three bridges is continuing through the corridor and two spots will still have lane closures over the weekend.
A bridge at northbound milepost 13 in Arizona is still under construction while bridges in both directions at milepost 16 are down to one-lane work zones.
In Nevada, another portion of I-15 is under construction, but lanes that have been closed for a paving project in recent weeks will be reopened during the holiday weekend.
A spokesman for the Nevada Transportation Department said two lanes will be open in both directions for 26 miles from milepost 69 to milepost 95, Dry Lakes to the Logandale-Overton interchange near State Route 169.
Las Vegas police are adding additional officers to the Strip for the holiday. One extra squad, which consists of a sergeant and approximately 10 officers, will be assigned to Las Vegas Boulevard.
Though the Strip is expected to be crowded, police said the fact that it will still be open to vehicles — unlike on New Year’s Eve — makes it less likely for large events to occur, so one extra squad will suffice.
Two organizations supporting additional transportation funding are capitalizing on the intersection of the busy Fourth of July weekend with the American form of representative government by launching a new mobile phone app.
The “I’m stuck” app, downloadable for iPhones or Android devices, sends a plea for additional federal funding to solve delay problems on roads, buses, planes, trains, bicycles, subways and other transit options by forwarding a complaint directly to the user’s representatives in the Senate and House.
The free app is being promoted by Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials interested in transportation, and the U.S. Travel Association.
Review-Journal writer Annalise Little contributed to this report. Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.