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Las Vegas convention attendance, room rates near historic highs

With three-quarters of 2019 in the books statistically, visitation to Las Vegas potentially is closing in on some records.

A close look at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s September summary of leading indicators in visitation performance released last week shows Southern Nevada reaching uncharted territory.

A review of the first nine months of performance against historic tourism statistics shows a few categories that may prove 2019 to be the best year ever in a time when some lament that the city’s best days are behind it.

The record in the biggest category — visitor volume — is in no danger of falling this year.

As of the end of September, visitor volume was at 31.9 million people, 0.6 percent ahead of 2018’s level, which ended at 42.1 million. So, while it’s possible volume will beat 2018’s total, it isn’t likely to crack the record 42.9 million that were here in 2016.

But three other categories could be on the verge of historic bests.

While Kevin Bagger, vice president of the LVCVA research department, has no desire to become a tourism Nostradamus, he concurs that convention attendance, citywide occupancy rates and average daily room rates are close to historic levels.

The LVCVA says convention attendance through September is at 5.165 million. The record was established in 2017, when the LVCVA said 6.646 million attended conventions and trade shows across the valley. That means convention attendance would have to average around 493,900 a month to break the record.

The good news on that front is that attendance didn’t hit that level in only one month, September. And Las Vegas’ second-largest convention event — the dual SEMA and AAPEX automotive aftermarket shows — makes its annual appearance this week with 161,000 people forecast to be here.

But the bad news is that November and December traditionally are weak convention months because they’re within the holiday season.

Whether the record will be broken is debatable. But the strong numbers are bearing out that the LVCVA board of directors, Wynn Resorts Ltd., Caesars Entertainment Corp., MGM Resorts International and the World Market Center seemed to have made the right call in expanding their convention facilities so that Las Vegas can capture a larger share of the nation’s convention and trade show market.

Even if the city doesn’t beat that record this year, it almost certainly will in 2020, when two major shows that don’t meet every year are both here next year — the ConExpo-Con/Agg show, which arrives in March, and MINExpo, here in September.

Calculating citywide occupancy is a tricky proposition because the base number — the city’s room inventory — is constantly changing.

The current room inventory is listed as 149,050. The highest it ever stood was 150,593 in 2013. In 2007, the year Southern Nevada had its highest occupancy percentage, 90.4 percent, the room inventory was at 132,947.

Bagger admits that the challenge rises every time a new resort opens or an existing one expands. More than 4,000 rooms are scheduled to come on line at the end of 2020 with Resorts World Las Vegas and Circa due to open.

The current occupancy level is at 89.2 percent, just 1.2 points off the record. But, again, December is usually a month when occupancy falls off, despite the presence of the National Finals Rodeo and the lead-up to New Year’s Eve.

Occupancy probably will improve next December when Allegiant Stadium opens and some of the Raiders games will be scheduled that month. But this year? It’s iffy.

The other category in record territory is the average daily room rate.

It’s now at $132.87 a night, nearly the same as it was in 2007, when the ADR record was established.

But Bagger contends that Las Vegas already has hit that record because the LVCVA does not calculate resort fees when determining the average rate. Resorts collect between $15 and $55 more a night with the addition of those fees.

While gaming win has enjoyed an upswing over the past four months and slot machine win has been strong all year, Clark County is nowhere near the record win total of $10.9 billion reached in 2007. At the end of September, the total in 2019 was $7.7 billion, meaning that the county win would have to average more than $1 billion a month to beat the record.

The highest level reached in 2019 was $913.6 million in September.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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