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Las Vegas may break 2016 visitation record

With just under two months to go before revelers ring in 2018, it appears that it’s going to come down to the wire as to whether Southern Nevada will break its year-old record of 42.9 million visitors set in 2016.

With around 50 available room nights left until then, annual visitation after three quarters is off 1.1 percent, which sounds insignificant, but amounts to a decline of 360,578 people — a number slightly higher than the population of Henderson.

A deep dive into last week’s Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority September and year-to-date statistics provides a blend of good and bad news, while statistics from the state Gaming Control Board on gaming win for September was mostly positive.

The good news: Convention attendance continues to track above last year’s record pace of 6.3 million attendees. For three quarters, it’s up 2.1 percent to 5.1 million, though the number of shows is off 5.1 percent to 15,166 for the year.

That’s after a 24.6 percent plunge from last year in September, attributed to outbound show rotations. Most notably, the MINExpo, a major mining industry exhibition that gathers once every four years, was here in 2016. Another big show, the Global Gaming Expo, which brought 27,000 people to town in September 2016, shifted on the calendar to October. That means October’s convention numbers might be a little healthier than usual when reports come out later this month.

Another piece of good news is that the average daily room rate seems sturdy with the level up 3.9 percent to $130.56 after nine months. The September rate was above the annual average at $139.57.

Even the city’s occupancy rate is stable. For the year, it’s up 0.1 percentage points to 90.2 percent — a rate most cities can only dream of achieving. The only occupancy category that’s down is motels, off 0.6 points to 73.6 percent.

So now the bad news: The LVCVA statistics account for every day up to Sept. 30 — and we all know what happened here that next day.

While anecdotal evidence points to the Oct. 1 shooting exacting short-term damage on destination bookings, we won’t know for sure until all the numbers are in.

Tourism, gaming and academic experts seem to agree that the tragedy would result in some cancellations from free and independent travelers. Caesars Entertainment suggested that culture plays a role in that, noting a dip in play from Asian customers, people that seem to have a greater need to pause for the grieving and mourning process.

Executives at Penn National, which operates the Tropicana, said cancellations were up 30 percent from normal after the tragedy.

But across the board, there has been no evidence of group reservations, conventions or meetings canceling as a result of the tragedy. There were some genuine concerns that the Global Gaming Expo would pack it in because one of the American Gaming Association’s leading members, MGM Resorts International, was so directly affected by the tragedy. To the AGA’s credit, the show went on, and while a subdued crowd attended events and cruised the trade-show floor, it was an important first step toward business as usual.

So why is this so important?

Las Vegas is clearly on a roll right now with a megaresort under construction on the Strip by the Genting Group, plans on the horizon for big guys like Wynn Resorts and little guys like Golden Entertainment and the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center close to being designed.

There are all kinds of important initiatives out there that will make Las Vegas economically stronger and more vibrant.

While critics might criticize the dollars-and-cents analysis of 1 October, it’s imperative that business and our economy must emerge stronger. It’s not just about breaking visitation records and making money.

We’ll never forget those 58 people who lost their lives. But we also can’t forget why those people were here in the first place — to have fun in a place that thrives as a destination where we make our livelihood.

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

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