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‘A top summer vacation spot’: Las Vegas expects big Memorial Day weekend

Updated May 23, 2024 - 6:09 pm

Memorial Day weekend — the traditional kickoff to summer vacations — is expected to be bigger than last year, local tourism experts say.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said Wednesday it is projecting 343,000 people will visit Southern Nevada in the upcoming weekend, a 1.8 percent increase over last year.

The LVCVA’s Research Center said it expects $432.5 million in direct visitor spending, an 11 percent increase from 2023, and a total economic impact of $715.8 million, which includes indirect spending by suppliers and vendors, a 4 percent increase over last year.

The LVCVA’s estimates are based on similar or slightly lower occupancy rates from last year of just over 93 percent, but with a higher inventory of hotel rooms, at 154,696. That’s 1.9 percent more hotel rooms than in 2023, even with the closure of the Tropicana. That’s because two resorts, Fontainebleau and Durango, have opened since Memorial Day 2023.

Three-day weekend

“Three-day holiday weekends are always great for Las Vegas’ economy,” said Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association. “All indications are this Memorial Day will be another strong start to the summer season. The resort industry continually invests in new experiences, attractions and A-list entertainment to keep Las Vegas as a top summer vacation spot. These investments continue to benefit the local economy as resorts are experiencing enthusiastic demand for the long weekend.”

Although experts are anticipating economic gain, it won’t come without some transportation pain.

“We’re expecting Memorial Day weekend numbers like we haven’t seen in almost 20 years,” said Brian Ng, senior vice president of membership and travel marketing for AAA Nevada. “It’s not just a return to pre-pandemic levels but also foreshadows the robust summer travel season ahead.”

Interstate 15 delays

Interstate 15, the primary traffic artery between Southern California and Las Vegas, is one of AAA’s highway hotspots for potential traffic delays.

Northbound I-15 from San Diego is expected to be 34 percent busier than a normal Friday evening. But usually the ugliest traffic jams are reserved for southbound I-15 when people are heading home Monday and traffic merges from three lanes to two near the Nevada-California border.

Nationally, road trips are expected to set a record.

AAA projects 38.4 million people will travel by car over Memorial Day weekend, the highest number for that holiday since AAA began tracking in 2000. The number of drivers this year is up 4 percent compared with last year and 1.9 percent higher than in 2019. Traveling by car is appealing for many people because of the convenience and flexibility it provides, AAA said. AAA car rental partner Hertz said Las Vegas is among the cities showing the highest rental car demand, with the busiest pick-up days projected to be Thursday and Friday.

This Memorial Day weekend drivers can expect similar gas prices as last year when the national average was roughly $3.57. Pump prices rose this spring but have held somewhat steady in recent weeks. Prices may creep higher as the summer driving season gets underway.

The wild card remains the cost of oil, and unlike last year, there are now two wars — in the Middle East and Ukraine — that could roil the oil market.

Busy airport

The airport also is expected to be a busy place this weekend and locals hoping to park at Harry Reid International Airport to get out of town may already be out of luck.

“We’re anticipating that those most in-demand parking locations — Terminal 1 Garage, Terminal 1 Economy Lot and Terminal 3 Economy Lot — could reach capacity as early as today, though as of now they all remain open,” Reid spokesman Joe Rajchel said Wednesday. “Travelers should give themselves extra time to find a spot, or consider other transportation options to the airport. They also need to pay attention to the signage on the airport roadways. That signage will have the most current parking information.”

Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, said the big public relations splash Las Vegas made during Super Bowl 58 in February may pay off this summer.

“While we continue to see a softening of the market, I think we can expect to continue to see high demand for Las Vegas tourism,” she said. “We may see lower spending and some value-seeking behavior such as increased travel during the week, less-expensive choices for food and beverage spending, and some decreased gaming spend. However, the closure of the Tropicana will push some demand to other properties as will the closure of The Mirage in July. I would also expect some of the good feelings generated by the Super Bowl may pay off this summer.”

Average down, high-end up

A survey of 104 Las Vegas hotels priced on Hotels.com on Wednesday indicated the average rate for a room Friday through Sunday at $263.40 a night, well above the average daily rate calculated by the LVCVA for May last year, but less than the $280.48 of Memorial Day weekend 2023.

Only one property was booking rooms for under $100 a night — the Hotel Galaxy. Rooms at Wynn and Encore Las Vegas were going for $509 a night, with Bellagio at $526 and Venetian and Palazzo at $613. Newcomer Fontainebleau was selling rooms for $376 a night while rooms at Durango were priced at $416.

The average daily room rate for the month of May in 2023 was $183.40, according to LVCVA archived statistics. The Strip’s occupancy rate was 87 percent on weekends in May.

Room rates gradually retreated through the summer of 2023, but occupancy hovered around 91.5 percent on weekends through June, July and August. In June 2023, when 3.43 million visitors came to Las Vegas, the Strip room rate averaged $175.78. In July, 3.53 million people arrived — the busiest of the summer months — with room rates at $173.49. In August, as the summer came to a close, 3.32 million people visited Las Vegas and room rates on the Strip averaged $165.94.

Percentage increases of direct visitor spending and total economic impact were modified.

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

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