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Hotel demand hot for holiday weekend in Las Vegas

Some advice for the world-class procrastinators who still don’t have a room for tonight: don’t be too picky.

Several hotel-casinos have sold out for the Saturday peak of the three-day Memorial Day weekend, including Caesars Palace, Bellagio and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, although rooms were easier to find for Friday and Sunday nights. Other properties on the Strip also aggressively drove up rates in the past few weeks as it became clear that demand would support it this year.

Based on an average of bookings through i4vegas.com, CEO Michael Zaletel said rates have risen about 15 percent from last year. And, he said, the average stay has lengthened from 2.2 days to 2.6 days.

“This is good news for Las Vegas,” he said. “But part of the reason is the hotels are including a little more added value.”

In particular, he said, more free buffets and show tickets have been thrown in with the rooms than in the past, sometimes without the standard buy-one-get-one-free condition.

Based on a canvass of resorts, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority projects 311,000 visitors descending on the city this weekend, up
2 percent from last year and 3.3 percent from the boom year of 2007. With 15,000 more hotel rooms than there were in 2007, the projected 96 percent occupancy rate would run a point lower.

However, the authority projects nongaming spending of $186.2 million, 10.7 percent down from four years ago. This is based on authority-sponsored surveys that show visitors have guarded their budgets carefully even as the visitor numbers have started to rebound.

The holiday surge fits the pattern detected by Hudson Securities analyst Robert LaFleur, who sees an uneven recovery for the locally all-important tourist trade.

“Pricing improvements continue to be very event-driven, whether those events are midweek conventions, big fights or concerts, or holiday weekends,” he wrote in a research report.

For example, his survey of room rates for the week ending June 11 showed an 11 percent decline from last year.

But at least for one weekend, the good times were more than just a nostalgic memory. According to Hudson statistics, the Saturday night rate at The Cosmopolitan had climbed from $360 on April 2 to $570 on May 14, from $289 to $499 for the same nights at Vdara and from $359 to $499 at Bellagio. In the past couple of years, LaFleur said, demand did not allow rate increases and sometimes forced last-minute discounting.

The Palms had sold out Saturday night, but due to a handful of cancellations it posted its basic room at $999. By contrast, the same room category cost $249 on Friday and $399 on Sunday.

“Compared to last year’s Memorial Day, we are doing better,” said Palms spokesman Larry Fink, although he did not provide specifics.

MGM Resorts reported several
sellouts as well as occupancy numbers and rates running ahead of last year. Caesars Entertainment Corp., which also expects its properties to be largely full, also benefits from the overlap of several conventions and other group events next week.

One concern for the tourism industry has been the rapid rise in energy prices since the start of last year, including gasoline in the critical California market. The traffic count on Interstate 15 at Primm dropped 4.2 percent in March, the latest month available, after growing 2.6 percent last year, the authority said.

However, pump prices began to recede just in time for the unofficial start of summer. According to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, the average price for a regular self-serve gallon of gasoline in Los Angeles stood at $4.083 Friday, down 15 cents from one month ago but still $1.05 higher than one year ago.

But what’s a buck a gallon when Memorial Day is the start of the party-by-the-pool season in Las Vegas?

Jen Ashley of San Jose, Calif., brushed aside any concerns about gasoline prices as she danced to the music at the Ditch Fridays pool party at the Palms. She noted that on her way to the hotel she saw several stations with prices below $4 a gallon.

Not far away, John Shepherd and nine of his mates had flown out from Liverpool, England, for a bachelor party despite rising airfares and fuel surcharges. When asked if it was worth it, he formed a circle with his thumb and index finger and raised the other three as he gyrated to the music.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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