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Tourism officials expecting big crowds, more travel for July 4

Talk about explosive.

With Fourth of July falling on a Saturday this year, some officials are expecting travel to the Las Vegas Valley to compete with Labor Day for the biggest weekend of the summer, and with the Mayweather-Pacquiao weekend in May, Memorial Day and New Year’s for one of the biggest events of the entire year.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is projecting about 321,000 visitors from Friday to Sunday — an increase of 4,000, or 1.7 percent from 2014, spokesman Jeremy Handel said. Comparatively speaking, the authority put Memorial Day weekend travel at about 330,000 visitors, the Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing match at 310,000 and New Year’s Eve and early New Year’s Day at 300,000.

“With the Fourth of July falling on a weekend, you have a lot of companies that may be offering a holiday on Friday, effectively making it a three-day weekend,” Handel said. “So it provides a great opportunity and extra time for visitors in Las Vegas, much like Memorial Day or Labor Day.”

A TOP 10 DAY for ‘15

On Thursday, with an estimated 78,876 seats available for incoming flights, McCarran International Airport neared its 2015 high for largest 24-hour seat capacity, spokeswoman Christine Crews said. On May 21, the airport set a seven-year high with 80,477 seats.

Although Fourth of July weekend won’t break any 24-hour capacity records, Thursday’s numbers will put July 2 in the top 10 days of 2015 so far, Crews said.

“Fourth of July isn’t necessarily a traditionally high-demand weekend like Memorial Day is,” Crews said. “But we’re likely going to see more people here this year than if the holiday fell on a Tuesday, for example.”

In total, incoming commercial air traffic for the five-day span from Thursday through Monday trailed slightly similar five-day capacities for Memorial Day and the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, Crews said.

About 360,410 seats were available from Thursday to Monday, compared with 365,500 seats May 21-25, and more than 361,000 seats April 28-May 2.

“It’s not the biggest, but it’s definitely a more attractive travel period this year,” Crews said.

TRAVEL NEARS THREE-YEAR HIGH

On the ground, Fourth of July travel is expected to near three-year highs in the Mountain West, AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said. Specific numbers for the Las Vegas Valley were not available. But more than 3 million residents in the Mountain West region, which includes Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Colorado, will drive 50 or more miles over the weekend — about the same number as 2014.

It’s the strongest Fourth of July travel numbers since 2012, Harris said, partly because of lower gasoline prices and a healthier overall economy.

“We’re seeing more consumer confidence for travel since the national recession,” Harris said. “Unlike before, people now feel they can pay off their travel expenditures.”

Both Harris and Handel said despite record-setting heat in June and sizzling, 108-degree temperatures in the weekend forecast, travelers won’t likely be discouraged from visiting the Las Vegas Valley.

“People go to Vegas for the casinos, for the swimming pools and for the night life,” Harris said. “Heat is not a deterrent at all.”

“The dry and steady climate here really provides a good incentive for people,” Handel said. “They know what to expect and they don’t have to worry about anything cataclysmic popping up.”

Businesses in the valley, from water parks to strip clubs, are preparing for one of the most profitable weekends of the year.

At Wet ‘n’ Wild, Assistant Manager Lindy Frye said hotter-than-usual temperatures and a greater tourist awareness of the park, which opened in 2013, have staff preparing for crowds near its 6,000 visitor capacity.

“It could be record-breaking numbers for us, especially because it’s so hot,” Frye said.

Similarly, Little Darlings strip club Manager Rick Marzullo called Fourth of July weekend one of his “top three” weekends of 2015 to date — just behind New Year’s and Mayweather-Pacquiao weekend.

“It’s different because everybody’s out of school,” Marzullo said. “It combines all kinds of people from across the country.”

Although Fourth of July marks one of the year’s top tourism weekends so far, it’s only the halfway point of a packed 2015 travel season, Harris said. Valley tourism marks could be equaled or passed by Labor Day weekend, Thanksgiving and the Christmas and New Year’s travel season, she said.

“We’re at a steady pace now, and people will continue to travel,” Harris said. “There’s no reason to think these numbers won’t keep growing — even this year.”

Hotels in the valley are at 95 percent capacity for the weekend, Handel said, meaning nearly 9,400 of the valley’s 149,347 hotel rooms are still available. It’s a 1.2 percent increase from last year’s 93.8 percent tally.

The spokesman said there’s still plenty of space for last-minute travelers looking for a Fourth of July destination.

“There’s room for anybody and everybody in Las Vegas,” Handel said.

Contact Chris Kudialis at ckudialis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283. Find him on Twitter: @kudialisrj

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