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Report: Local economy gets sunnier

For the first time in more than three years, all of the major monthly indicators tracked by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority came in positive.

The visitor total in October rose 5.7 percent to 3.3 million, the best showing this year, extending the string of gains to eight months. Even though the number of rooms available rose 4.6 percent to 148,000, average daily rates increased 2.6 percent to $102 per night and occupancy was up 2.3 percent to 84.9 percent.

These benchmarks, plus airport passenger counts, highway traffic and the highly volatile convention attendance, had not been simultaneously positive since August 2007, when the economy started to cool off.

The comparisons, however, come against a 2009 that was still showing uneven results. Visitor traffic started to rebound from a difficult first half of the year, but room rates and occupancy were still on the decline.

“The October results reflect strength in visitation during a strong seasonal period, which we think is a positive sign for 2011 given the expected increases” in the first quarter of 2011, a research report by brokerage J.P. Morgan shows.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority senior marketing director Kevin Bagger said the report contained a lot of positives.

“We know visitor spending has taken longer to recover,” Bagger said, “but the slot handle has improved, something we haven’t seen since 2007.”

However, Michael Zalatel, CEO of the travel booking website i4lasvegas.com, downplayed the rising room rates, saying they were up because of an influx of new rooms at high-end properties displacing older, cheaper rooms, not because visitors have started to feel more prosperous.

Farther down the industry food chain, some companies that live off visitor traffic have detected a rising tide starting to lift them.

“I can tell you right now, my numbers are definitely good,” said Matthias Skilton, who owns the Rumpleskilton Events entertainment booking company. “Last year, people would want just caricature artists or fake-tattoo artists, but are now booking impressionists. Those that did sign impressionists just wanted them to meet and greet, but they are now asking for 25-minute routines. Last year was DJs, this year is live music.”

Mary Thomas of MKT Consultants, which stages events, has seen business clients spring for more expensive decorations and entertainment than a year or two ago.

“It’s not like it was in the boom days, but it is definitely picking up,” she said.

Magician Peter Studebaker, though, said he has not seen any improvement this year from corporate groups that book his act, although inquiries and early bookings lead him to expect an upturn starting in the first quarter of next year.

But Las Vegas VIP Limousines has had numerous clients trading up to limos after a period of making do with taxis or shuttle vans.

“Their business is up, so our business is up,” marketing director Katrina Lopez said.

Convention attendance, a measure that swings widely from month to month, rose 19.9 percent even though the number of meetings increased only 0.8 percent.

For the 10 months to date, visitor totals have gone up 2.8 percent to 31.5 million, room rates rose 2 percent to $95.20 a night and convention attendance rose 0.7 percent to 36.6 million. Hotel occupancy has declined 1.3 percent, with motels the only category showing a gain.

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

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