Evacuees don’t help LV hotels

Despite Ed Cartagena’s best efforts, the Southern California wildfires didn’t have a noticeable impact on Las Vegas visitation.

Cartagena brought nine members of his family from San Diego to Nevada to stay with relatives and escape the chaos of wildfires that destroyed at least 1,700 homes and blanketed the region with smoke.

“That four- or five-hour drive was well worth the time and expense to get them out of San Diego,” said Cartagena, who works for the California Department of Transportation. “I didn’t want them to be around the anxiety of the fires.”

Cartagena’s wife, two children, sister-in-law and a grandparent were among the group he brought to Nevada earlier this week. He expects they will stay through the weekend given that school won’t resume in San Diego until Tuesday.

He said the family’s Southern California home was immediately outside one of the evacuation areas. They decided it would be best to escape the smoke and confusion.

While the Cartagena nine may have made for a crowded car, wildfire evacuees didn’t dent visitation to Las Vegas, which attracts more than 3 million people a month even when California isn’t going up in smoke.

The occupancy rate in the approximately 133,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas is the highest in the nation at about 90 percent. And it’s higher on weekends. It would take about 1,300 bookings or cancellations to bump the occupancy rate 1 percent in either direction.

“This has been difficult for us to track even though we’ve tried,” said Station Casinos spokeswoman Lori Nelson. The company owns 10 hotel-casino properties in Las Vegas. “I heard back from our hotel managers that they haven’t seen any unusual spikes in reservations this week.”

Boyd Gaming spokesman Rob Stillwell said there hasn’t been an unusual spike or dip in reservations during the fires despite the fact that as many as 500,000 people in Las Vegas’ largest visitor pool were forced from their homes. Boyd Gaming owns three hotel-casinos downtown.

“I would assume most would want to stay close to make sure their home is OK,” Stillwell said.

MGM Mirage spokeswoman Yvette Monet said the company waived “several hundred” cancellation fees for guests forgoing trips because of the fires. The company, which owns 10 hotels on the Strip, also had “quite a few” Southern California guests who extended their stays.

Since the Cartagena family already visits Las Vegas as often as twice a month or more, it made sense to use Southern Nevada as a haven.

Fortunately, their home wasn’t damaged by the fire, so the evacuation was little more than an unplanned getaway.

“It worked pretty well for us,” Cartagena said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or (702) 477-3861.

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