Good news

There was some good economic news for Southern Nevada, last week, and while the road back is still a long one — while those who seek to “punish” business owners with more taxes and regulations are not yet vanquished, either in Washington or in Carson City — a little sunshine is surely welcome.

This fall, 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.

Gaming revenues grew 11 percent in October over the same month last year, Nevada’s third straight monthly increase. Collections on the Strip rose 16 percent, and even lagging downtown Las Vegas saw a 10.3 percent increase.

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 room rates increased 2.6 percent to $102 per night and occupancy was up 2.3 percent to 84.9 percent.

Mind you, 84.9 percent occupancy would look great in a lot of markets. Las Vegas just got used to better. There’s also a hitch in that number: A lot of the increase went to motels. Hotel occupancy actually declined 1.3 percent, thanks to increased capacity.

Still, this is the first time these benchmarks, plus airport passenger counts, highway traffic and the highly volatile convention attendance, have moved simultaneously in a positive direction since August 2007.

“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 the new year, according to a report from J.P. Morgan.

“We know visitor spending has taken longer to recover,” comments convention authority senior marketing director Kevin Bagger, “but the slot handle has improved, something we haven’t seen since 2007.”

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.

There’s no reason to believe the trends are a phantom. Economically battered Americans sat tight while waiting to see which way the economy and the nation would move — it seems they’re now ready, again, to give themselves that overdue vacation.

It just pays to remember that these improvements are a tentative start out of a pretty deep hole. Call the proper response “cautious optimism.”

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