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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2001

Las Vegas dusts off 'No Vacancy' signs

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — The "No Vacancy" sign is flashing again at Las Vegas Strip resorts on Saturday nights and long airport lines show visitors are returning to this tourism-dependent city.

The normally busy Las Vegas Boulevard "strip" became nearly desolate days after the Sept. 11 attack by terrorists. The strip and Las Vegas in general have made a determined effort to lure back visitors with discounts.

Associated Press

Industry experts, however, are unsure about Las Vegas' ability to rebound from the tourism slowdown that has followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and came as the nation's economy edged toward recession.

"If there is another terror strike on U.S. soil, I don't think Las Vegas will return to normal within a year," said Marc Falcone of Bear Stearns Co.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority figures for the weekend of Oct. 12-13 show the city's hotel-casinos reported 95 percent occupancy.

"That's essentially normal for this time of year in terms of occupancy levels," said Kevin Bagger, senior researcher for the authority. "Midweek came in around 80 percent occupancy, which is still soft for this time of year. Typically we should be in the upper-80s."

"There's still a lot of uncertainty," he said. "To say things are back to normal isn't accurate."

That's because business remains substantially below pre-Sept. 11 levels, said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, the biggest hotel-casino operator on the Las Vegas Strip.

As occupancy levels pick up, the company has been able to hire back on a part-time basis about one third of the 6,000 workers it laid off, Feldman said yesterday

An estimated 15,000 Strip workers have been laid off since the attacks.

Occupancy levels at the company's resorts including the upscale Bellagio are creeping back because of drastically discounted room rates, which will effect corporate profits, Feldman said.

"There are still great values to be had in Las Vegas and there's still the unexpected luxury of being able to buy show tickets the day of the show or get reservations at a popular restaurant," he said. "The new strategic plan is to forgo profitability to remain stable. We still have a long way to go."

Park Place Entertainment's five Las Vegas resorts — Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris Las Vegas, Flamingo and Las Vegas Hilton — were either sold out or nearly sold out the past two weekends, although at discounted rates, spokeswoman Debbie Munch said.

"We are working hard to build our midweek business and our group business has stabilized. We have to look at the long term."

Speaking at a World Gaming Congress seminar at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, Wall Street gambling industry analysts said Wednesday that the national downturn and tourism slowdown are limiting Las Vegas' ability to rebound.

The analysts were uncertain about the duration of the downturn and agreed that the city's short-term prospects are poor.

The attacks have affected the type of customers attracted to Las Vegas — high rollers are staying home and bargain-minded tourists are being lured by the discounts.

"Las Vegas is seeing a higher proportion of drive-in customers, and the drive-in customer is a lower quality customer," said Larry Klatzkin of Jefferies Co.

The average drive-in customer gambles less, dines at gourmet restaurants less and spends less on entertainment than those who fly in, according to Klatzkin.

McCarran's passenger levels are estimated to be at 91 percent normal for the week ending Oct. 9, airport officials said.

McCarran brings in about 46 percent of Las Vegas' tourists each year.

"We don't have daily passenger information, but we have revenue information," said Randy Walker, airport director. "We can also tell from the lines, the concessionaires, both gaming and food. Their revenue is coming back strong, so everything points to that (higher passenger levels.)"