Vegas Visitors' Spending Shows 15 Percent Rise - Monday 3rd of April 2006

by Chris Jones

Las Vegas Gaming Wire

LAS VEGAS If the love of money is truly the root of all evil, go ahead and slide Las Vegas a few steps closer to hell.

Thanks to some lavish spending by last year's out-of-town guests, there's a helluva lot more money for locals to love.

The statistics on dollars spent are contained in the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's 2005 visitor profile, a nearly 90-page document chronicling everything from guests' average trip length to whether they visited a local nightclub.

The report, released Wednesday, suggests that last year's visitors didn't hold back when patronizing area hotels, casinos, restaurants, shows and shopping centers.

Eighty-six percent of the city's 38.6 million visitors said they gambled while in town. Their average casino budget was $626.50 per trip, up 15 percent.

Alan Feldman, an MGM Mirage senior vice president, was not surprised by the findings given the state's recently released record gaming win of $11.6 billion, up 10.3 percent.

Feldman added the convention authority's findings are particularly important because they indicate across-the-board spending increases.

"The community has focused on nongaming attractions for the better part of the last decade, and rightfully so," Feldman said. "This just shows that that effort has brought (Las Vegas) a better gaming customer as well."

Food and drink expenditures averaged $248.40 per trip, up 4 percent from the prior year and 19 percent from 2003.

Tom Bachner, general manager of The Capital Grille at Fashion Show, said restaurant and bar tabs were up in part because restaurants must pass on suppliers' approximately 20 percent price increases for meat, dairy and produce.

In addition, Bachner said he thinks Las Vegas has attracted an older, more sophisticated traveler. That claim was supported by his restaurant's wine sales increase of up to 18 percent.

"Las Vegas is really on people's radar these days," Bachner said. "I've seen a big number of upper-middle class people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are coming here for the first time."

Authority data show 21 percent of visitors were between 40 and 49, while 20 percent were between 50 and 59. Twenty-seven percent were at least 60 years old.

Overall, visitors' average age decreased from 49 to 47.7 years thanks to a 4 percentage point gain among 30- to 39-year-olds. That group last year accounted for 20 percent of the citywide total.

Twenty-four percent of visitors reported household incomes between $60,000 to $79,999. Twenty-two percent earned more than $100,000 per year, well above that category's prior 13 percent count.

Though too few cared what all the fuzz was about surrounding Wynn Las Vegas' new Broadway transplant "Avenue Q", last year's visitors still spent $2 more on entertainment, averaging $49.43 per trip.

Shopping reported a nearly 10 percent boost to an average of $136.60 per trip.

Other notable findings included:

* Downtown Las Vegas took a huge hit last year. Only 46 percent of travelers said they visited the Fremont Street region, well below the prior year's 57 percent.

Transferring those percentages into actual visitors indicates nearly 3.6 million fewer people went downtown from 2004 to 2005.

* Vacations were the top draw for 61 percent of all guests, while 12 percent cited meetings or conventions.

* Forty-seven percent of travelers arrived by plane, the same percentage as 2004.

* Travel agents continued to play a lesser role in people's plan-making. Only 17 percent said they used such a service, down from 20 percent the prior year and 22 percent in 2003.

Many people have migrated to the Internet when planning a Las Vegas getaway: data showed 40 percent of guests went online before making a trip last year, up from 32 percent two years before.

Demographic data show last year's local visitors were largely married (74 percent), white (83 percent) and employed (67 percent).

Forty-four percent were college graduates, 24 percent retirees. Southern California remained the city's top guest supplier at 29 percent, up from 27 percent a year ago. Arizona held steady at 6 percent.

The percentage of foreign visitors slipped slightly to 12 percent, down 1 point from the prior year.

The U.S. Commerce Department won't release year-end data on specific cities' foreign visitation until this summer. But that data will likely show Las Vegas hosted more foreign travelers in 2005 than 2004 because the city's foreign and domestic visitor counts each expanded last year.

The annual study was prepared by GLS Research, a San Francisco-based polling firm regularly hired by the authority. Its workers conducted approximately 300 in-person interviews each month last year, primarily inside or near Las Vegas hotel-casinos and motels.

Responses were confined to non-Clark County residents ages 21 and up. To ensure people experienced the city before reviewing it, only visitors who planned to leave the city within 24 hours could complete the questionnaire.

The margin of error for the 3,600 respondent sample is plus or minus 1.6 percent at the 95 percent level, which means if the survey were repeated exactly as it was originally conducted, responses would be within 1.6 percent of the original results 95 percent of the time.

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