LAS VEGAS --While
travel abroad is suffering and some tourists are holding off
on domestic trips, Las Vegas appears to be holding its own as
one of the country's top places to escape for a few days at
a time, travel agents say.
outlook coincides with reports from area casinos of minimal
cancellations and near-to-full hotel rooms from visitors who
continue to pack Strip sidewalks to take in the NCAA basketball
tournament, the opening of Celine Dion's "A New Day"
show and a variety of regular draws.
It's also bringing a collective sigh of relief
from some in the travel planning industry, which has suffered
a series of setbacks from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to
a tanking stock market, economic uncertainty and a public that
is increasingly using the Internet to book trips themselves.
contacted nationwide say customers who already have booked trips
to Las Vegas, for the most part, aren't backing out. Harder
to gauge is whether future business will drop as people decide
to hold off on travel plans. "We really haven't had a lot
of cancellations ... but we're also not seeing a lot of future
bookings," said Mike O'Malley, owner of Diplomat Travel
to Las Vegas have increased, however, as some forgo trips abroad
to travel closer to home and for a shorter period of time, he
said. "There's so much uncertainty in the world" that
is making people hesitant to make big trips, he added.
trips also are up for Betty Maclean Travel in Naples, FL. "My
sense is that people are not feeling any problems about travel
within the U.S.," said travel agent Betsy Patton. "We
have a lot of very sophisticated travelers and there's a sense
that they're going to travel and nothing's going to stop them.
Others are saying they really want to travel but maybe they
want to stay in the states instead."
Bookings are down nationwide for agents who
belong to the United States Tour Operators Association, a New
York City-based trade group that ranks Las Vegas as its most
popular tourist destination.
simply won't fly if they feel afraid, said Ellen Sinkez, an
agent at Gateway Travel in Newark, N.J. But the vast majority
don't appear to be letting the war get in the way, she said.
"No one is calling saying they don't want to go to Vegas.
Vegas people are brave. They just want to get out there and
gamble and have fun as soon as possible - and I don't blame
There are several indicators that augur well
for affluent travelers to Las Vegas, which remains among the
country's top vacation spots, agents say.
to a reader survey by Conde Nast Traveler magazine last month,
97 percent of respondents said they would not stop traveling
due to a war and 42 percent said a war would have no effect
on their travel plans. Another 38 percent said they would change
their destination and 38 percent said they would travel more
in the United States as opposed to abroad. A second reader survey
conducted at the brink of war by Travel and Leisure - another
publication read by upscale consumers - said that 92 percent
have plans to travel domestically in the next six months and
87 percent said they do not have plans to make changes.
A survey of agents last week by Virtuoso, a
Forth Worth-based network of more than 250 agencies catering
to high-end travelers in North America, indicated that more
customers are taking shorter, domestic trips rather than traveling
to destinations such as Europe and Asia.
"This could be a big strength for Las Vegas
to get a bigger percentage of the business out there,"
said Keith Waldon, a Virtuoso spokesman.
affluent customers also haven't been as affected by the sputtering
economy, which is hurting other segments of the market, he said.
"We're a little more bulletproof. One of the top things
in their lifestyle is leisure travel. The people who are dedicated
travelers are strongly wanting to keep their lifestyles going."
The economy is registering on the radar screen
for Michael Treptow, owner of Travel Partners International
in San Francisco.
"People just don't have the money,"
said Treptow, whose region has reported scores of layoffs as
high-tech firms scale down amid the slow economy. "A lot
of people are out of work. There are more 'For Rent' signs than
I've seen in 10 years."
is already popular but could likely become more so as people
stay tuned to the news and watch
wallets, he said "It's still seen as a good value especially
if people can travel during the week. I can find packages for
two people for two nights for $350."
that cater to fly-in tourists also say they aren't feeling the
pinch. "We're booking 50,000 room nights a month in Las
Vegas and our business is still up over last," said John
Berman, director of leisure sales for Prestige Travel. "We've
had very minimal cancellations because of the war -- I wouldn't
even call it a blip."
president of Century Travel in Las Vegas, also hasn't seen many
cancellations. Near-term demand has been harder to gauge because
many flights into town were already booked months in advance
for spring break visitors, she said.
taking a wait-and-see approach, she said. "There's been
a lot of last-minute bookings. People aren't planning for the
long-term. " Travelers
still want to find deals, regardless of global events, agents
In the Travel
and Leisure survey, 62 percent of readers said discounted rates
by airlines and resorts would encourage them to travel now.
discounts lured hordes of tourists back to the Strip after Sept.
11. While the city has always had a reputation for stashing
some real deals, finding them this time around may prove more
difficult than expected, agents say.
hasn't changed the fact that weekend trips are still much tougher
to book and prices months from now remain high for certain weeks
marked by conventions and other events, Treptow said.
Florida, Mandalay Resort Group's Circus Circus casino is running
ads for $39 rooms, Patton said. "People would jump on that,
for sure," she said. Still, many others gravitate toward
properties that aren't going for cheap these days.
want to stay at the beautiful hotels and the new properties.
It's still a popular destination, but price-wise it's on par
with theme parks like Disneyworld that are fairly expensive."
already in Las Vegas have had mixed feelings about enjoying
themselves this past week. Some visitors in the casino at Caesars
Palace during Dion's opening night performance Tuesday said
the war didn't enter into their travel plans at all.
and his wife Dorothy, from Calgary, Canada, had been traveling
across the West over the past few weeks and recently made a
pit stop in Las Vegas. "We check the news every morning
but (the war) hasn't changed our vacation," Stifora said.
expressed surprise at how few Americans appeared to be tuned
in to the war. "I would have expected more (outward gestures
of) patriotism, especially after 9-1-1. I'm surprised. The general
public is going about their business." Others
said the war has dampened their experience.
from Colorado, planned her trip to Las Vegas several months
ago and wouldn't have been able to get her money back if she
cancelled ahead of the war.
said she now feels guilty about letting loose while people are
getting killed overseas. "I feel bad even though there's
nothing I'd be doing about it sitting at home."
Rowe of Paris, Texas, was in town with her husband Jerry, who
was attending a surgeons' convention. Rowe said she felt some
regrets about the trip and felt uncomfortable being in a popular
tourist destination that could fall victim to a terrorist attack.
listen to the news several hours each day," she said. "It
bothers me that we're here in a prime target area."
industry nearly ground to a halt after Sept. 11 and security
concerns continued to plague business for months afterward.
around, the majority of Americans are likely to continue traveling
cautiously unless an act of terrorism occurs on U.S. soil, said
Paul Tarlow, a tourism and security expert based in College
history in organized crime has led to a casino industry that
now ranks the highest in the hotel business for its expertise
in security measures, Tarlow said. Add to that the fact that
Las Vegas is more isolated, harder to access and has a less-dense
and more-adult concentration of people than, say, Southern California,
and tourists should feel comfortable traveling to Sin City,
they are getting the message is another matter, he said.
not difficult to do. But it's a matter of whether you're living
under the old paradigm that you don't talk about it. This is
something that the (casino industry) needs to advertise and
take advantage of."