Issue 133
March 31 - April 6, 2003
Volume 3
page 1
 

This Issue

Gaming News
Las Vegas Still a Top Destination

South Korean Casino Resort Opens

MTR Gaming Approved for
500 Slot Machines

US Airways Cuts Flights to Las Vegas

California Casino Expansion Ahead of Schedule

Atlantic City Casinos Sprucing Up


Show Time

The Beastie Boys and DJ Hurricane will appear at House of Blues in Mandalay Bay Resort Casino April 25


Column
Some Top-Notch Blackjack Players Take up Texas Hold'em Poker

Check out our entertainment highlights & upcoming tournaments

See the lucky winners

 

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Las Vegas Still a Top Destination

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.

Celine DionThat 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.

Travel agents 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
in Chicago.

Recent trips 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.

Las Vegas 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.

Some travelers 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 them."

There are several indicators that augur well for affluent travelers to Las Vegas, which remains among the country's top vacation spots, agents say.

According 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.

The company's 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."

Las Vegas is already popular but could likely become more so as people stay tuned to the news and watch

their 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."

Local agencies 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."

Bertha Steinberg, 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.

Others are 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 say.

In the Travel and Leisure survey, 62 percent of readers said discounted rates by airlines and resorts would encourage them to travel now.

Deep travel 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.

The war 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.

In South 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.

"People 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."

Tourists 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.

Brian Stifora 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.

He also 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.

Tracie Stauffer, 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.

Still, Stauffer 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."

Carolyn 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. "I listen to the news several hours each day," she said. "It bothers me that we're here in a prime target area."

The travel industry nearly ground to a halt after Sept. 11 and security concerns continued to plague business for months afterward.

This time 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 Station, Texas.

Gambling's 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, he said.

Whether they are getting the message is another matter, he said.

"It's 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."


South Korean Casino Resort Opens

Kangwon Land Resort & Casino exterior/Korea Times/ - SOUTH KOREA - March 28th was a memorable day for the depleted coalmine of Sabuk in Chongson, Kangwon Province, with the opening of a super-deluxe hotel, its main casino and convention facilities.

No longer will it be labeled as the mediocre destination for people who are addicted to gambling, many of whom have blown hundreds of billions of won at the roulette or other gaming tables since the opening of the Small Casino at the end of 2000.

On the other hand, the opening of the main hotel and casino, officially called Kangwon Land Resort & Casino, marks the beginning of the its emergences as a truly international resort with the scheduled construction of a golf course, ski slopes and theme parks. "This is more than a casino. It will be an international resort for all seasons and we will be making concerted efforts to attract foreign visitors," said Kangwon Land CEO Oh Kang-hyun. Kangwon Land Resort & Casino gaming

There are numerous casinos in Korea, including the Paradise Casino at the Grande Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel in eastern Seoul, but they are reserved for foreigners and Koreans with foreign nationalities.

Contrary to initial concerns about its popularity, over 2 million Korean residents have visited the facilities since its opening despite its rather inconvenient location - it takes over four hours to get there from Seoul, including a three-and-a-half-hour trip on a train - prompting criticisms that it was fanning addiction to gambling.

The main casino on the fourth and fifth floors provides 960 slot machines and 100 gaming tables, three times as many as those at the Small Casino. There will also be a theme park in front of the hotel that offers 14 rides.

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