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Vegas stripped down

Visitors, revenues remain below 9/11 levels

LAS VEGAS — Nearly one year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Las Vegas is recovering, but visitors and revenues remain below the pre-attacks period.

According to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, total visitors are down 2.3% and gaming revenues are off 5.4% for the January-June period, compared with the same months in 2001.

Visitors Authority communications VP Rob Powers blamed the stock market and the economy, as well as the aftermath of 9/11.

Despite deeply discounted room rates, occupancy levels are down 3.2% compared with the first six months of 2001. For the same period, air traffic is down 6.7%, a decrease of 1.3 million passengers, while auto traffic into Las Vegas increased 12.1%, a gain of 600,000 cars.

“Our No. 1 market is Southern California, accounting for 25%-30% of our visitors,” Powers said. “Typically 90% of Californians drive in.”

Convention boom

In contrast, Powers said the convention segment of the visitor trade is tracking ahead of last year. Convention attendance is up 5.2% to 3.2 million total attendees for the first half of the year, and the economic impact from these conventions is up 5.8%, yielding an infusion of $3.7 billion into the local economy.

MGM Mirage vice president of public affairs Alan Feldman said the hotel’s high-roller numbers were the most affected, adding, “From Sept. 11 though the end of January 2002, there was a 75% dropoff in high-rollers. These numbers are still depressed by 15%-20%.”

The economy also severely affected the local entertainment scene. Many hotels are no longer willing to financially back their production shows, so four-wall deals are becoming commonplace. Few new or innovative shows bowed this year and two of these — “The Main Event” starring Bob Anderson; and a musical tribute to Stevie Wonder called “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” — closed within a month of opening night.

After a long absence, some familiar faces have returned to town and appear to be doing well at the box office, including Gladys Knight, Sheena Easton and Charo, resident headliners at the Flamingo, Las Vegas Hilton and the Sahara Hotel, respectively. In August, comedy producer Martin Bergman unveiled a latenight comical chiller show called “Boo!” at New York-New York, but it is too soon to predict if it will succeed in scaring up customers.

Also at New York-New York, plans are under way to build a permanent memorial to the Sept. 11 attacks that will be located at the base of the Statue of Liberty replica. The tribute will have a granite structure base and contain shadowboxes to encase some of the artifacts spontaneously left by visitors to the New York City-themed resort during the past year.

These personal articles include handwritten notes, flags, flowers and pictures of loved ones lost in the tragedy.

On the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11, no special ceremonies are skedded here, although many Strip properties are expected to display commemorative messages and fly American flags from their electronic billboards.

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