Hot Vegas teeming with tourists

LAS VEGAS — It’s not just about Broadway imports: An improving U.S. economy, pent-up demand for travel since 9/11 and a diverse number of new attractions are fueling the latest boom in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Visitors & Convention Authority expects this year to exceed the 35.8 million tourists of 2000, the best tally on record.

The typical visitor is 45 to 50, stays 3.4 days and attends one show per visit, spending $40 per ticket. Foreigners make up about 9%, a figure that has been slowly increasing over the last few years.

2005 may be even more buoyant, since Sin City will be celebrating its 100th year of incorporation in May.

Celine Dion and Elton John are already packing them in at ticket prices — as much as $200 a pop — unheard of just a few years ago.

John has 19 sellouts to date this year and Dion has sold out nearly 150 times in year on the Strip.

Meanwhile, Cirque du Soleil boasts three concurrently running Vegas extravaganzas — “Mystere,” “O” and “Zumanity.”

Says senior VP Michael Bolingbroke: “The shows appeal to different audiences, do not cannibalize one another and all sell out nightly (95% or more).” A fourth Cirque show is planned for the last quarter of this year at the MGM Grand.

Perennial favorites with broad appeal still play here to enthusiastic audiences.

One of the most consistently popular is Stardust headliner Wayne Newton, who began performing in Las Vegas lounges at the age of 15 and has done more than 30,000 shows here.

Other Strip staples include magician Lance Burton, who holds court at the Monte Carlo.

Frank Marino, who hosts “An Evening at La Cage” at the Riviera Hotel draped in a dress, is in his 21st year, as is “Legends in Concert” at the Imperial Palace.

Vintage Vegas still kicks with the two topless showgirl reviews — “Folies Bergere” at the Tropicana and “Jubilee” at Bally’s — both ongoing for decades now.

Shows that display any signs of wear are quickly canceled and carefully replaced: Several years ago, “Notre Dame de Paris” shuttered at Paris Las Vegas, but it’s only now being replaced with London’s “We Will Rock You.”

Similarly, in the wake of the mauling of Siegfried & Roy’s Roy Horn in October 2003, the Mirage has been considering what to do to replace its signature show, which was regularly selling out with top tickets exceeding $100.

Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman estimates 2004 revenues will be down approximately $12 million, but says Mirage hotel room occupancy has not been affected by the show closing.

Although the 1,500-seat Siegfried & Roy showroom now sits vacant, tourists can still visit the white tigers and lions at the Secret Garden, housed at the Mirage since 1997. The attraction also is home to the duo’s other exotic cats as well as to a 56-year-old elephant.

Feldman expects no changes to this venue: “This is their home; they’re happy.”

As for a replacement show, an announcement will be made before the end of the year. Still, he adds, “It will take a near miracle to replace Siegfried & Roy.”

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