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Las Vegas Gambles on Tourism Rebound - 2001-10-27

Tourism is one industry that has been hit hard by the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Since then, Las Vegas, Nevada, with its tourist-based economy, has been coping with a dramatic drop in visitors. But efforts have been made for the city to recover from the economic downfall.

Almost 36 million tourists visit Las Vegas in an average year, spending an estimated $32 billion. But numbers from the city's McCarran International Airport show that passenger traffic in September was down almost 30 percent from the previous year.

After September 11, almost every hotel in the city cut back operations, laying off over 15,000 workers and offering big discounts on room rates.

Conservative estimates indicate Las Vegas has lost over $300 million since the terrorist attacks.

However, the city might be making a comeback. Erika Brandvik is a spokesperson for the Las Vegas tourism agency. She is cautiously optimistic that the decline in traveling is turning around. "You know what, we are on an upswing. Certainly, I can tell you with confidence that our visitor numbers are increasing. Our midweek occupancy levels are still ten to twelve percentage points lower than normal for this time of year. And as I mentioned, room rates that the properties are charging are lower. So, it's a great time to be a tourist here. It's a little bit different for our economy certainly," she says.

"I don't know if we're ever going to see normal, to be quite honest with you, relative to how we define that term prior to September 11. But, we're a flexible destination. Las Vegas has a reputation for being resilient, for being quick to rebound. And so far we're showing all indications are that's going to happen in this circumstance as well."

Ms. Brandvik's Tourism authority is starting a $13 million advertising campaign, aimed at neighboring states and cities like Los Angeles and Dallas. And Las Vegas hotels still receive many visitors from the nearby states.

Rob Stillwell is the spokesperson for Boyd Gaming, which owns several Las Vegas attractions including the Stardust Hotel and Casino on the famous strip, the street where the biggest hotels and casinos are located.

Mr. Stillwell says Las Vegas is now relying on its core customers, people from the surrounding region. "The business that we have today in Las Vegas, at our properties, is a little different than the business we had prior to September 11," he says.

"And in that I mean, where people, a lot of them, a majority of them are probably coming in via car, automobile through Southern California. We're having to go back to the basics. And Las Vegas, really [Los Angeles] - was one of our first markets that this destination was built under. There's millions of people in that area. It's within a three to four hour drive - and you're starting to see a lot of value the messages that made Las Vegas."

Mr. Stillwell says that value message has put more emphasis on cheap hotel rooms, discounted meals, and entertainment.

One of the biggest operators in Las Vegas is MGM Mirage, which runs the MGM Grand, Mirage, Bellagio, Treasure Island, and New York New York hotels and casinos. It have also curtailed operations and laid-off 20 percent of its staff.

Spokesperson Alan Feldman, says the reductions have caused the expansive and robust atmosphere of years past to disappear. He says this is a new experience for the city. "We have 37,300 employees in the Clark County area, which is the metropolitan statistic area for Las Vegas," he says.

"And we've had 6,000 layoffs in our company. For us, in our industry, especially in the gambling industry, which has been nothing but growth over the last, really three or four decades, but it's been turbo charged mode in the last ten years, this is inexplicable. We are a team of colleagues in our company, and frankly across the industry, who are totally accustomed to building new things. To hiring people. To putting people to work. To creating economic stimulus. And we're facing with going in reverse now. For virtually every one of us, this is a new experience."

Mr. Feldman says that 1,000 of the laid-off employees at his company have been called back to work so far, but has no idea on when the remaining staff will be recalled.

Despite the fact that business is no longer normal in the gambling city of Las Vegas, on weekends the usual jubilant crowds are still gathering outside and try their luck in the casinos.