LOS ANGELES – The odds appeared to be stacked against Las Vegas for this New Year‘s Eve.
With the key holiday falling in midweek, leisure travelers still scarce and the prospect of conflict with Iraq, many feared the all-important high-rollers would stay away. But analysts said there is new hope that the holiday would be an improvement from New Year‘s Eve last year as a bikini party with Playboy models, a concert by rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the lure of gambling should keep the Las Vegas Strip and the casinos filled.
Investment bank Bear Stearns reports that New Year‘s Eve room rates are down 24 percent from last year, reflecting economic uncertainty, the shutdown in November of Las Vegas-based National Airlines and the midweek holiday.
Las Vegas is a barometer for the hotel, travel and gambling industries, all of which were slowed tremendously by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks which destroyed the World Trade Center.
Clouding crystal balls throughout the travel industry is the post-Sept. 11 tendency to wait until the last minute to make airline and hotel reservations. „There are people who are going to wake up on the morning of the 30th and say ‘Hey Martha, let‘s go to Vegas.‘ They may be out of luck,“ said Howard Lefkowitz, president of Las Vegas travel and entertainment booking Web site vegas.com. Industry watchers say a war with Iraq could be disastrous for domestic travel, but MGM‘s Murren said it was not dissuading his customers. For many, the potential conflict is a worry but not a good enough reason to avoid domestic travel. „The sense is that it is still far enough off,“ said Bjorn Hanson, lodging and leisure analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He forecast that over the two-week Christmas and New Year period, hotel rates throughout the United States will be up 3.3 percent from 2001 but down 3.6 percent from the end of 2000.
Another big holiday for Las Vegas will be Feb. 1 — the start of the Chinese New Year — when Asian high rollers roll into town. But last year the high rollers stayed home, fearing anthrax contamination, said Murren, who this year expects more work for his three planes, shuttling gamblers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. While holiday busts would not break the bank in Vegas, the New Year celebrations are seen as giving an early cue as to what 2003 will bring.
„It might be an indicator of everybody‘s mood to party,“ Mulkey said.