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Big tourism weekend expected

Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and the Las Vegas tourism industry is getting ready for a welcome onslaught.

David Saxe, who produces 13 shows in Las Vegas via his David Saxe Productions, said business across the tourism sector surely will be up next weekend, making for a crazy, albeit profitable three days. He expects his 465-seat V Theater to be sold out the entire time.

“We can double or triple our business Memorial Day weekend, easily,” he said.

Throughout the summer Saxe expects fluctuations, with a slight slowdown in June and a busy July and August.

“The summer overall is huge for us, because we’re Middle America; we just nail it,” Saxe said.

His shows, with tickets ranging from $40 to $80, appeal to mostly middle-class families. More expensive shows may see slower sales during the summer, when the Las Vegas tourist profile is less conventioneer and more family vacation.

Tourists are spending about as freely as last year, though Saxe said he’s heard more demands for discounts.

“Maybe it’s the Groupon generation,” he said. “Everyone wants a deal.”

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority doesn’t make season-specific forecasts, but it expects 40 million visitors this year.

“Occupancy, which is always high on Memorial Day weekend, is expected to be equal to, or better than, last year. We expect our Strip resorts to be full on Saturday and Sunday,” said Micah Richins, senior vice president of revenue management for MGM Resorts International.

“We view the Memorial Day holiday as a bellwether indicator of summer travel trends,” Richins said. “The way the holiday is expected to materialize bodes well for the coming months.”

The Automobile Association of America estimates that 34.8 million Americans will take trips of at least 50 miles during Memorial Day weekend. That’s 500,000 more than Memorial Day 2011, but equal to the number who traveled two years ago. Roughly 30.7 million – or 88 percent of those traveling – will drive, up 1.2 percent from last year, AAA says.

Gasoline prices may keep some low-wage earners home, the auto club warned. But for the most part, Americans will buck up for gasoline – assuming they can afford a trip in the first place.

The average, statewide gasoline price for Nevada was $3.97 for regular un­leaded as of Friday, up 5 cents from a week ago, according to AAA.

“We have seen prices go down the last couple of weeks. We’re not expecting any spikes from now until Memorial Day,” said Cynthia Harris, spokeswoman for AAA in Nevada.

The highest recorded average gasoline price for Nevada was $4.27 in June 2008.

Douglas Frechtling, chair of the Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management at George Washington University, says broader economic concerns far outweigh gasoline prices for most Americans when considering summer vacations. Slowing job growth is likely rattling some families, whose other bills take priority over vacation.

Gasoline was averaging about $3.85 per gallon nationwide when AAA surveyed 315 would-be travelers April 20 to 24. The survey showed that those making under $50,000 a year will make up about a quarter of all Memorial Day travelers, down from nearly a third a year ago. Higher gasoline prices eat up a larger share of lower-income families’ household budgets.

AAA says the 66 cent increase in the average gasoline price from January through early April made many skittish about taking long road trips. The average trip will be 642 miles this Memorial Day .

Some travelers will drive this summer because they can’t afford to fly.

The average round-trip domestic airfare this summer is expected to be up 9 percent to 10 percent from last year, according to Travelzoo. That’s on top of a 5 percent to 7 percent increase between 2010 and 2011. AAA estimates that 5.5 percent fewer people will travel by plane this Memorial Day. The industry trade group Airlines for America is somewhat more optimistic about summer as a whole, predicting a slight 0.2 percent decrease in air travelers.

AAA found that Americans with incomes of more than $100,000 a year will make up a greater percentage of travelers than a year ago – 36 percent compared with 30 percent. Middle-income Americans will account for 38 percent, down from 39 percent.

Families will carefully budget travel spending. Sixty-five percent of Memorial Day travelers surveyed by AAA say they’ll cut back on entertainment costs during the weekend. Spending per person is expected to rise just $10, to $702, although falling gasoline prices could give travelers a few extra bucks to spend.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates Americans will spend about $725.4 billion on travel this year, up 3 percent from 2011, but less than half the increase between 2010 and 2011.

When on vacation, tourists spend their dough on everything from food and lodging to souvenirs and entertainment – including that of the adult variety.

Nicholas Foskaris, who is head of operations at Treasures Gentlemen’s Club & Steakhouse and at the newly opened Cover Girls, is hoping Cover Girls’ grand opening party will get a boost in attendance because it’s on Saturday, the first day of the holiday weekend.

The 23,000-square-foot club opened with 60 employees and a full steakhouse and bar menu. Occupancy at Cover Girls is 901, and Treasures is 866, and Foskaris is expecting both to be at or near capacity all weekend.

And, he’s expecting the money to flow.

“We think customers are increasing their spending. I think people are starting to be more free with their credit cards,” Foskaris said.

The average spent at Treasures for a bachelor party is $100 to $150 per person, including dances and drinks.

And who’s spending this money?

“As always, a big portion of Las Vegas’ business is Southern California, especially on holiday weekends. But, the Canadian market has been so great to Las Vegas and our industry the last few years as their money has gotten stronger,” Foskaris said. “I’ve really seen that on any given night, 25 percent of your customers can be Canadian. Vegas is doing well off the Canadian traffic.”

AAA’S LIST OF MOST POPULAR
SUMMER DESTINATIONS

1. Orlando (Disney World)

2. Honolulu (Hawaii)

3. Anaheim (Disneyland)

4. Las Vegas

5. Kahului (Hawaii)

6. New York

7. Lihue (Hawaii)

8. San Francisco

9. Phoenix

10. Seattle

GETTING THERE

Here’s how we’ll get to our vacation destination this Memorial Day weekend.

Automobiles: 88 percent

Airplanes: 7 percent

Miscellaneous (bus, train, cruise ship): 5 percent

GAS PRICES

■ The national average for gasoline is $3.727. At that price, a 400-mile trip in a 2012 Chevrolet Malibu would cost about $45.17.

■ The good news: Gasoline has gotten cheaper. U.S. drivers have seen gas prices decline almost every day since the first week of April.

■ Prices vary widely. A gallon of regular unleaded costs $3.56 in Orlando, $4.39 in Los Angeles, $4.55 in Hawaii, $3.90 in Las Vegas, $4.09 in New York City, $4.41 in San Francisco, $3.78 in Phoenix and $4.23 in Seattle.

■ Gasoline was an average $3.795 during Memorial Day weekend last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Laura Carroll at lcarroll@reviewjournal.com or 380-4588.

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