by Laura Carroll
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas hotel-casinos expect a busy Labor Day weekend this year with projections for tourist volume, spending and hotel rates all higher than last year's three-day holiday.
An estimated 303,000 people are expected to visit Las Vegas this weekend, up 0.7 percent from 2011's 301,000 total. Expected nongaming economic impact is $178.7 million, up 3.9 percent from 2011's $172 million.
Nationwide, 33 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend, a 2.9 percent increase from the 32.1 million people who traveled during Labor Day weekend in 2011, according to the AAA and IHS Global Insight 2012 Labor Day Holiday Travel Forecast.
The Labor Day holiday travel period is defined as Aug. 30 to Sept. 3.
The increase in expected Labor Day travelers is driven by improving consumer confidence compared with a year ago and Americans' unwavering desire to travel, AAA said.
A recent study released by MMGY Global and Harrison Group supports AAA's thesis.
In its survey of 2,527 U.S. households, the research found that emotional connections are the primary reason for renewed interest in travel by consumers who endured years of having less money and time to take trips.
"In the absence of strong economic growth that might fuel a significant boost in travel volume, it is an encouraging sign that Americans continue to prioritize travel,' said Bill Sutherland, AAA's vice president of travel services. "Travel is still within America's discretionary spending budget."
For Labor Day weekend 2012, median spending per person nationwide is expected to be $749, a small increase from $702 in 2011.
Like hotels nationwide, those in Las Vegas are charging more for rooms this weekend.
At the Stratosphere, rooms for Friday, Saturday and Sunday range from $400 to $430 for the entire weekend, which is up "slightly" from 2011. Spokeswoman Kathy Topp said the hotel is expecting a sellout.
"Labor Day weekend is a big weekend in Las Vegas," said Paul Hobson, the hotel's general manager.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is projecting 90 percent occupancy rates citywide this weekend, compared with 89.4 percent for Labor Day weekend 2011.
A post on the authority's Facebook page Monday posed the question, "Who's coming to Vegas for Labor Day Weekend?" As of Thursday, the question had 274 comments - most of which, perhaps unsurprisingly, were one form or another of the word "me."
According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, hotel rates for AAA three-diamond lodgings are expected to be up 4 percent from 2011 with travelers spending an average of $154 per night compared with $148 in 2011. Three-diamond Vegas hotels are charging less than the national rates. The three-diamond Hyatt Place Las Vegas, for example, is charging from $104 to $122 per night, and the Doubletree Club by Hilton Las Vegas Airport is charging between $67 to $94 each night.
A three-night stay at The Venetian runs from $657 for one king bed to $15,000 for a penthouse suite. Similarly, rooms at Planet Hollywood Resort range from $615 to $1,292 for three nights.
As for transportation, it's cheaper to get to your destination this year.
Car rental rates are down 10 percent from 2011 to an average of $39. Airfares have decreased 4 percent since 2011, to a round-trip rate of $197 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index.
And it appears that road trippers aren't being deterred by higher gasoline prices this year. On Thursday , Nevada's average price for regular gasoline was $3.77 per gallon, up from the 2011 $3.57 average price. But nationwide, 28.2 million people, or 85 percent of the holiday's travelers, intend to travel by automobile, up 3.1 percent over 2011.
About 2.55 million leisure travelers, or 8 percent of the total, are expected to fly this weekend, a 3.7 percent increase over 2011. The remaining 7 percent of Labor Day travelers are expected to use other modes of transportation, including cruise ship, rail and bus.
Although median spending is expected to be up overall, AAA's survey found that 34 percent of travelers' plans would be affected by their finances. However, those not expecting financial limitations are planning increases in entertainment spending, which in Las Vegas, is good news.
This weekend, Strip and downtown properties will be competing for that tourist entertainment dollar. At the MGM Resorts properties alone, there are several performers coming to town, including Neil Diamond and Ziggy Marley. There is also the start of a limited run of "Wicked" at The Smith Center - seemingly appropriate for Sin City heading into Labor Day weekend.
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