LVCVA visitor study reflects 'slow improvement'

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LAS VEGAS -- The good news keeps getting better for Las Vegas.

In 2003, 35.5 million people visited the city, a 1.3% increase over the previous year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's (LVCVA) annual visitor profile study.

The study, which is in its 30th year, "is intended to show gradual shifts" in the tourism sector, so that when all of the numbers were tallied and analyzed there were no great surprises, according to Kevin Bagger, the LVCVA's director of Internet marketing and research.

"There were, however, a few key areas where we saw some changes," he said.

In Bagger's world, that's significant. For example, he said, Las Vegas did see an increase in visitors from Southern California.

Of the number of visitors who identified themselves as being from the U.S., nearly a third (32%) came from Southern California, a 3% hike from 2002.

Bagger noted that the number of Southern California visitors has grown steadily since 2001.

"Part of that is tied to the economy -- people were taking more reasonable trips -- and certainly it had to do with [the city's] significant advertising in that market," Bagger said.

Statistics relating to international visitors, he said, "mimicked the national trend, pointing to a slow improvement" in overall visitor numbers.

Nine percent of Las Vegas visitors last year came from outside the U.S., a one-percentage-point increase over 2002 but still not up to 2000 levels, when foreign visitorship peaked at 13%.

And although it seems that international visitor figures are on their way up, Bagger said, the increase will be very gradual.

"We believe those numbers won't ramp up to pre-2001 levels until 2007 or so," he said.

The visitor study also shed some positive light on the travel agent community.

Just over one in five visitors (21%) indicated they used a travel agent in planning their trip to Las Vegas. That number held steady from 2002, in which 22% reported using a travel agent, but is still down significantly from 1999, when the number peaked at 34%.

However, among those who used a travel agent, there was a large increase in the number who said a travel agent influenced their choice of accommodations -- up to two-thirds (66%) compared with 10% last year, 8% in 2000 and 2001 and the previous high of 44% in 1999.

In addition, 15% of visitors who used an agent said the agent had influenced their choice to visit Las Vegas, also a large increase over 4% last year, 3% in 1999 and 2001 and 2% in 2000.

Bagger said he believes this indicates there is "some stabilization in the travel agent market given the shift in travel habits and [the presence of] the Internet."

"[It shows that] people who do use a travel agent really do rely on them for their expertise and their knowledge," he said.

To contact reporter Amy Baratta, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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