Unique attributes fuel Vegas' quick recovery

NEW YORK -- As the travel industry picked itself up after Sept. 11, one of the first destinations to get rolling again was Las Vegas. "It's the one product that seems to have rebounded the fastest," said Eileen Kennedy, vice president of regional marketing at Gogo Worldwide Vacations.

"Las Vegas, more than any destination in the world, understands that getting traffic back into the city is vital," said Ray Snisky, vice president of corporate development at Mark Travel Corp. "The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the hotels and airlines all demonstrated a responsiveness and were quick to get moving," he added. "There was a realization that you've got to get people back to the destination even if it means your price points are not up to what you would like."

From a tour operator standpoint, business to Las Vegas is rebounding. The Las Vegas tourism industry might have responded more quickly than many because the city is more dependent on tourism than most other destinations. Hotels and tour operators cut their prices. National Airlines offered a $75 roundtrip fare from New York for Tuesday departures, creating astounding values in a market used to prices that already are unrealistically low by most standards.

MLT Vacations' Worry-Free Vacations offered free air with three-night plans to Las Vegas booked on Oct. 10, starting at $36 per person, double. But there are other reasons the city might have recovered much quicker than most places.

"I guess Las Vegas visitors are risk takers," said Kennedy. Those who breathe the rarefied atmosphere of Las Vegas casinos are hardly the faint of heart. At least not when they are in the city itself, where the exhilaration is contagious.

From the standpoint of the security issues that became so sensitive in September, Las Vegas stands up pretty well in the range of travel destinations. A domestic destination, it might be perceived as remote from the problems of the world, located off in the desert and surrounded by mountains. And, perhaps most importantly, Las Vegas is the ultimate fantasy city.

"It's a place to get away from everything that is happening," said Kennedy. Everything seems possible in Las Vegas. The wealth of the casinos has built a glittering empire, with the most audacious architecture to be found anywhere on earth.

The sense of American can-doism is nowhere more flagrantly exhibited than in Las Vegas. Monumental hotels from a few years ago are razed and new, even more spectacular ones take their places in a matter of months. And if Americans do hold back from international travel until world tensions cool down a bit, where better to go than Las Vegas, where many of the world's great destinations reside in miniature. There are the Paris, New York-New York, Monte Carlo and Luxor hotels.

Southwest Airlines Vacations has added tours of Hoover Dam to its Las Vegas lineup. But not only barriers of space are obliterated, so are barriers of time. Clients can find themselves in ancient Rome at Caesar's Palace, King Arthur's court at Excalibur or the ultimate fantasy world of movies at MGM Grand.

Tour operators like Southwest Airlines Vacations might expand Las Vegas' sense of universality by expanding the range of experiences available to visitors. "We've added adventure tours, river rafting, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and ghost town tours," said Janet Warford, associate product manager at Southwest Airlines Vacations. "It's not for everyone, but for particular travelers who don't want to spend all their time in the casinos [it's an alternative]."

In addition, Las Vegas remains one of the most affordable destinations, though indications are that prices will stabilize after the first of the year, when demand appears to be holding strong. But Las Vegas is always among the best bargains in the travel industry.

"There will be price-cutting through December," said Kennedy. "Then we'll get back to our regular pricing. It's a destination that still maintains a high level of demand."

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