Vegas banks on last-minute New Year's rush to fill rooms

LAS VEGAS -- Showgirls at the airport and packed resorts greeted visitors arriving Sunday to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip. Big-name concerts and a $500,000 fireworks show are expected to attract 270,000 people over the holiday.

But cost-conscious travelers and the midweek timing of the party have slowed hotel bookings, and casinos were counting on a last-minute surge to fill the city's 127,256 rooms.

"People are shopping around more," said Kevin Bagger, analyst for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. He expected all hotels would be full Tuesday night, but said stays may be shorter than usual.

Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, said the possibility of war and a sluggish economy have resulted in fewer New Year's visits from families and international visitors.

"We're not where we were a couple years ago, but nobody expected that," he said.

On Sunday, rooms were available at Caesars Palace and The Mirage, and the lavish Bellagio and Venetian hotel-casinos were still selling New Year's Eve suite packages.

But Feldman said seniors and 20-somethings don't seem to be staying away for the holiday.

Several downtown casinos, which target older customers, had no rooms available Sunday. Hip, youth-oriented hotel-casinos off the Strip like The Palms and Hard Rock were also fully booked for Tuesday night.

"Las Vegas is becoming the new epicenter for young people on New Year's Eve," said Ryan Seacrest, host of Fox's "American Idol."

Seacrest is hosting a New Year's TV concert special at The Venetian that will include performances from Ashanti, Ja Rule and Sugar Ray and a peek inside Sheryl Crow's sold-out concert at the hotel.

The invitation-only concert airs live to the East Coast and will conclude by 9:30 p.m. PST. It pits Fox -- and Las Vegas -- against the ABC telecast of New York City's Times Square bash.

The relatively warm weather and cheap rooms on the Strip drew several New Yorkers away from Times Square for the holiday.

"It's too crowded and too cold there," said 27-year-old Noelle Fonak of Brooklyn, who arrived at McCarran International Airport on Saturday toting her fanciest party clothes.

"There's more to do here: Drinking and gambling," said her 25-year-old cousin Vanessa Pagano, of Syracuse, N.Y. "There, it's just drinking."

New Year's Eve room rates on the Strip ranged from $175 at the no-frills Travelodge to over $1,000 for a Bellagio suite.

About 93 to 95 percent of rooms in Las Vegas and Clark County would be booked on days surrounding New Year's, "but its a crapshoot whether people will arrive early or stay late," said Erika Brandvik of the city visitors authority.

Officials were to begin loading fireworks on Strip casino rooftops on Monday. The fireworks show will begin just before midnight on New Year's Eve and last eight minutes, Brandvik said.

The won't be fireworks at the downtown Fremont Street Experience. The casinos there are hosting a dance party favored by Las Vegas residents featuring swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.


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