Friday, May 25, 2012 | 2:20 p.m.
While millions of Americans are still expected to take the highways for the Memorial Day weekend, the slight economic recovery of the past year isn’t expected to give a major boost to visitor numbers in Las Vegas.
AAA says it expects 34.8 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more this weekend, a 1.2 percent increase from a year ago but an almost identical number to 2010.
AAA’s Mountain region, which includes Nevada, is expected to have a slightly higher increase in travelers than the nation as a whole, with 11.7 percent of the region’s population traveling, as opposed to 11 percent of the national population.
That means 2.5 million people in the region will be traveling. Combined with the 4.18 million Californians who are expected to travel, it will be a busy weekend in Las Vegas, but not abnormal.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority expects 321,000 visitors to be in town this weekend. That’s just a 0.6 percent increase from a year ago, but those visitors are expected to have a $203.4 million nongaming impact, a 1 percent increase from last year.
All those visitors are expected to boost the city’s room occupancy rate to 95 percent, a half-percentage point decrease from 2011, due to shifting room counts.
While 95 percent occupancy sounds high, it is not far above average for a weekend in Las Vegas. Weekend occupancy in April was 94.4 percent, and in May 2011, it was 94.2 percent.
Room rates listed on Vegas.com, a sister company of the Sun, are slightly higher than normal but are far below rates seen on big event weekends, such as NASCAR or before the Consumer Electronics Show.
Rooms on the Strip are available Saturday night for as low as $165 at Imperial Palace or as much as $699 at Encore, according to Vegas.com.
It may be a sign of the still-weak economy that people are not spending more, AAA said.
“High debt burdens, gasoline prices and uncertainties regarding the strength of the current economic recovery have not deterred Mountain West residents from holiday travel,” said AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris in a statement. “But many consumers intend to cut back on the distance they travel, as well on entertainment expenses, to compensate for reduced travel budgets. Others will be opting for backyard barbeques, a staple of this three-day holiday weekend.”
In its survey, AAA found that 59 percent of travelers said the main purpose of their trip would be to visit friends and relatives.
But the good news for Las Vegas is that 26 percent of those surveyed said they planned to check out the nightlife of their destinations and 11 percent of respondents planned to gamble over the weekend. The nightlife number is a 2 percent decrease from last year, but the gambling number is up 4 percent.
However, just 9 percent of survey respondents plan to spend more this year than last year, AAA said.
Nationally, travelers plan to spend $702 over the weekend, almost identical to last year, but in the Mountain region, they only plan to spend $652, the auto club said.
Most of that money will go to food and lodging.