Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 | 4:57 p.m.
There’s some good news this week for recession-weary Las Vegas.
Travel experts say more visitors are coming, adding millions of dollars to the local economy. And, officials say, our roads and airport are ready for crowds, so locals shouldn’t be afraid to head out of town.
AAA is predicting that 42.5 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this week, a 4 percent increase from last year and a 12.3 percent increase from 2008, the year the recession dramatically reduced holiday travel.
The auto club said 90 percent of those travelers would be going by car and 68 percent are planning to see friends and family, but 9 percent also plan to gamble, a one percentage point increase from 2010.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said it expects 278,000 visitors to the region this week, a 3.3 percent increase from last year.
Even with a small increase in the number of available rooms, the citywide occupancy rate is expected to pass 86 percent, and the nongaming economic impact on the community is expected to be more than $170 million, a 6.6 percent increase from last year, the authority said.
Travel website Orbitz said Las Vegas is the No. 6 destination for the holiday, behind New York, Chicago, Orlando, Denver and Los Angeles.
But AAA’s Southern California branch said Las Vegas is the No. 1 destination this week for its members, followed by San Diego, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon and Disneyland.
California, the top source for tourists who drive to Las Vegas, is expected to have 4.1 million people on the road this week and another 621,000 in the air, the auto club said.
In the mountain region, which includes Nevada, another 3.17 million people are expected to travel, AAA said.
Although gas prices, airfare and hotel rates are all higher than last year and the economy is still shaky, Americans seem willing to travel this year, the AAA report said.
“After three consecutive years of historically low levels of Thanksgiving travel, pent-up demand is expected to be a positive driver for holiday travel this year,” it said.
Luckily for Las Vegans planning to travel, the increase in tourists shouldn’t create too much extra congestion on Nevada roads or at the airport.
Thanksgiving is a historically busy time for airports across the county, but McCarran International Airport is used to handling huge crowds and can easily accommodate the 630,000 people it expects to serve between Wednesday and Monday, airport spokesman Chris Jones said.
Airport officials still recommend travelers be prepared for regular security rules, including the restrictions on liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on baggage.
They also suggest travelers plan parking arrangements in advance by visiting the airport’s website and calling the airport parking office at 261-5122 for live, 24-hour parking information.
For those driving this week, there should be some relief from normal construction delays on Southern Nevada freeways.
Construction on U.S. 95 in the northwest valley and on Interstate 15 in the south will stop Wednesday night and take a holiday break until Sunday, the Nevada Department of Transportation said. Existing lane closures in those areas will remain, but there shouldn’t be any extra construction delays during the break.
The Regional Transportation Commission, meanwhile, said it will be operating buses on a Sunday schedule for the Thursday holiday, when ridership is usually low. It will then operate on a Saturday schedule Friday.
The commission’s buses serve all of the region’s malls as well as McCarran so shoppers and travelers can use park-and-ride lots to avoid crowds at those destinations.
The commission said it will run special shuttles from the Bonneville Transit Center to the Las Vegas Premium Outlets-North from 11 p.m. Thursday to 7:30 a.m. Friday.
The commission will also run extra buses on the Strip & Downtown Express from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and the Deuce on the Strip will have extended service Friday through Sunday.
More information on bus routes and schedules is available on the Regional Transportation Commission’s website.