(Victoria Seaman) – Traffic gridlock isn’t usually something to celebrate, but here in Las Vegas we were still seeing green as we watched the sea of taillights heading back out of town on Monday.
Las Vegas was a major beneficiary of the booming U.S. economy this past weekend, attracting about a third of a million visitors during the busiest Memorial Day for travelers in over a decade. According to AAA, nearly 43 million Americans took trips over the holiday weekend, the highest volume since 2005 and the second-highest ever recorded.
“Consumer spending remains strong, helped by solid job and income growth,” explained AAA spokeswoman Kara Hitchens. “Families continue to prioritize spending their disposable incomes on travel, and near-record numbers of them are looking forward to doing just that for Memorial Day.”
That turned out to be great news for Las Vegas, which ranked as the third most-popular destination in the country this weekend. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates that the city hosted approximately 330,000 visitors over the three-day weekend, who collectively spent more than $247 million during their stays.
Almost two-thirds of those guests traveled by car, and nearly 40 percent waited until Monday to depart — clearly because they wanted to maximize the amount of time they had to enjoy everything this great city has to offer. The crush of cars returning home kept I-15 in a state of almost perpetual gridlock throughout the day on Monday. Near the California state line, the backup stretched for about 17 miles at one point.
With apologies to those who found themselves trapped in that vehicular morass, there weren’t many tears shed over their plight in the town they just departed.
Our relatively unique economic base means that Las Vegas has to take maximum advantage when the national economy is strong, because gambling and live entertainment are among the first expenditures people cut when they start tightening their budgetary belts, and glitzy conferences are an unaffordable luxury for companies struggling to remain profitable. Of course, that’s a knife that cuts both ways — when people are feeling optimistic about their financial prospects, as they are now, Vegas invariably benefits.
Last year, for instance, we were able to restart a nearly-$1 billion expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which had been on hold for a full decade since the start of the Great Recession.
The massive influx of visitors we had over Memorial Day weekend confirms that the rejuvenation of the national economy over the past two years has revived this city’s prospects right along with it.
Consumer confidence, for instance, just hit a six-month high, reflecting increasing optimism that the U.S. economy will continue to grow steadily for the foreseeable future. That corresponds with a strong uptick in consumer spending — nearly a full percentage point in March — which coincided with impressive 3.2 percent GDP growth in the First Quarter and a 50-year low unemployment rate of just 3.6 percent.
Those are once-in-a-generation figures, reflecting a more prosperous and dynamic economy than Americans have known for many years, and we’re seeing the direct results of the ongoing economic boom here in Las Vegas.
If a bit of traffic congestion is the price we have to pay for that sort of prosperity, you won’t see us watering the desert with our tears over that.
Victoria Seaman is a wife, mother, businesswoman and former assemblywoman