Garth Brooks

Brooks' new price point evens him with other big names on the Strip. (Henry Dieltz)

When Garth Brooks returns to his limited engagement next month in Las Vegas, some of those in line at the Encore box office may be surprised to find that the price of a ticket has nearly doubled.

The increase — from $125 to $225 — has observers along the Strip — and, apparently, the country superstar himself — wondering whether the tickets are within reach of Brooks' exceedingly loyal but solidly middle-income fans.

"My only concern is the audience," Brooks said in a statement issued by PR people at Wynn Resorts, owner of Encore. "Right now, the Vegas audiences are some of the best I have ever played for, and I'd hate to see that change for whatever reason."

As steep as they are, tickets to see Brooks are now on par with that of other big stars. When Celine Dion returns in March to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, more than three years after the close of her record-setting show "A New Day," the best seats will sell for $250, not including taxes and fees. The only other star able to ask — and get — $250 a pop is Barry Manilow, who performs a limited number of Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at Paris.

Looks like we made it, indeed. In Sin City in 2011, the crooner's tickets will sell for what upscale rooms used to fetch. And even though those rates also are forecast to climb in the New Year, Las Vegas' 150,000-plus hotel rooms will still be a bargain compared with rates at other popular travel destinations.

During the first three quarters of 2010, room rates in Las Vegas climbed by slightly less than 2% to a September average of just more than $97 a night. In the same month three years ago, rates averaged more than $142.

"During the 'bubble,' Las Vegas certainly got ahead of itself from a pricing perspective," said Bill Lerner, a principal with Vegas-based Union Gaming Group, an investment bank that researches gaming trends worldwide. "Next year, I think we could see … maybe 3% to 5% rate increases citywide." That's only slightly different from the 2% to 6% increases expected by analysts at American Express Business Travel.

When this year's numbers are crunched, Lerner expects that as many as 37.5 million people will have visited Vegas. Next year, he predicts 39 million.

Lerner also expects that the larger number of visitors, driven mainly by increased convention traffic, will drop more dollars during their stays.

"People are feeling more confident about their personal balance sheet," he said.

But are they confident enough to drop more than $500 — fees and taxes included — to see Barry, Celine or Garth? Lerner thinks some — particularly international travelers — will gladly fork over the money.

The investment banker added that favorable exchange rates will make those international travelers "the type of folks that will consume these expensive shows" with limited performance dates and seating.

"I think the average consumer comes to this market with a budget," Lerner said. "If it's spent incrementally on entertainment, it comes out of some other part of the trip budget — gaming or food and beverage — for sure."

— Jay Jones