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Benjamin Spillman

Convention authority lays out plans to attract more foreign visitors to Las Vegas

4 June 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas boosters hope an $18 million effort to attract more foreign visitors will offset an ongoing domestic tourism slump and help Sin City resorts fill as many as 32,000 new hotel rooms under development.

On Tuesday leaders of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority outlined their foreign marketing agenda at a tourism conference in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Their effort to boost foreign visitation comes as fuel costs, real estate woes and a slumping American economy are conspiring to suppress domestic visits to Las Vegas.

"We have a big challenge in front of us," said Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of marketing for the authority, citing the 32,000 hotel rooms under development in Las Vegas and a goal to maintain an occupancy rate of about 90 percent. "Over the next five years it is going to be all about international marketing."

About 12 percent of the nearly 40 million people who visit Las Vegas annually come from outside the United States.

"That is not enough," Jicinsky said. "We need to grow that number."

The goal is to increase foreign visitation to 15 percent by 2011 and 18 percent by 2020.

To do so, the authority is reaching out to as many as 75 countries around the world and broadening its pitch to include everything from swanky casino resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard to national parks located hundreds of miles away from Southern Nevada.

During a presentation, Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the authority, pitched Las Vegas as a hub for foreign visitors to the Southwestern United States.

He said foreigners touching down at McCarran International Airport, the 14th-busiest airport in the world, could use Las Vegas as a jumping off point to see everything from multibillion-dollar Strip resorts to national parks such as Joshua Tree in Southern California or Yellowstone in Wyoming.

The authority's foreign agenda includes an increase in the number of foreign offices from eight to 12 and a system that establishes three types of markets: major, primary and emerging.

The major markets include longtime Las Vegas targets such as Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Primary markets include places such as Australia and New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Germany and other European Union nations. China, Brazil, India, Russia and Eastern Europe are in the emerging category.

"There is untapped potential in countries all over the world," Jicinsky said.

China, for example, is home to the fastest-growing source of international tourists. According to the Travel Industry Association, a hospitality trade group, more than 40 million Chinese people traveled overseas in 2007.

And their trips were lucrative for businesses they visited. The association said Chinese tourists are the biggest spenders in many places they visit, shelling out an average of $6,000 each when they visit the United States.

Yun Tian, a Beijing-based editor for Golf magazine, said Nevada is in prime position to attract more Chinese tourists.

Tian was among the foreign journalists at the convention center for International Powwow, the Tourism Industry Association's conference.

She was in a group of about 30 journalists and tour operators who participated in a junket sponsored by the Nevada Commission on Tourism. The group visited Lake Tahoe, Reno and Las Vegas.

"The greens fees are much lower than in China. And the quality of courses is much higher," she said.

The weakness of the American dollar is another selling point, especially for enthusiastic foreign shoppers.

General Growth Properties, owners of hundreds of malls nationally, including Fashion Show, Grand Canal and the Shoppes at Palazzo on the Strip, is at the tourism event promoting a network of 26 malls in its "America's Premiere Shopping Places" network.

The network helps the company highlight places for foreign visitors to spend their strong currencies, said Kathy Anderson, travel and tourism manager for General Growth.

"With the devaluation of the dollar, it is like America is on sale for them," she said.