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Best of Benjamin Spillman

Gaming Guru

Benjamin Spillman
 

Vegas looks to boost Japanese tourism

3 March 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- There's little love for Las Vegas in Washington, D.C., lately with politicians beating up Sin City's kind of fun to score pious points with the people.

But like a star with a faded Q-rating, Las Vegas can always turn to Japan.

Japanese Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine visited Las Vegas recently with an eye toward boosting Japanese visitation to Southern Nevada.

Nagamine was in town Friday to recognize Kathleen Blakely of Las Vegas as an honorary consul general of Japan, one of about 20 to 30 such unpaid positions in the United States. She replaces Wayne Norio Tanaka, whose tenure in the job ended in August.

Nagamine, who is based in San Francisco, said it's part of his job to foster new business connections between Japan and Las Vegas, even as politicians in the United States have taken turns in recent weeks citing Las Vegas business and incentive trips as wasteful expenditures, especially for companies taking bailout money or government workers.

"Las Vegas nowadays is quite a different place compared to some decades ago. Las Vegas represents not only gaming, but business and conferences," Nagamine said during a brief interview. "It should be known to the Japanese people."

Las Vegas has had a presence in Japan for more than 20 years, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The agency spends about $750,000 to $1 million annually marketing Las Vegas in Japan and the country is the fourth-largest source for international visitation, after Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks sent foreign visitation to the United States into a tailspin, Nagamine said, about 500,000 Japanese people visited Nevada annually, mostly to come to Las Vegas.

The most recent big Las Vegas marketing push in Japan came in February 2008, when a delegation of about 100 people from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and several resort companies visited the island nation.

But Japanese visitation still hasn't recovered to peak levels and is now only about 160,000 annually, said Nagamine, whose current figure was in line with the authority's estimate of 155,000.

"I would like to encourage them to come over," Nagamine said.

He's also keen to encourage Nevadans to return the favor and visit Japan for sightseeing or consider it as a place to do business.

Nagamine said there are numerous Japanese companies doing work in Las Vegas. He cited the Konami Corp. which supplies machines for the gambling industry and mechanical parts maker Japan Machinery Co. as examples.

In addition to welcoming Blakely to her new position as a Nevada point-of-contact for the Japanese consulate, Nagamine met with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Nagamine acknowledged the sudden and drastic downturn of the global economy will be a setback for international business. But he said face-to-face meetings and conventions remain critical even as teleconferences and video communication become more commonplace.

"Of course you can get information through the Internet, but coming to the place and talking to people and seeing the area is very important," he said.

In addition to meeting with Goodman, Nagamine attended an event Thursday evening at the Monte Carlo with about 200 guests, including Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.