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Chris Jones

Canadians Sought As Tourists

19 August 2003

LAS VEGAS -- A bevy of local tourism officials are north of the border this week as part of a large-scale effort to persuade more Canadian travelers to take off for Las Vegas this fall and winter.

Though Canada remained Las Vegas' top international market last year, its visitor volume has dipped significantly in recent years thanks largely to unfavorable currency exchange rates and the post-Sept. 11, 2001, travel slowdown. Still, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Vice President of Sales Nancy Murphy said it's important that local marketing efforts remain focused on the Canadian travel segment.

"We're looking to rekindle our numbers," Murphy said. "Even though the numbers have been down, we stay in the market so that when the economy or travel conditions improve and people start thinking of traveling again, they'll think of Vegas."

To that end, Murphy and several colleagues will this week blanket Canada with a pro-Las Vegas message. Joined by representatives from the convention authority's regional offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C. -- as well as the requisite showgirls and an Elvis impersonator -- Murphy plans to spend four days at Toronto's Canadian Meeting & Incentive Travel Symposium & Trade Show to help attract local trade show and convention events.

Separately, sales executive Jo Ann Jose will visit Toronto to attend an event sponsored by Conquest Vacations, a Canadian tour operator whose Web site claims the company brings nearly 1,000 travelers to Las Vegas each week.

Travel representatives are also in Montreal this week to meet with representatives from Conferon, a large meeting planning firm, and further west, two more convention authority workers are in British Columbia to promote Las Vegas at three events sponsored by Vancouver-based Addison Travel Marketing.

Murphy said it's important to promote the destination before the onset of fall and winter, when Canadians are typically inclined to travel.

"We'll see the results of these trips in the winter when Canadian leisure travelers come south," Murphy said. "And on the meeting side, we'll get leads for (events in) 2004 and 2005."

Canada last year ranked as Las Vegas' top source of international travelers, according to visitor profile surveys conducted on behalf of the convention authority as well as separate information compiled by U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel & Tourism Industries.

In 2002, Canada's estimated 1.05 million visitors made up nearly 38 percent of Las Vegas' projected 2.78 million international visitor total. By comparison, second- and third-place finishers the United Kingdom and Mexico combined for about 544,000 fly-in visitors during the same period.

Still, the number of Canadians in Las Vegas has plummeted since 1997, when nearly 1.83 million Canadians visited. By 2001, though, Canada's local visitor total dipped to 1.4 million and slipped even further last year in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Despite recent obstacles, low-cost vacation packages, warm weather and the presence of familiar entertainers continue to attract many Canadians to Las Vegas, said Dave Cecco, president of Toronto-based Total Vacations. Only a few years after his company began selling local travel packages about six or seven years ago, Las Vegas now ranks as his clients' most preferred U.S. destination, Cecco said.

"Everybody hears they have to go to Vegas at least once, and there are people who go back year after year," Cecco said. "People are finding that three and four nights aren't enough; we get a lot of five- and six-night bookings in Las Vegas now."

Cecco said Las Vegas business was off about 20 percent to 25 percent last year following the Sept. 11 attacks, "which isn't bad compared with other destinations that were down by more than 60 percent."