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Chris Jones

Convention Authority Representative Expects Number of Asians Visiting Las Vegas to Climb

5 November 2003

LAS VEGAS -- What's been a disappointing year for the local Asian travel sector could conclude on a positive note for Las Vegas, the convention authority's Japanese representative said Tuesday from Tokyo.

Kyosuke Okada, who represents the Asian interests of both the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Nevada Commission on Tourism, said recent events support an expected upswing in incoming trans-Pacific travelers beginning late this year and continuing into 2004.

On Monday, Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines said it will add one daily round-trip between Los Angeles International Airport and Las Vegas next month. Though that development alone is not noteworthy for a route already packed with flights flown by Southwest Airlines, America West and others, it's how Northwest plans to fill its aircraft that's of real importance to the local tourism industry, Okada said.

Tom Bach, Northwest's vice president of market planning, said in a statement the pending Las Vegas-Los Angeles flights will target the airline's international passengers, most notably those coming from Japan.

Bach added the new flights, which are scheduled to begin Dec. 26, will be timed for passengers to connect easily with Northwest's nonstop service between Los Angeles and Tokyo's Narita International Airport. Travelers can reach destinations in mainland China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand via Northwest.

Okada said the flight addition will make it easier for many Asian travelers to reach Las Vegas.

"Since National Airlines' bankruptcy (and subsequent November 2002 shutdown), the number of flights from the West Coast gateways to Las Vegas was reduced," Okada said. "I hope Northwest and other airlines will increase their flight frequency to Las Vegas as the demand becomes stronger."

Las Vegas' peak year for Japanese tourism came in 2000 when an estimated 511,000 visitors were reported. Last year, that figure dipped to 192,000, the convention authority said.

Okada said Asian demand for Las Vegas is reviving as the economies of Asian countries improve. The number of inbound Japanese travelers has not rebounded fully, but Las Vegas' market share among U.S. travel tours is higher than ever, Okada added.

"The share of tour courses which include Las Vegas in the latest brochures of the major Japanese tour operators is now 57 percent," said Okada, who also cited a report Tuesday by Japan-based trade publication Travel Journal that indicates outbound Japanese bookings through New Year's are between 90 percent to 100 percent of last year's level.

Nationally, the U.S. Commerce Department said last month it expects inbound Asian travel to dip by 15 percent this year to about 4.85 million visitors. Inbound Japanese travel is projected to drop by 17 percent to about 3 million, though both categories are expected to improve in 2004.

Las Vegas-specific projections are not available.

Monday's Northwest move was not as significant as Singapore Airlines' August 2002 introduction of direct, nonstop Singapore-Las Vegas service through Hong Kong, but Okada said Northwest's addition could benefit more travelers because of the airline's extensive Asian network.

After carrying nearly 31,000 arriving and departing passengers during its approximately eight-month local run, Singapore Air in early April dropped its three weekly Las Vegas flights due to poor demand. However, Northwest serves both Singapore and Hong Kong and should offset some of the traffic lost by that withdrawal, Okada said.

Okada said he's doubtful Northwest's moves will hinder business for Japan Airlines, which operates three weekly nonstop flights between Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport and Tokyo-Narita. Through September, Japan Air had carried 45,884 passengers through Las Vegas, down 18.5 percent from the first nine months of last year.