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Chris Jones

Pact May Help Spur China-Las Vegas Flights

27 July 2004

LAS VEGAS -- So much for one Great Wall.

A landmark aviation agreement completed this weekend removed one of the last roadblocks to widespread travel between China and the United States. On Monday, the state's top tourism official said he now believes passenger and cargo flights could regularly connect Nevada and mainland China within the next two years.

"It's huge and exciting," Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, said of Saturday's announced agreement between the two nations. "We didn't know the details, but we knew both governments have been working toward this. It really confirms ... that China is the next big market" for inbound international tourism within the United States.

While in Beijing this weekend, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Civil Aviation Administration of China Minister Yang Yuanyuan finalized an accord to allow five additional airlines from each country to serve the U.S.-China market over the next six years.

No airline has yet committed to service between mainland China and Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, but Bommarito believes such an announcement will come soon.

That confidence is based upon recent conversations between Nevada leaders, members of the Chinese government and various travel-related businesses in Asia. During a fall visit to China, Bommarito said a Civil Aviation Administration of China leader told him and Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt the start of passenger service here is inevitable.

"His closing comment to us was, `It's not a matter of if we will fly to Nevada.

It's a matter of when,' " Bommarito said.

Visas remain a major obstacle to Chinese tourism, however. The United States does not place a hard limit on the number of Chinese travelers to enter the country, though visitor volume is effectively slowed by the government's requirement that all Chinese complete a visa interview prior to visiting the United States.

Bommarito said U.S. embassies in China are adding more workers to conduct those interviews, though the demand outweighs their current ability to quickly process applicants. Bommarito previously said pending requirements for biometric passports could ease the visa application process for Chinese citizens within the next few years.

In June, Nevada became the first state to open a government-sanctioned tourism office in China to better position the state should Chinese travel be liberalized.

Saturday's agreement will allow 195 new weekly flights for each country -- 111 by all-cargo carriers and 84 by passenger airlines -- growing to 249 weekly flights at the end of a six-year phase-in period, the Transportation Department said.

Fourteen such flights will be available for new U.S. passenger services on Aug. 1 this year, including Northwest Airlines' new daily service between Detroit and Guangzhou and United Airlines' new daily nonstop service between Chicago and Shanghai.