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Chris Jones

Tourism: Las Vegas Officials Keeping Eye on China

7 September 2004

With an appetite for a different type of Chinese take-out service, the Clark County Commission will on Wednesday discuss a $360,000 consulting contract some hope will expedite the start of direct passenger flights between Las Vegas and China.

The Clark County Aviation Department will ask commission members to approve a two-year deal with Garfinkle, Crowell & Wang Associates, also known as GCW Consulting. The Arlington, Va.-based firm specializes in business development and counseling in the People's Republic of China, where it has offices in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County's deputy aviation director, on Friday said GCW's expertise would ease Las Vegas' efforts to navigate the complicated bilateral agreements that govern air traffic between China and outside nations.

"The China bilaterals are very restrictive, but this company has been around a long time ... and is very, very familiar with China," Vassiliadis said. "They've had many dealings with the Chinese government, and that's really the key to dealing with these aviation issues."

GCW's duties would include identifying airlines that might be interested in, and capable of operating, Las Vegas-China routes; making sales presentations to such carriers; and fostering relationships between Nevada leaders and Chinese air representatives.

Vassiliadis said GCW would work in conjunction with Harry Kassap, who normally handles the bulk of McCarran International Airport's efforts to develop new aviation markets. It would also help in developing ties to other parts of Asia, the Middle East and Persian Gulf region, as appropriate, county documents show.

GCW has worked closely with the Civil Aviation Administration of China to modernize the business practices of Chinese carriers, including the implementation of code share agreements. It is also linked to dozens of airport projects in the region, according to the company's Web site.

Las Vegas has been without direct air service to the world's most-populous nation since Singapore Airlines pulled its thrice-weekly round-trip service via Hong Kong in April 2003.

But heightened interest in Asian gaming ventures by local casino companies such as Las Vegas Sands Inc., Wynn Resorts and MGM Mirage, as well as two recent, state-backed economic development trips to China, have heightened Nevada business and political leaders' interest in the potentially lucrative Chinese market.

Chinese tourism is limited by visa requirements, but U.S. tourism leaders including Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, have suggested it's a matter of time until those travel restrictions are liberalized, thereby allowing a 6 million-resident market with an emerging middle class to travel abroad with ease.

Vassiliadis said Kassap has already met with several Chinese carriers to discuss Las Vegas service, though she described those talks as preliminary.

In other airport news, the commission on Wednesday will also discuss a $1.66 million design contract for a pedestrian bridge that would let travelers move between McCarran's A, B and C concourses without passing through more than one security checkpoint.

The A and B areas are connected, but McCarran's C gates are isolated from other parts of the airport. Growth by that concourse's dominant carrier, Southwest Airlines, will soon force McCarran to shift some Southwest flights to the adjacent B concourse, so a bridge is needed for the ease of connecting passengers.