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Chris Jones

U.K. Residents Unlikely to Stop Coming to Las Vegas

14 August 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada AND ENGLAND -- United Kingdom travelers aren't canceling plans to visit U.S. cities such as Las Vegas, sources said Friday, even in the wake of a foiled terror plot to explode 10 U.S. passenger planes over the ocean.

"We're used to it, and we feel that if we bow down, then the terrorists have won," Stella Clery, managing director of Cellet Travel Services, said Friday from Warwickshire, England.

Cellet has contracted with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority since 1991 to promote visits here by residents of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Scandanavia.

In that 15-year span, western European consumers endured multiple Irish Republican Army's bomb attacks, watched from afar as the Sept. 11 hijackings devastated a key ally, and overcame al-Qaida suicide bombings on downtown London buses and trains last summer.

Given that violent history, Clery said she was not surprised when Thursday and Friday telephone polls of Cellet's largest tour partners revealed almost no cancellations among customers who had already booked U.S. getaways.

Clery still expects a small dip in sales to occur -- but only because reservation hot lines were tied up more than usual as operators answered security-related questions from prospective travelers.

"As long as we as the travel industry keep the consumer informed of exactly what they need to do, then they will do it," Clery said. "I think it's the lack of information that people get very frustrated about."

New security precautions that have all but eliminated carry-on items won't deter travelers either, she said.

"I remember a few years ago when they (banned) smoking on aircraft, and everybody said, 'That's the end. No smoker will ever fly across the Atlantic.'" Clery said. "That's not been the case."

Two of England's largest airlines agreed.

Virgin Atlantic Airways' passenger loads have held steady on all of the London-based carrier's trans-Atlantic routes, spokeswoman Brooke Lawer said Friday from Norwalk, Conn.

"We've had far fewer cancellations and changes than one might expect," said Lawer, who did not give a specific figure for either category. "People are still traveling."

Lawer did cite one curious fact: Virgin Atlantic's online bookings were higher Thursday than they were one week prior.

Virgin Atlantic has operated nonstop service between McCarran International and London's Gatwick Airport since June 2000. The route grew in popularity during its first six years, and the carrier's initial twice-weekly service was gradually expanded to today's daily schedule.

A spokeswoman for Derby, England-based airline BMI also said Thursday's arrests had little effect on her company's business.

"They had less than a handful of people call (Thursday) to say they wanted a refund, and that was all for intra-Europe travel," said Nancy Vaughan, who represents BMI from Phoenix. "Friday's operations were normal; it's just the inconvenience of newer security rules that have gone into play, especially on the U.K. side."

The carrier began thrice-weekly service between Las Vegas and Manchester in October 2004. Vaughan said BMI's next three Las Vegas flights were 90 percent reserved at the close of Friday's U.K. workday.

The continued strength of both companies' service is vital to Southern Nevada's tourism industry because the United Kingdom is this area's top overseas feeder market.

Approximately 392,000 U.K. residents visited here in 2004, well above second-place Japan's 217,000. Last year's international visitor data has not been released.

Over the 12-month period ended June 30, Virgin Atlantic reported 239,334 arriving and departing passengers at McCarran, a 54 percent gain from the 12-month period ended June 30, 2005, Clark County Aviation Department data show. In that same span, bmi carried 43,541 passengers, an increase of more than 36 percent.

On Sunday, a Cellet account manager will accompany 19 U.K. travel agents and leisure tour operators on an educational trip to Las Vegas.

Participants won the five-day trip by selling the most Las Vegas vacations within their respective companies. Clery said they'll use their time here to learn more about Las Vegas in order to better sell the city once they're back to work.

"Not one person has dropped out," Clery said. "It's a prime example of the resilience of this market and how we feel that these sort of events are not going to stop us traveling, particularly Las Vegas."