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Gaming Guru

Laura Carroll

China seen as rich tourism source while new year celebrations abound

13 February 2013

LAS VEGAS -- While Las Vegas marks the Year of the Snake with Chinese New Year celebrations all week, travel officials look to mainland China as a prime target.

In recent years, travel from China to the United States has eased with shorter visa wait times, but the U.S. Travel Association argues it should be easier still.

Based on average per-person spend and length of stay, the Chinese visitor is probably the most valuable player when it comes to overseas travelers visiting the U.S.

In 2011, 1.1 million Chinese travelers visited the U.S., a 36 percent increase from 2010. In that same year, Chinese travel expenditures in the United States increased to $7.7 billion, a 47 percent increase from 2010. Average spending per visit increased 8 percent in 2011 to $7,107.

"What we have seen with the Chinese market is just incredible. It's just a boom in travel for the United States," said Patricia Rojas, vice president of government affairs for the U.S. Travel Association.

Based on forecasts from the U.S. Travel Association, Chinese visitation is expected to increase 300 percent between 2011-2017 because there are more people in the country who have access to disposable income or who are newly wealthy. Also, the ability to freely enter the U.S. wasn't necessarily a reality a few years ago.

"Even with those numbers, we still aren't getting the majority of the Chinese market," Rojas said.

Chinese citizens go to Europe more often, and Rojas said U.S. Travel officials believe it is because certain issues preventing a large portion of Chinese travelers from coming to the United States.

what's good for u.s. good for las vegas

Many Chinese cities - some with populations of 2 million people - lack U.S. consulates. If residents of those areas need or want to visit the U.S., they have to first travel to a U.S. consulate elsewhere in China for an in-person visa interview. That adds to the cost of travel, putting it out of reach for many.

In response, U.S. Travel advocates using secure video conferencing technology for long-distance interviews.

Recently, Taiwan was granted visa-free U.S. entry, and as a result U.S. Travel expects a doubling of visitation from from there in 2013.

Now Hong Kong is vying to have visa-free entry. Currently, about 150,000 people travel to the U.S. from Hong Kong each year.

"If we were to double that number, that would be very beneficial to the U.S.," Rojas said.

And what's good for the U.S. is good for Las Vegas.

While he didn't have specific numbers, Michael Goldsmith, vice president of international sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said local hotels often see an uptick in Chinese travelers this time of year.

At the MGM Resorts International properties, Goldsmith's words hold true.

"We see great visitation during this window. Guests began arriving on Friday and will be here through the weekend. The hotels are largely sold out. Entertainment, dining, retail, gaming are all great draws. Chinese New Year is largely a family event, so we often can see groups up to 25 together. This time of year can be as busy for us as Western New Year," said MGM Resorts spokesperson Jenn Michaels.

And Chinese New Year nods are everywhere in Las Vegas this week, from the Las Vegas Spring Festival held over the weekend to Chinatown's fete to be held Feb. 17 to Bellagio's Chinese New Year display at the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens inside the hotel.

important time of year

"Chinese New Year is an incredibly important time of the year for our business," said Gary Selesner, Caesars Palace President and Caesars Entertainment Regional President.

As such, Caesars Palace offers targeted programming such as lion dances, singer Sandy Lam in the Colosseum and special restaurant menus.

"It's our hope that this programming not only creates a festive environment for our current guests, but also helps us to attract new guests as well," Selesner said.

Goldsmith said specific visitation numbers aren't available for Chinese New Year in Las Vegas because there are challenges quantifying if people come to the city specifically for the holiday. However, out of all overseas markets, visitors from China ranks fifth behind the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Germany.

"We're really pleased that the Chinese New Year's celebrations in Las Vegas have grown a lot in the last decade," said Goldsmith. "One of the reasons it's so important is because as our community and our properties seek global customers, the celebrations have grown in importance in our ability to attract Asian visitors."

In an effort to increase the number of Chinese visitors to Las Vegas, the convention authority operates offices in Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo. Employees in these offices are given the task of promoting Las Vegas to potential visitors through marketing campaigns and tour operators.