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Flights Bring Another Asian Tourism Push

28 September 2006

by Jennifer Robinson

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – New flight service from Asia to Las Vegas is giving tourism officials fresh opportunities to show off the city's recreational assets.

From Oct. 17-21, tour operators and travel journalists from China will converge on Las Vegas, where they will learn about the variety of leisure activities in Southern Nevada. The idea: to educate touring companies about booking possibilities while giving travel writers and television producers fodder for upcoming articles or segments.

It's not the first time the Nevada Commission on Tourism is hosting travel businesses and journalists from China.

But it is the first time the commission is able to fly the guests in via Korean Air's new nonstop service from Seoul, South Korea, to Las Vegas.

"This (trip) hovers around the new Korean Air flights," Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the state tourism commission, said of the thrice-weekly service that launched Friday. "We want to highlight the flight and the fact that it's easier than ever before to get here. Beijing is an hour and a half from Seoul, and then they have one little connection in Seoul," compared with the additional stops at airports along the West Coast that flying into McCarran International Airport from Beijing previously required.

Fifteen travel professionals will make the trek from China. They'll stay at Harrah's.

The group's agenda will spotlight what Bommarito said are two favorite Chinese pastimes: shopping and enjoying nature.

On Oct. 18, they'll fly to the Grand Canyon following a tour of the Aladdin. The commission has planned outings revolving around spending money and seeing the sites, with visits to the Las Vegas Premium Outlets and the top of the Stratosphere. The group will also take in the Blue Man Group at The Venetian, ride the Las Vegas Monorail, have dinner at Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas and go on tours of the Las Vegas countryside, including Red Rock Canyon.

Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the tourism commission's educational outreach to travel professionals is key to showing overseas vacationers that Southern Nevada can serve as a jumping-off point for broader regional exploration.

"For so many of our international visitors, when they come to this part of the country, it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so they want to see as much of the Southwest as possible," Jicinsky said. "There's a tie-in between using Las Vegas as their entry point and then giving them the opportunity to explore other areas of Nevada, and many of the federal and national parks (in the region)."

Cathy Keefe, a spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association in Washington, D.C., said familiarization trips are vital to opening new feeder markets for tourism destinations.

"You are establishing a presence for your destination," Keefe said. "You're showing them what you have to offer and why visitors would want to come here, and you're pointing out special things about the city. You can have advertising and direct mail, but when tour operators and writers see your city face to face, there's not anything like it."

Similar events in the past have reaped major publicity rewards for Nevada and its tourism centers.

The Travel Channel in China has run multiple episodes focusing on the Silver State, including separate, hourlong specials on Northern Nevada and Southern Nevada. China's Travel Channel has more than 300 million daily viewers, Bommarito said.

In addition, China's edition of Modern Bride has featured articles on getting married in Nevada, he said.

Jicinsky added that the commission's hosting of travel-industry professionals has helped bolster visitation from countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada.

"Now we're seeing the same opportunities in many of these emerging countries, China being one of the most important to us right now because of the potentially huge number of Chinese residents who have the ability to travel internationally," Jicinsky said.

The Chinese market has a massive untapped base of prospective Las Vegas visitors.

Bommarito said about 350 million of the country's 1.3 billion people could afford to travel to the United States, though only 530,000 did so in 2005. China's middle class is growing by 1 million people a month, he said, and the average savings rate of its more affluent citizens is 50 percent.

Numbers from the U.S. Department of Commerce show that Chinese tourists spend $5,120 per visit to the country, not including air fare and gambling.

Their No. 1 U.S. destination? Las Vegas.

Chinese tourism officials report that up to 93 percent of visitors from China spend part of their trip in Nevada, Bommarito said. He added that the number of tourists coming from China to the United States in 2006 should rise to about 700,000 people, with Nevada maintaining its 90 percent-plus visitation rate.

Keefe said October's familiarization trip, plus others that might follow, will position Las Vegas to capture ever-higher numbers of Chinese tourists.

"You're creating a want and a desire for travelers who can't come here right now but will be able to do so pretty soon," she said. "You want them to dream about that Las Vegas vacation."

Bommarito didn't disclose the total costs to the commission of the trip.

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