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Richard N. Velotta

Chinese Journalists Look to Profile Las Vegas's Nongambling Side

18 October 2004

A group of Chinese journalists on a familiarization tour organized by the Nevada Commission on Tourism was dazzled by Las Vegas' nightlife and thrilled by a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon.

But when they get back to their native land, they won't be writing about what put the city on the map -- the casino industry.

The journalists said they weren't bothered by the fact that the Chinese government policy dictates that they not detail anything about the industry that is largely responsible for all the other amenities they enjoyed.

Besides, they have plenty of other things to write about.

Jun Deng, a writer and editor for the weekly Shanghai Times, said he was most fascinated by the helicopter trips he took to the Grand Canyon and over the Strip because there aren't many similar attractions in China.

"A lot of people already know a lot about Las Vegas, especially if they watch sports on TV," Deng said through an interpreter. "Caesars Palace and the MGM Grand are famous because of all the boxing events they have."

Interviewed atop the Eiffel Tower at the Paris-Las Vegas, Deng said even without gambling, Las Vegas would be an attractive destination more Chinese tourists would want to visit. One reason for that, he said, is that there is a fascination with the American West and how Las Vegas was carved out of the desert.

Wei Ning, a television show producer and host for a station in Beijing, said she intends to tell her viewers about the beauty of Las Vegas at night.

"It's so colorful, especially with the lights," Ning said. "This is a very proud city. All the people I see are smiling."

The Commission on Tourism organized the weeklong trip through its 4-month-old tourism office in Beijing. Thirteen business leaders, tourism officials and media members spent four nights and three days in Las Vegas last week before heading to Reno, Lake Tahoe and Carson City over the weekend. The group is scheduled to return to China today.

While in Las Vegas, the group toured several resorts and attractions, including Paris-Las Vegas' Eiffel Tower, the Las Vegas Convention Center and the rides atop the Stratosphere Tower.

One of the members of the group was Hyoung Gyun Kim, the general manager of the Shanghai office of Asiana Airlines, a Korean air carrier.

Kim, a Korean, said he wasn't on a scouting tour for future air service by Asiana, but that he wanted to see Las Vegas since it appears to be an important future destination for Chinese visitors.

Hongxia "Karen" Chen, who managed the South Korea office of China's Hainan Airlines during her 10-year tourism industry career and who studied English at UNR, oversees the Commission on Tourism's Beijing office and accompanied the group to Nevada.

Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the Commission on Tourism, has said that China represents an economic opportunity for Nevada, with between 100 million and 300 million people with the financial means to travel internationally. The Beijing office was opened to help market the state and provide information to Chinese travel agents to help convince travelers to consider trips to Nevada.