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Nevada sees another rich tourism opportunity in India


Back in the late 1990s, Nevada saw a golden opportunity with the expansion of China's middle class and its willingness to travel internationally.

The state wound up being the first U.S. state to open a Chinese government-licensed tourism office in Beijing in 2004 and Nevada has been one of the leaders in attracting visitors to the United States.

Just over a decade later, Nevada is seeing another tourism opportunity and while the state wasn't the first to the party this time, it sees similar potential in the numbers.

"There's no reason to believe we won't be able to achieve double-digit percentage growth in the next few years, particularly in the state's rural areas," said Larry Friedman, deputy director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

Friedman spoke Wednesday about the state's recent tourism trade mission in a meeting of the Las Vegas Destination Services Association. Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison led the four-day mission to New Delhi last month that included the official opening of the state's first representative office in India.

The state signed a four-year agreement with Sartha Global to be the state's representative in India. The company was selected in a competitive bid process in which nine companies applied. The contract pays Sartha Global $70,000 a year to boost tourism to the state. Annual service fees at other international offices range from between $60,000 and $75,000 a year.

Friedman said that while India is nearly as far away as any visitor source could be, the nation's potential provides substantial upside.

There are an estimated 450 million middle-class Indian citizens, 50 million with passports that have showed a willingness to travel internationally by 2020.

Satte, a leading Asian tourism trade show conducted in New Delhi last month, had a record 20,000 attendees and was 50 percent larger than it was a year ago.

The cost of marketing the United States and Nevada to Indians is likely to be reduced because of heavy Internet use in India. Friedman said India has 402 million Internet users in the country and 125 million people there have Facebook accounts.

State tourism leaders also have the advantage of partnering with Brand USA, a national tourism initiative to attract international visitors to the United States, and with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, an acknowledged marketing powerhouse.

Friedman said the United States is the most sought-after travel market for Indian citizens, and Las Vegas ranks third behind New York and San Francisco as the most desired cities to visit.

Friedman said Nevada has a built-in advantage to attract travelers because 600,000 Indians now live in California and one of the biggest reasons to travel among Indians is to visit with friends and family.

"We've also learned in our research that Indians have a fascination with our Western culture, which is a real plus for our rural Nevada attractions," Friedman said in an interview after his presentation. "They're intrigued by our Western heritage and enjoy seeing real, live cowboys."

Las Vegas is also getting a boost in India following the July 2015 release of a "Bollywood" movie that was filmed in the city. "Any Body Can Dance 2," known as ABCD2, is a sequel to a popular 2013 Indian film.

When Friedman and Hutchison visited New Delhi last month, they met with Richard Verma, the U.S. ambassador to India, with tour operators who gathered for Satte and with about 28 travel journalists inquiring about Nevada.

"As in China, building relationships with the Indian people is the cornerstone of developing the market," Friedman said. "That's one of the reasons why it was so great to have Lt. Gov. Hutchison there for the opening. He is a passionate and energetic representative for our state."

The meetings with journalists already has yielded stories about Nevada attractions and the Nevada Commission on Tourism conducts familiarization trips for travel writers and tour packaging companies.

"I feel really good about our timing on this," Friedman said. "How often do we get a chance to arrive in a market when it's in its infancy?"

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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