Nevada tourism may expand efforts to attract visitors from India

The Nevada Commission on Tourism is considering expanding its international marketing program to include attracting visitors to the state from India.

Commissioners on Wednesday told director Claudia Vecchio to research details of the proposed scope of the state’s presence in the country, viewed as one of the leading emerging tourism markets because of its expanding middle class.

The proposal comes 10 years after Nevada opened a tourism office in China, the first licensed by that country to a state government.

Rather than opening an office in India, the state probably would hire a representative as they do in Germany, Great Britain, Australia and other countries.

Larry Friedman, director of international sales for the commission, said that although only an estimated 41,000 Indians visited the state last year, other statistics and demographics point to the potential for far more tourists.

Friedman said 1.2 billion people live in India with an estimated 450 million considered middle or upper class and capable of affording international travel. Half the population is under 35 years old.

“They seem to appreciate seeing places that are off the beaten path,” Friedman said.

Las Vegas has no nonstop air service to and from India, Friedman said, but the state should think in terms of attracting travelers from next door instead of halfway around the world because nearly 600,000 Indians now live in California, and many have frequent family visits.

Friedman said representatives of Korean Air, which has three weekly nonstop round trips between Seoul and Las Vegas, say more than half of the airline’s tickets from Seoul to Los Angeles are sold to Indians connecting from Mumbai, the fifth- most populous city in the world.

Now that the commission has approved the concept, Vecchio will research details of establishing representation in India. She said that would require additional staffing to be included in the commission’s budget, which will be reviewed at its next meeting.

There are still plenty of hurdles to clear before a representation agreement is in place. It’s possible that state legislators considering the budget next year could view it as an extravagance the state can’t afford.

There also will be a new lieutenant governor in office in January because Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki will be term-limited out. The lieutenant governor serves as the chairman of the Tourism Commission, and a new office-holder may not share the same enthusiasm for the Indian market as Krolicki, who has been a huge supporter of the state’s efforts in China.

Krolicki was one of the first to support marketing India, but efforts to start that four years ago were derailed by budget cuts brought upon by the recession.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Krolicki said. “It’s a lot like the way China started for us, and that has been extremely successful, not only for tourism but for economic development.”

In other business, the commission was told that the largest tourism conference dedicated exclusively to Nevada will move to earlier on the calendar and will coincide to the final run-up to the state’s sesquicentennial celebration.

The annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism is scheduled Oct. 27-29 at the Atlantis resort in Reno. Hundreds of tourism professionals attend the annual event that alternates sites between Las Vegas and Reno.

In past years, the conference has occurred in November or December.

“It’s going to be the coolest one ever,” Vecchio told the commission.

She said a highlight of the event will be educational sessions on changing the way tourism companies interact with visitors by creating experiences and not just relying on scenery and static displays.

The conference will lead into a public display of the original Emancipation Proclamation on loan from the Library of Congress.

The document was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Lincoln was president when Nevada was admitted to the union a year later.

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