How about visiting Vegas, eh?

After 26 years as a Las Vegas visitor, Canadian James Dixon is familiar with Sin City’s hard-sell recruiting tactics. The 55-year-old Toronto-area resident gets monthly mailers from Las Vegas hotels and weekly sales pitches in his workplace e-mail, in addition to unsolicited offers for discounts and comps on the Strip.

“Before, we used to have to phone to see if we could get any comps,” said Dixon, whose visits have evolved from guy-weekend getaways in the early 1980s to family vacations today. “Now they send it to us.”

After today, Dixon and countless other Canadians may be getting even more pitches to visit Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is scheduled to vote on whether to approve a contract that would put Canadian marketing in the hands of a specialist with the goal of attracting even more visitors from Southern Nevada’s No. 1 foreign guest source.

The tourism agency wants to divert Canadians who take vacations in Mexico and the Caribbean to Las Vegas. It also wants to increase the number of Canadian business and convention events in Southern Nevada.

“There is potential for us to capture some of that business,” said Terry Jicinsky, senior vice president of marketing at the authority.

An estimated 1.9 million Canadians visited Las Vegas last year. Even more skipped the United States altogether in favor of Mexican and Caribbean trips.

Last winter about 650,000 Canadians went to Mexico and 400,000 went to the Dominican Republic, according to the Conference Board of Canada, a nonprofit economic research firm. About 275,000 Canadians made winter trips to Las Vegas. The number is well behind other destinations but is a nearly 15 percent increase from the previous winter.

Building on the increase is part of the authority’s strategy to attract 43 million people to Las Vegas annually by the end of 2010. The authority also wants to increase the percentage of foreign visitors to 15 percent, up from 12 percent today.

Increasing the number and diversity of visitors is important because there will be nearly 40,000 new hotel rooms in Las Vegas by the end of the decade. Recruiting visitors is key to maintaining occupancy rates around 90 percent, no small feat considering there are already about 133,000 hotel rooms in Southern Nevada.

Today’s vote is to decide whether to spend $228,000 to hire a Canadian marketing firm to represent Las Vegas.

The firm, VoX International of Toronto, would be responsible for marketing the destination to tour operators, travel writers and meeting planners.

“We’ve got lots of ideas how we can position Vegas as the No. 1 destination for Canadians,” said Susan Webb, president of VoX.

Webb said the 55- to 64-year-old demographic, a prime target for Las Vegas vacations, will grow by 25 percent in upcoming years.

“They are looking for luxury destinations,” said Webb.

The company also plans to launch a Las Vegas Web site for French-speaking Canadians in Quebec. “I think we will get a lot of attention in that market,” Webb said.

Attracting foreign visitors to Las Vegas has been a challenge in recent years. Overseas visitation plummeted after the Sept. 11,2001 terrorist attacks and still hasn’t rebounded to 2000 levels. Las Vegas resorts have turned to Canada and Mexico to make up for the overseas shortfall.

There are now 113 direct flights from Canada to Las Vegas every week, according to the authority. Not only do airlines fly direct from major cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, there are now flights from Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, Jicinsky said.

There are also more travel headaches for Canadians. Airline passengers are now required to have passports to travel between the United States and Canada. Next year there may also be passport requirements to cross the border on land.

Robert Martin, 69, of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia near Halifax, lost his baggage in a customs mixup en route to Las Vegas in April. Martin and his wife, Delores, were traveling on Air Canada to Nevada for their 43rd wedding anniversary. Their bags got delayed in Toronto in a mishap the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol blamed on Air Canada.

“I wasn’t happy with it,” said Martin, who got $300 in compensation from the airline, an amount he said didn’t cover the cost of the inconvenience. But he said the new requirements for Canadian and American travel won’t dissuade him from future trips to Las Vegas.

“I’ll be back to Vegas, definitely, but not with Air Canada,” he said.

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