Las Vegas, Denver considered for nonstop China flights

Aviation expert Mike Boyd is betting that Las Vegas has nonstop flights to and from China within three years.

Boyd, president and CEO of Boyd Group International, told a group gathered for the 20th annual International Aviation Forecast Summit on Saturday that Denver and Las Vegas are the two leading candidates for nonstop flights based on growing travel demand from middle-class Chinese citizens that have the means and desire to travel abroad.

Boyd said Air China and Hainan Airlines are the likeliest candidates to fly a route to Las Vegas from a Chinese destination. Both carriers are scheduled to make presentations at the two-day Boyd conference later in the week.

The summit begins Monday at Bellagio, but Boyd is conducting two days of pre-conference seminars, including Saturday’s China-U.S. Aviation Opportunities Symposium.

Chinese tourism is important to Southern Nevada because the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Nevada Commission on Tourism have cultivated the Chinese market for more than a decade.

Nevada was the first U.S. state to establish a Chinese-licensed tourism office in that country in 2004.

In addition, McCarran International Airport announced that it is gearing to expand its international gates.

Last week, Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, told the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee that the airport would spend $51 million to build a new tunnel connecting seven D gates directly to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection passenger arrival facility. McCarran already has seven international gates in the 14-gate Terminal 3 concourse.

The project is expected to begin in November and be completed by early 2017.

Airport officials considered using the other seven Terminal 3 gates for international arrivals, but determined the logistics of building a secure corridor the length of the concourse was prohibitive. Terminal 3’s zero-level Customs walkway could not be extended the full length of the building because the tunnel for the shuttle tram to the D gates would cut off access at the center of the terminal. As a result, arrivals at the west end of the building would be required to take a complicated route and at least two elevator rides to get to Customs.

Another benefit to using some D gates for international arrivals is that they would be able to accommodate large jumbo jets, including the double-decked Airbus A380. The wingspan of that plane is too wide to park within the interior gates of Terminal 3. Boyd said a trend for international air carriers is to use larger aircraft on intercontinental flights.

McCarran officials say that despite the popular notion that Terminal 3 was built exclusively for international arrivals, it has never been the airport’s intent to use it just for that.

In Saturday’s symposium, Chris Spring, president of Spring O’Brien-China Ni Hao, a New York marketing consultant who focuses on Chinese tourism, said there were 2.24 million Chinese travelers to the United States in 2014, a 24.4 percent increase over 2013. Those travelers spent $13.4 billion, 36.7 percent more than in 2013. Visitation from China is expected to grow to 7 million within five years.

Many of the attractions Chinese tourists are seeking are right in Las Vegas’ wheelhouse.

Spring said shopping is the favorite activity of Chinese tourists, but they’re also highly interested in fine dining, American culture, history and the outdoors.

The next generation of Chinese travelers are veering away from organized tours, preferring instead to create their own individual adventures. Spring said the new generation is sophisticated, travel savvy, confident and generally under the age of 45. They like to see iconic American places.

But they also can surprise. Spring said some of the favorite destinations for Chinese tourists are Niagara Falls on New York’s Canadian border and Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Conn. Nevada officials are often amazed to find out how much Chinese tourists enjoy the state’s wide-open desert regions and western culture.

Boyd said communities that want to attract Chinese visitors need to get busy to present a welcoming environment for those tourists.

He suggests Chinese signage in airports and hotels, maps and support materials in Mandarin and developing QR links to download materials into smartphones.

For business travelers — conventioneers, for example — he suggests providing VIP treatment, including escorted Customs and early escorted aircraft boarding and hiring a fully conversant Mandarin speaker to accompany the guests to handle translations.

Spring suggested that hotels add services, such as additional Chinese restaurant menus, one or more Chinese television stations in guestrooms and guestroom amenities that would include Chinese teas.

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

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