Las Vegas lands air travel trade show

The city’s visitor profile could grow considerably more diverse in coming years.

Air-travel trade show World Route Development Forum, or Routes, is coming to Las Vegas in October 2013, and will bring with it thousands of international executives and decision-makers who work for airlines, airports and industry suppliers. The purpose of the summit? To discuss new and existing air-traffic routes, including added service to Las Vegas.

“Routes is a very prestigious conference within the aviation world,” said Randall Walker, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, which operates McCarran International Airport. “It gives us a great opportunity to spend time with a lot of airlines in one location and develop that first contact, which would be very difficult to do if we tried to fly around the world and meet individual carriers in their hometowns.”

McCarran executives worked with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to draw Routes to Las Vegas. The authority’s board of directors on Tuesday approved $2.2 million in marketing funds to sponsor Routes, though agency executives said they expect to land $1 million in sponsorships to defray those costs. McCarran, Harrah’s Entertainment and British Airways have already signed on as forum underwriters.

It’ll be the first time since its 1995 launch that Routes happens on U.S. soil.

The lag in bringing the event to the United States has come mostly from tight global competition to host Routes, said Peter von Moltke, chief executive officer of UBM Aviation, the Illinois publishing and research company that owns the forum.

Plus, Las Vegas provided the first real opportunity to conduct the summit in this country, von Moltke said. Half a decade of participating in Routes events and seeing the results in new service from Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and AeroMexico convinced local officials to push for the meeting. At the same time, the forum’s organizers decided Las Vegas provided the best venue for a stateside meeting.

“We kind of chose each other,” von Moltke said. “Las Vegas has been attending forums for many years. They approached us, so we spent some time here. We decided there wouldn’t be a better host from a facilities perspective, from an attraction perspective and from a world-center-of-attention perspective. It was a natural.”

Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the authority, said the agency continues to see big growth potential in international markets. The success of British Airways’ direct flights from London Heathrow Airport to Las Vegas, plus Virgin Atlantic’s plans to launch service from Manchester, England, to Las Vegas in April, prove that focusing on international feeder markets could pay dividends for Las Vegas, Tull said. Holding Routes here will expose the market to a new global audience.

“The route planners we meet at conferences have either never been to Las Vegas or haven’t been here in the past 10 years,” Tull said. “Hosting the conference gives us the opportunity to showcase Las Vegas to people who make decisions about where planes fly. We think it will help us increase our international air capacity.”

Walker agreed that bringing airport and airline executives to Las Vegas to enjoy the city’s hospitality scene will reinforce statistics that show strong potential demand for air service to Southern Nevada. They’ll also have the opportunity to experience McCarran, which has scheduled a 2012 opening for six international gates in its under-construction Terminal 3.

Cities hosting Routes do report a marked increase in international travel following the forum.

After Dubai, United Arab Emirates, held the meeting in 2006, its scheduled international departures rose 9 percent in 2007, 6 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 2009, the authority noted. Scheduled international departures from Stockholm jumped 16 percent following its hosting in 2007, and departures out of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia spiked 12 percent after the 2008 Routes happened there.

Authority officials said bringing in just one new international route flying a 747 that’s 80 percent full twice a week would yield a nongaming economic impact of $36 million.

Authority officials also promised von Moltke that they would begin working immediately to make the 2013 meeting successful.

“When you come to do business with our organization, we don’t host it and hope they will come,” said board member and MGM Resorts International executive Charles Bowling. “From this point forward, we’re strategic partners with you . “

The authority is already co-sponsoring the upcoming forum, scheduled to begin Monday in Vancouver, British Columbia, and plans to sponsor the 2012 meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Von Moltke said he hopes the local 2013 summit will be the largest show the group has ever held, with 3,000 attendees. The authority estimates a nongaming economic impact of $2.8 million during the forum’s three days in town.

“Las Vegas has excitement written underneath it, and when we announce (the Las Vegas forum) in Vancouver, there will be a big buzz, from airlines in particular and also from other airports that expect to connect to Las Vegas,” von Moltke said.

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