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Inaugural Hainan Airlines flight from Beijing to Las Vegas lands at McCarran

The inaugural Hainan Airlines flight servicing Beijing to Las Vegas nonstop arrived Friday morning with about 200 Chinese travelers, Chinese media and tourism officials.

For many aboard, like Sun Jing Yi, it is their first time coming to the United States.

Sun said she is excited to experience Christmas in Las Vegas and see all of the sights.

Passenger Dong Yue is one of 22 Chinese on a group tour that will spend a week in Las Vegas and then three or four days in Los Angeles. She said she is excited to visit the United States but has no idea what to expect from Las Vegas. She trusts she will enjoy whatever the tour guide has planned.

Tour Guide Xun Xiao Liang said the group will tour the casinos and visit the Grand Canyon, a popular choice for Chinese travelers.

It’s Zhu Jian Ping’s second time coming to the U.S. She said she is most looking forward to taking a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.

The journey over to Las Vegas began with a celebratory event at the gate inside Beijing International Airport. Passengers and Hainan Airlines crew members posed for pictures in front of different Las Vegas-themed backdrops and with two Las Vegas showgirls.

Upon boarding the plane each passenger received a travel pillow as a gift, and during the flight passengers enjoyed a cake-cutting ceremony, and passengers received gifts.

The crew hid two envelopes in first class and three envelopes in economy class, and the people to find them won prizes. CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, in first class, won a stuffed animal panda character from Kung Fu Panda as well as a mahogany box containing fine glasses. A man in economy class won a model replica airplane of the Hainan Airlines inaugural aircraft.


Ralenkotter said getting on the plane in Beijing was “very exciting” and felt like “the first day of school.”

“It’s a great sense of accomplishment, it’s a team effort,” Ralenkotter said. “This is the start of a new relationship. Now we really can be even more aggressive in the Chinese marketplace.”

A traditional water arch salute greeted the aircraft as it taxied to the gate. Firetrucks sandwiched the plane and sprayed plumes of water onto the aircraft.

Chris Jones, chief marketing officer for McCarran International Airport, said it’s been a long, well-earned win for Las Vegas.

“It will be great to finally see those people stepping off of the plane experiencing an airport that was really designed to accommodate days like Dec. 2,” Jones said.

As the Chinese passengers stepped off the plane, they were the first to experience McCarran’s China Ready program. The airport is now equipped with Mandarin signage, six Chinese speaking ambassadors to welcome passengers and help them to navigate, as well as a WeChat presence. WeChat is a widely used social networking and mobile wallet app in China.

Hou Wei, senior vice president of Hainan Airlines, said he was impressed by the signage.

“The signs seem to be quite strategically positioned, which should help (Chinese travelers to navigate through the airport,” he said.

Michael Boyd, chairman of Boyd Group International, said McCarran now is the only airport in the country that is truly China-ready.

As Chinese passengers left the airplane they were greeted with airport staff welcoming them to Las Vegas. After gathering their luggage, they were treated to champaigne, a Chinese Cirque du Soleil performance and a gift bag containing tea, small stuffed teddy bear, choclates wrapped in Las Vegas-themed packaging and a mini bottle of Canadian Icewine.


Speaking at a press conference upon arrival, Ralenkotter said the new route is expected to generate an estimated $33.5 million annually in direct visitor spending for Southern Nevada.

“Hainan Airlines’ new nonstop service connects China to Las Vegas for the very first time, offering additional conveniences and flexibility for both business and leisure international travelers,” he said. “Further lift will also help contribute to the record visitation we are already experiencing in 2016.”

With China considered to be one of the leading growth markets for visitation to Las Vegas, the accessibility of the new route introduces Las Vegas to millions of prospective visitors and will be instrumental to increase international visitation.

Currently international travelers account for 16 percent of annual visitation to Las Vegas, which translates to 30 percent of revenue.

Las Vegas tourism officials have been pursuing a route from Beijing for many years, as Chinese travelers are one of the fastest-growing and largest-spending groups of international visitors to Las Vegas. The new Hainan route operates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The LVCVA team and other representatives from Las Vegas and Hainan Airlines now start their next leg of the journey: growing demand for the route.

Tourism officials say they hope to see additional nonstop routes from China within the next five years.

The inaugural flight comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the China U.S. Tourism Year.

“What better way to end the (China-U.S. Tourism) Year than to have new nonstop service,” Ralenkotter said.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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