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By Tess Eyrich | October 17, 2016 | Lifestyle
Before Hainan Airlines officially launches the first-ever nonstop flight from China to Las Vegas on December 2, here’s everything you need to know about the history-making route.
When Hainan Airlines Flight 7969 arrives in Las Vegas on December 2, it’ll make history as the first commercial flight to reach McCarran International Airport after a nonstop journey from mainland China. But even longer lasting than the excitement over the flight’s maiden voyage will be the impact of the massive influx of Chinese travelers expected to touch down in Las Vegas over the next several years.
“The Chinese market is extremely important to us,” says Michael Goldsmith, vice president of international marketing at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “Moving forward, it’s one of the leading growth markets—if not the leading growth market—for visitation to the United States and Las Vegas as well.”
It’s not hard to understand why. Compared with domestic travelers, Chinese visitors to Las Vegas tend to stay longer, make plans further in advance, and spend significantly more money on dining, entertainment, and luxury shopping. They also typically travel on to three or four more destinations throughout the Southwest—Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon are popular stops—making them economic boons for the tourism industries in states like California, Arizona, and Utah as well.
And so in 2013, Las Vegas hosted World Routes, an annual conference focused on air service development—imagine a global networking event for people in the aviation industry—and city leaders took advantage of the opportunity to introduce attendees to McCarran’s new $2.4-billion Terminal 3 and drum up interest in international partnerships.
“The Nevada Commission on Tourism had been wooing Chinese partners for quite a while—probably at least 15 years—and so they were very well aware of us,” says Clark County Director of Aviation Rosemary Vassiliadis, “but seeing Terminal 3 ratcheted us up in their minds.”
The LVCVA and McCarran soon found compatibility with China’s largest privately owned airline, Hainan, a low-cost carrier known for its high standards of service. “Here at McCarran, 80 percent of our traffic comes from tourists and conventioneers who travel once or twice a year,” Vassiliadis says. “That’s why the low-cost carrier is so attractive to Las Vegas.”
From there, both countries worked toward securing approval of the new flight from their respective national governments. “In Vegas we had the support of our congressional delegation; one nice thing about being from a smaller state with only five representatives is the support you get for your No. 1 industry—in our case, tourism—and that was very meaningful to the Chinese government, too.” Vassiliadis says. “We also received quite a bit of support from the U.S. Travel Association.”
On September 12, the U.S. Department of Transportation officially approved the route to begin service in December. Passengers who embark on Flight 7969 (from Beijing to Las Vegas) or Flight 7970 (from Las Vegas to Beijing) will arrive via 213-seat Boeing 787 Dreamliners; flights will be offered Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, lasting 13 hours for westbound travelers and 12 hours for eastbound travelers.
The route’s launch comes at a pivotal moment in city development fueled by and geared toward Asian investment. Later this fall, Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino, an Asian-themed boutique hotel said to offer culturally authentic dining and gaming experiences, will open its doors just off the north end of the Strip. March 2019, meanwhile, will see the projected debut of Resorts World, a $4-billion, Chinese-themed project from the Malaysia-based monolith Genting Group.
Vassiliadis is quick to emphasize the positive economic effects of such developments, particularly when it comes to air travel. “The new flight will absolutely increase Chinese visitation to Las Vegas,” she says. “We’ve actually proven this in the past with other nonstop flights; the biggest example would be the Brits with Virgin Atlantic, which debuted the first nonstop service from London to Las Vegas in June 2000. To this day, Virgin Atlantic brings us so many British visitors—they’re mostly tourists—and we were getting some prior to that, but it was nothing like what we’re getting today.”
To attract more Chinese travelers and manage the large numbers already expected to arrive over the next several years, the LVCVA has teamed up with McCarran, major Strip stakeholders and resort groups, and other industry experts to assemble what the city is internally referring to as its “China-ready program,” a series of initiatives—think dedicated cultural programming, signage, and language offerings—designed to make Chinese visitors more comfortable in Las Vegas.
“If a Chinese visitor is going to take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, for instance, we want to make sure the narrative is in Mandarin,” Goldsmith says. “We think stuff like that is obvious, but it’s very different to appeal to a Chinese visitor than it is to appeal to a visitor whose first language is English.”
The program also emphasizes technological updates; Caesars Entertainment, for one, announced in September that visitors can now book travel reservations through the resort group’s account on WeChat, China’s most popular social app. “We’re also thinking about doing some of our own apps that’ll help our Chinese visitors find their way around town,” Goldsmith says.
But perhaps an even bigger challenge than welcoming a new wave of international travelers to Vegas, both Goldsmith and Vassiliadis admit, will revolve around ensuring the city sends just as many outbound visitors to China. “Demand into Las Vegas is pretty easy; it’s leaving that poses the problem,” Vassiliadis says. “Oftentimes our Chinese visitor likes to travel throughout the entire Southwest of the United States, so it comes down to ensuring the outbound flights aren’t total drains.
“China has 1.3 billion people, while we only have 2 million people in Clark County to send out,” Goldsmith adds. “We’ll definitely be working with the Asian community here and various chambers of commerce to talk about the value and the convenience of traveling to China on this flight.”
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA LAS VEGAS CONVENTION AND VISITORS AUTHORITY