China's Hainan Airlines to start non-stop service to Vegas

AP News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2016 7:44 PM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Chinese airline is seeking U.S. approval to start non-stop service to Las Vegas amid overall record-breaking tourism numbers to Sin City and a recent, though slight lull in international visitation.

Hainan Airlines announced Thursday that it has filed for approval with the Department of Transportation to fly from Sin City to Beijing. The airline expects to offer the route three days a week at McCarran International Airport starting in December.

Hainan and local officials touted the pending deal — three years in the making — as a boon for the Las Vegas tourism market.

Overall international tourism in the past year has seen a slight decline, which has largely been attributed to the strength of the U.S. dollar as well as economic woes overseas.

The lull in international travel comes as post-recession Las Vegas has been seeing record-breaking visitation overall and steadily rising airport passenger numbers in the past year.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported a 3 percent dip in international visitors in 2015, accounting for about 16 percent of the city's record 42 million tourists that year.

McCarran also recorded in March and February of this year slightly fewer international passengers compared to the year before, despite a strong 2016 so far in overall passenger counts.

The tourism board's most recent figures from 2014 show that the Chinese account for a large share of its international visitors, but that they're far behind the number of travelers from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom who come to Las Vegas.

Officials said they believe that the number of people coming from China have largely been undercounted because there hasn't been a non-stop flight for them to get here. Those travelers often tack on a visit to Sin City after entering the U.S. through other hubs, such as Los Angeles, Seattle or Chicago, according to Joel Chusid, Hainan Airlines' executive director in the U.S.

"The market is there. It just hasn't fully been touched," Chusid said.

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