Friday, February 17, 2017

Las Vegas eyes Asia for future routes

Two months of Beijing-Las Vegas service has whetted Las Vegas’ appetite for more flights to China and elsewhere in Asia.

Hainan Airlines launched the three-times-weekly flights Dec. 1, and the airport says load factors have beaten expectations.

Although firm data are not yet available, Rosemary Vassiliadis, aviation director at McCarran International Airport, told ATW’s sister publication Aviation Daily at the Routes Americas conference that load factors, based on the airport’s calculations, are about 80%. “China is virtually an untapped market for us, and there is more to be had there,” she said, referring to air-service potential.

The airport is in talks with other Chinese carriers, and has identified markets in Japan and Australia as targets for future air service, Vassiliadis said. She declined to identify to which specific carriers the airport is talking.

China’s Hainan Airlines operates Boeing 787s on the route, the first nonstop Las Vegas-China flight. The key difference between Hainan Airlines and other Chinese carriers is that Hainan Airlines does not offer a large premium cabin, an important difference for a primarily leisure destination. “We couldn’t fill the front of an airplane in Las Vegas,” Vassiliadis said.

Almost all of Hainan Airlines’ sales for the route are in China. Traffic primarily consists of tour groups, but this is expected to change as Chinese travel habits evolve, said Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “We expect more individual travelers as the market matures, and individual travelers tend to be younger,” Ralenkotter said.

This changing demographic has entered into planning for the China route. Tour groups usually have an English-proficient leader, who can help navigate the airport, hotel check-ins and translate restaurant menus. Anticipating more individual travelers, the airport has added signage in Mandarin Chinese in the passport control hall and around the international terminal.

Restaurants in the terminal, run by concessionaire HMS Host, have added Chinese-language menus. The airport also has hired staff proficient in Chinese to assist visitors, Vassiliadis said. In town, hotels have been encouraged to add Chinese-proficient staff, to translate menus and to add familiar menu items for Chinese tourists, Ralenkotter said.

McCarran International Airport has direct international service to Canada, Mexico, South Korea and points in Europe, including Germany, the UK and Norway. The airport has seven international gates, and built one gate that can handle the Airbus A380. However, Vassiliadis noted that airlines are unlikely to fly that aircraft to Las Vegas.

The airport will have seven additional gates available for international flights when a new, secure tunnel opens in May. The tunnel will run under the terminal in order to ferry passengers from those gates to the customs and immigration hall.

(Madhu Unnikrishnan - Aviation Daily / ATWOnline News)

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