Wednesday, April 8, 1998 | 11:51 a.m.
There's finally good news for Las Vegas hotel-casinos trying to fill new rooms but facing declining air service at McCarran International Airport.
The first scheduled nonstop air service between Las Vegas and Japan will begin this June when Northwest Airlines begins twice-a-week flights on Boeing 747 jets.
The first nonstop service to the Pacific Rim could jump-start international tourism from Japan, the No. 1 overseas market for Las Vegas.
"One of the biggest growth markets for us in the 21st century is the international market and establishing nonstop service to Tokyo is a key component of that," said Rossi Ralenkotter, vice president of marketing with the LVCVA.
Northwest will offer flights Thursday and Monday between McCarran International Airport and Narita International Airport in Tokyo. Flight 78 will depart Narita at 4:25 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays and arrive at McCarran at 1:10 p.m. the same day. Flight 77 returning will leave at 1:10 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays and arrive at 4:40 p.m. the following day. The westbound flight takes 11 1/2 hours while the eastbound flight takes just over 11 hours.
While the service to Tokyo is expected to be a boon for attracting Japanese tourists, the fact that the deal is with Northwest should mean even higher visitor counts for Las Vegas since Tokyo is one of Northwest's hub cities. That means tourists from all over Southeast Asia fly into Narita Airport to connect to other destinations.
Among Northwest's major Asian markets are Hong Kong; Singapore; Taipei; Shanghai; Manila; Bangkok, Thailand; and Seoul, South Korea.
Northwest's U.S. hubs are in Minneapolis, Minn., and Detroit.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority statistics show 311,000 tourists visited Las Vegas from Japan in 1996.
A team known as Las Vegas Parties has been working to secure nonstop service to Japan in conjunction with negotiations on open-skies agreements with Japan. Open-skies agreements allow carriers from both countries access to each other's airports. However, the United States has a bilateral agreement limiting the airlines and destinations that can be served.
Las Vegas Parties includes representatives from the LVCVA, McCarran, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Development Authority and the Nevada Resort Association.
The two U.S. carriers offering flights to Japan are Northwest and United Airlines. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways of Japan are the top carriers looking to expand in the United States and Las Vegas was on All Nippon's short list of potential destinations in this country.
All Nippon also is in negotiations with United Airlines for code sharing agreements that would allow both companies to book passengers on each other's flights. An All Nippon spokesman said today negotiations probably would continue through the summer and schedule changes affecting travel between the United States and Japan could take place in the fall.
Between now and June 1, the date of the inaugural flight, Ralenkotter said the LVCVA would meet with Japanese officials to explain tour package opportunities to travel agents. The LVCVA, which has an office in Tokyo, also would get the word out at Pacific Rim trade shows and at a major Travel Industry Association event in Chicago in May.
Ralenkotter said Las Vegas Parties has been working for months on negotiations to initiate nonstop flights to Japan and that current economic conditions in Asia aren't expected to put a damper on the service kickoff.
"We haven't seen any slippage so far in demand from Japan," Ralenkotter said. "We'll continue to market the route and grow the market."
Northwest has 35 Boeing 747s in its fleet with seating capacities ranging from 370 to 454. The world's fourth largest airline began flying in 1926 and initiated service to Asia in 1947.
A Northwest spokesman said the new flights between Tokyo and Las Vegas shouldn't necessitate any new employees at McCarran.
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., a former commercial airline pilot, said the service should greatly enhance the city's tourism.
"This announcement comes at a time when many in the Las Vegas tourism industry have raised concerns of meeting the demands of the dynamic growth caused by the construction of new hotels," Gibbons said in a prepared statement. "This new service will help Las Vegas compete in the important Pacific Rim market. It is my hope that other airlines will follow Northwest Airlines, a company that has an established reputation as a leader in the international market."