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September 23, 2017

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Aviation officials speed dating to draw tourists to Las Vegas

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

An Interjet A320 taxis to its gate after its first daily nonstop flight between Mexico City and Las Vegas on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, at McCarran International Airport.

With Las Vegas constantly seeking ways to draw new tourists, a convention this week caters to just that issue.

The Routes America conference, at the Aria through Thursday, attracts airlines, airports and tourism authorities from around the world to create new aviation services.

The 10th Routes America, with a record 820 delegates attending, marks the second time the event has landed in Las Vegas. About 2,700 meetings are set up in a speed-dating style, with each agency having 20 minutes with the group of their choice, with a timer and warnings when the meeting time is about to conclude.

“The benefit of this type of event is more than fivefold,” said Chris Jones, chief marketing officer for the Clark County Department of Aviation. “It brings in airlines from all around the world, and you're able to meet with them one on one, in quick succession. Instead of having to travel to Mexico or Argentina or Brazil to meet with them in different headquarters and the expenses and time that that would entail, they all come into one place.

“The goal is to end it with an announcement that they’re going to add new air service to Las Vegas,” Jones said.

The first Routes America conference in Las Vegas, which took place in 2013, paid dividends.

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, McCarran International Airport saw more than 120 weekly flights added in the year after the 2013 event, generating an economic benefit to the tune of $440 million.

“This type of convention is one that we establish business relationships working on the possibility of bringing a plane in. There are lots of dynamics that go into that,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA. “That’s why this is such a critical type of convention for us to attend as a destination, but more importantly to have those route planners here to determine where we’re going to put those planes.”

With tourism agencies vying for the same travelers all around the world, it helps to have international representatives in one place to sell Las Vegas as the premier tourist spot.

“We compete with everyone. We have 150,000 rooms to fill every single day,” Ralenkotter said. “We’re an international destination … so we just make sure that we get our information out and provide reasons for people to come to Las Vegas. The farther that someone is away from Las Vegas, the more information that we need to get to them.”

About 50 percent of travelers arrive to Las Vegas via plane, according to Ralenkotter, solidifying the importance of the conference.

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From left, Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, Aviation Department CMO Chris Jones, LVCVA President/CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and Routes Americas Brand Director Steven Small mark the opening of the Routes America travel conference at Aria on Feb. 15, 2017.

Las Vegas has been the top trade show destination in North America for the past 22 years — something the authority hangs its hat on, Ralenkotter said. Expansions that are underway ensure the city stays atop that list, he said.

“Three of the 11 largest convention centers in North America are here in Las Vegas,” he said. “We intend on staying No. 1 going forward, and we have the ability to do that.”

The Las Vegas Convention Center’s $1.4 billion, 600,000 square-foot expansion and Aria’s 200,000 square-foot addition are among the projects Ralenkotter mentioned as keys to staying atop the industry.

“We truly are the only city in America that evolves to host people,” he said.

Las Vegas’ ability to continually reinvent itself is another part of its appeal, Ralenkotter said..

With the addition of T-Mobile Arena to the Las Vegas Strip last year, Southern Nevada finally landed a major league sports team, the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. Ralenkotter said that the team represents a new reason for tourists to visit Las Vegas.

“The NHL, for example, has Canadian teams, so that’s an international market,” he said. “We know that their (NHL teams) fan clubs will come to Las Vegas to see a game when the team plays. It’s an Olympic sport, hockey is a big sport throughout the world, so we may have some of that opportunity for exhibition games and so forth.”

He also noted work on the federal level to help tourists from China obtain visas more quickly.

“There was an almost 100-day wait time to have a visa approved in China,” Ralenkotter said. “So with Brand USA (a destination marketing organization), the U.S. Travel Association and the State Department, we got together to see what could be done to speed the process up,” Ralenkotter said.

“By making a business decision and all of us working together, the wait time went from close to 100 days to two less than days,” Ralenkotter said.

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