A new outlook for Las Vegas

The venue for Routes America 2017 is spreading the message that the city isn’t standing still as it looks to attract more routes and visitors.

Just because it is said that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, it doesn’t mean the city stays the same. While visitors to the city might tick it off their list of places to see after a single visit, they are wrong to do so as Las Vegas is forever reinventing itself. That is the message that McCarran International Airport is pushing out in conjunction with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as they prepare to host Routes Americas 2017, having hosted World Routes back in 2013.

Chris Jones, CMO for McCarran International Airport, says: “At the moment, what we’re doing is a form of sales. We’re marketing our destination to airlines and we want them to bring new services here, which means their customers too. When we hosted World Routes, there were a lot of people who had never been here before, or they had last visited 20 or 30 years ago.

“However, Las Vegas is a destination that frequently reinvents itself every few years. It is important for people who are unfamiliar with it or haven’t been for a few years to come and see how we’ve changed, while Routes delegates can see the levels of business taking place here too.”

Brig Lawson, LVCVA senior director of business partnerships, agrees the best way for a destination to promote itself is to get people to experience it first hand. He adds: “Seeing is selling and a lot of times people will come over and see the destination and not realise all the things that have changed since their last visit. At World Routes people were thinking of Las Vegas as the old 1970s Vegas and it is majorly different.”

Sports is one of the key attractions at the city, with a new 20,000-seat sports arena having opened this year that can also be used as a concert venue. Meanwhile, the approval of $750 million for a new American football stadium is likely to lure a team to the area, where it can start competing at national level.

Lawson says: “We’re getting major sporting teams that we didn’t have before and we see a huge opportunity in that. It is now up to us to push forward and raise awareness of this.”

Sports are just one aspect of the destination’s hunt for more visitors, with business conventions also proving to be a vital part of the ongoing battle to win more routes.

Lawson says a recent survey of the 250 biggest trade shows in the world revealed 54 are hosted by Vegas – more than double the number hosted by its closest US competitors Chicago and Orlando. 

While that many annual conventions gives a firm boost to the city’s overall visitor numbers, it is the type of visitor that is also proving vital when it comes to making the argument for new routes.

Lawson says: “There’s such a demand for that kind of traveller in the industry as they are business travellers. Carriers want to know how they are going to fill the front of the plane and whether there is enough demand and how we can help them fill that demand.” He adds that conventions are just one of the ways that the city can also start working to meet its target of attracting 30% of all visitors from the international market, as opposed to the 20% the city currently receives.

“We have 150,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas and that’s a lot of rooms to fill every night. We’ve got to find new ways to fill those rooms and one way of doing that is growth in the international sector. Domestic still accounts for 80% of our business and we love it. However, we think international travel is so important for our long-term growth so we’re going to have to look in new places,” Lawson says.

In particular, Asia, Europe and Latin America are all markets the LVCVA is targeting. However, Lawson admits that despite the city’s global fame, both his and McCarran’s teams must work hard if they are to win new routes to the destination.

“Carriers from those destinations are sophisticated and we still have a lot of casework to do if we are to prove that a route is viable and what we can give them to help set up. For us, it is about diversification and development of Las Vegas as a destination. We’re battling for business and we’re up against these major hubs,” he says.

Jones agrees that Asia provides a great opportunity for the city’s international visitor growth, particularly following Hainan Airlines’ announcement in August that it would launch the first service from mainland China to Las Vegas, a three-times -weekly service connecting with Beijing using a Boeing 787, on December 2.

He adds: “The Hainan service is massive for us as we finally broke the dam. We are excited about it, we are looking forward to getting it under way and we are doing everything we can to support that new business. We hope this is the first of many as we had to kick open the door to get it.”

Japan is also being targeted as a “premier operation” as there is no current direct flight to the city from it, while Jones also believes Europe remains a market that has not been fully tapped into. He adds: “When we look to Europe we’ve got a scattering of services, but the Europeans really seem to like Las Vegas. This is particularly so in Ireland as there are a lot of Irish coming over from the UK.”

Although Jones agrees with Lawson that South America is yet to reach its full potential, the continent’s current economic problems mean Las Vegas must play more of a waiting game. He adds: “South America was looking good, but they have had some challenges. We see some opportunities, but I don’t think they’re as near term as we previously imagined they would have been two years ago.”

Yet hosting Routes Americas is not purely an opportunity to highlight the city. Jones says the event will also prove just as positive for showing how the airport is upgrading to meet the demands of the modern market. He adds that hosting World Routes in 2013 was ideally timed as it occurred about a year after the opening of McCarran’s new international terminal. Indeed, the first sight for arriving delegates was the terminal itself, which they were able to experience first hand.

However, the airport has not been sitting still in its hunt for more international visitors, despite a recent growth of 70% in the market, and it is now converting a further seven domestic gates to international ones to meet demand in a project that should be completed in May next year. 

Jones says: “When this new project is completed, McCarran will have 14 gates for international services instead of seven. We’re also making sure one of the gates will be able to handle an Airbus A380 so that we can get that service. We want to show we are alleviating any concerns and moving forwards.”

While much of the focus may be on the international market, Jones is keen to point out that the domestic market must remain strong if the airport is to hit its predicted number of 47.5 million passengers in 2016. In doing so, the airport will be in touching distance of its previous best of 47.8 million passengers in 2007, a year before the global financial meltdown from which the world is still recovering.

In particular, he says the low-cost carriers (LCCs) have been particularly instrumental in strengthening the domestic market, particularly as the low cost of oil has brought down fuel prices. “A lot of the growth we have seen has been on the LCC side,” Jones says. 

“Frontier has been putting a lot of seats into the market and seeing growth. Southwest may have been flat, but they have such a prolific presence here anyway. There aren’t many domestic carriers that aren’t already here. There’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit or markets that are not being served," he explains.

“We’ll talk to a carrier that has six frequencies on this route and see if maybe they could do that seven or eight times. We do talk to them and see them, but when we go to these events like Routes, our focus is on the international areas and new opportunities,” he adds.

In speaking to representatives from both McCarran International Airport and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), it is remarkable that their thinking with regard to route development is so closely aligned. However, this should not be a surprise as the two teams have a working relationship that goes back at least a decade. 

And having become so familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they are now working closely on the city’s route development strategy to ensure it best meets the needs for all.

Chris Jones, McCarran International Airport CMO, says the attractions of working with the LVCVA are immediate. He adds: “As a government-run organisation, we only have so many resources we can bring in, but once we have the LVCVA with us, then we get access to one of the world’s best marketing teams. From the smallest, most minute details to the largest market level, it makes all the sense in the world for don’t understand their operational needs.”

Brig Lawson, LVCVA senior director of business partnerships, agrees the relationship between the two is symbiotically successful. He says: “The partnership we have with McCarran is important. We think it is a very successful approach. They’re able to talk to the operators and we talk to the destinations, so it works out nicely.” 

While the LVCVA is useful in helping McCarran to develop new routes, it also ensures that once the new route is set up, it is successful. Lawson adds: “We have a programme – we are ready to work with all of our operators from around the world and say: ‘Here’s the whole package.’ We really approach route development as a partnership. We’re not going to go out and talk to a carrier we don’t see operating successfully here.

“We look at a route and make sure it stands up on its own and works for us and the carrier. Every new service is unique and the way we approach it is unique, but there’s always the certainty that we will support the service. We really work to develop that partnership with a carrier and say to them: ‘Here is how we will we create awareness of the new service."

As for what delegates can expect when they attend the event, which last year drew in more than 700 delegates, Lawson says the LVCVA is working hard to ensure the event’s success – during the day and at night. However, like any Las Vegas local, Chris Jones is holding his cards close to his chest.

He says: “I don’t want to show our hand too much, but we have a couple of things planned that are really popular. We got some really great reviews when we hosted it in 2013 and we’re working on some really great surprises for all the delegates.”

In fact, given the event’s potential to see new routes introduced around the world, we should all hope this is one time when what happens in Vegas most definitely does not stay in Vegas. 

Routes News 7 Las Vegas

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