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HOLY SOW! Chinese New Year is a tourism boon as local resorts, businesses ham it up for Year of the Pig

You thought New Year’s party-heartiness had partied itself out when they swept the streamers from the Strip, post-Jan. 1?

Silly you.

Rev up your celebration engine once again for The Year of the Pig as Chinese New Year fever descends over Las Vegas for a tourist onrush (and economic windfall) that began Feb. 5 and stretches over 15 days.

 Also known as Spring Festival and Lunar New Year, it’s a holiday that basks in an ever-widening spotlight in our tourist corridor, where catering to Asian visitors grows ever grander.

Understanding why is as easy as scanning the stats on Vegas visitors in 2017 — the most recent year for which figures are available — as provided by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (or LVCVA, which produces Las Vegas Newswire):

  • Guests from China topped out at 260,000, a leap of 11.7 percent over 2016.
  • China was the main Asian market for Las Vegas visitation.
  • Globally, China is the No. 5 source for international tourism here.

Boosting all that travel was the advent two years ago of Hainan Airlines’ inaugural nonstop flight from Beijing to Las Vegas.  Supplementing that is a portion of Chinese visitors who first fly into Los Angeles and San Francisco and then decide to detour to Las Vegas, turning them into Northern and Southern California tourists.

In addition to having an office in Shanghai that promotes Las Vegas through travel agents, online companies and tour operators, the LVCVA has conducted forums for local resorts and marketing reps to explain the particulars of Chinese travel habits and the overall market.

Also aiding the Chinese visitor boon has been a simplifying of the process for obtaining visas, as well as their familiarity with the marketing of Macau as a kind of primer to Las Vegas.

Though the amenities that draw Chinese tourists are what attract most of our visitors —  such as hotels, shows and restaurants — reports have cited shopping destinations as the largest lure in terms of the percentage of their leisure spending.

Resorts have reportedly also stepped up their services to Chinese travelers, including: employing Chinese-speaking staff; offering Chinese-style tea and breakfast options; providing Chinese welcome pamphlets; and programs such as Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s WeChat, a digital system through which Chinese guests can pay for entertainment, rooms and various expenses.

Catering to Chinese clientele has also evolved over the years via the shifting profile of the typical visitor. “Chinese New Year for Las Vegas was (initially) a gaming angle,” says Rafael Villanueva, senior director of international sales for the LVCVA. “The attention and investment from our hotels came from the casino side. Gaming, luck and the new year worked very well for the hotel. As Las Vegas evolved, the Chinese visitor changed from gaming-only clients to hotel guests that were traveling to Las Vegas for many reasons.”

With that came the inevitable expansion of offerings. “Besides the beautiful displays at hotels like the Bellagio, The Venetian and Wynn, the shopping centers and smaller properties have joined in, also entertainment and meals,” Villanueva adds. “We sponsor a program called ‘Chinese New Year in the Desert,’” which has grown, he says, “not only as a community event, but one that is promoted to Chinese visiting us.”

How Las Vegas reached this level of engagement with China is significantly attributable to the efforts of ex-Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt-Bono.  “When I was elected lieutenant governor and Kenny Guinn was the governor, he asked me, ‘What are some of your goals?’ I said, ‘We have to have an office in China,’” recalled the determined civil servant in an interview last year with Las Vegas Newswire.

Also on her civic resume: Hunt-Bono chaired the Nevada Commission on Tourism and was the first female LVCVA board chairwoman.

“Everybody is looking at me, like ‘Lorraine! You’re a little too ambitious.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ This was 1998. I was with the LVCVA when we opened offices in London and Germany, and we also went to Hong Kong,” she said of the territory that was a British colony until it was returned to China’s control in 1997.

“I’m watching these young entrepreneurial people speaking three languages and working 60 to 80 hours a week. I said, ‘My instinct tells me that Hong Kong isn’t going to become more like China, but China is going to become more like Hong Kong.’ Nevada had to have our foot in the door.’”

Flash forward to 2004, when Hunt-Bono orchestrated a trade mission that made Nevada the first state to be granted a tourism license in China, with promotional billboards cropping up around Beijing, opening the visitor floodgates from a once-unreachable tourism market.

Statistics compiled by the LVCVA reveal that in 2003, just below 22,000 tourists visited us from China, but by 2016, more than 233,000 had likely snapped themselves grinning by the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign in a near-continuous year-to-year climb.

“(Chinese officials) said, ‘We can’t talk about gambling.’ I said, ‘I grew up (in Las Vegas) and we don’t have to talk about gambling. We can talk swimming pools, golf courses, food, shows,’” Hunt-Bono recalled.

“And as a state official, I talked about the pristine West. They all wanted to go to Virginia City (where TV’s Bonanza was set). We had to go to China and get started for the future and expand because I knew the global economy was going to be important.”

Today, the theoretical has become reality in Las Vegas. Owing to the tourism push over the past 15 years, the pleasures and pageantry of the Chinese New Year are on dazzling display for all Las Vegans to revel in as well.

So go forth and ham it up — after all, it’s the Year of the Pig.

To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire

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