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Can Las Vegas grow into international air hub?

“Never mind ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’ Perhaps the new slogan for America’s gambling capital should be ‘Stop over for a quickie in Sin City.’ A quick visit, that is.”

That’s from the Associated Press, which reports, “Las Vegas tourism officials are betting that a new air terminal will lure some travelers to use Las Vegas as a regular stopover en route to Asia or other foreign places.”

FULL STORY:  Vegas pitching airlines, travelers as gate to Asia

That terminal – set to open in June – will significantly boost Las Vegas’ ability to handle international visitors via six gates equipped for international service. Customs will be able to process 2,200 passengers per hour, which AP notes is “a big increase over the current Customs capacity of 800 international passengers and three flight arrivals per hour.”

The terminal – planned before the recent recession began – comes as passenger traffic to Las Vegas McCarran has declined in recent years, reducing the flow of out-of-town visitors essential to support the city’s casino hotels.

During the past 18 months, international traffic has jumped 18% while the number of domestic travelers has remained relatively flat, according to AP.

AP says Las Vegas officials hope they can keep that trend going by convincing more overseas airlines to boost non-stop service to Las Vegas.

“We see Las Vegas not just as an origin and destination point, but also as another hub for us,” John Jackson III, vice president of passenger marketing and sales for Korean Air’s Americas region, says to AP.

“We aim to connect passengers from Salt Lake, from Denver, from Phoenix, from Albuquerque via Las Vegas when they’re going to Seoul,” Jackson says.

It’s not clear just how easy it would be for Korean Air to do that. It is a partner with Delta via the SkyTeam alliance, but neither Delta nor any other major airline operates a hub in Las Vegas. That means for Korean Air to connect a large number of fliers over Las Vegas, it will have to partner with multiple airlines or hope to capture travelers buying two sets of tickets.

“I wouldn’t call the new terminal a white elephant, but it’s going to be quite empty for a long time if they’re looking for flights to Asia,” Mo Garfinkle, CEO of GCW Consulting, says to AP.

Clark County Aviation Director Randy Walker remains undeterred. He acknowledges to AP that he doesn’t expect Las Vegas to crack the USA’s top 10 airports in terms of international travelers. But he says positioning it as a potential stopover destination is “an important component of our growth.”

Stay tuned …

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