Nevada building a bridge to Asia
Asian Tourism is big business and getting bigger.
Chinese alone accounted for 1.5 million visitors to the United States in 2012 — not including residents of Hong Kong.
The number of Asian visitors is growing rapidly as China, South Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and India send an increasing stream of visitors to the United States. Nevada tourism and marketing officials are working to ensure many of those tourists stop in the Silver State.
Nevada, the first state to establish a tourism office in China, has had an active marketing presence there for a dozen years, said Claudia Vecchio, Nevada Department of Tourism & Cultural Affairs director.
“When talking about China (and other Asian nations), the first thing to remember is it’s a very long-haul trip,” she said. “It takes a solid commitment to come to the U.S., a financial commitment.”
The average Chinese visitor spends about $7,500 per trip, she said. That’s more than double the average amount spent by all overseas visitors.
Currently 15 percent of Chinese visitors to the United States visit Nevada, with the number increasing. From 2013 to 2014, the number of visitors to Nevada increased by 14.2 percent, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.
“Las Vegas is a must-see destination” for Chinese visitors, Vecchio said.
Las Vegas casinos might be the first thing potential visitors to Nevada think of, but the state tourism office is working on increasing visits to the north part of the state as well by working with Chinese companies that sell out-bound travel packages.
“Chinese love national parks; being outside, the blue skies,” she said. A common travel package to the West includes a 10- to 14-day tour of national parks in the West. They drive on Interstate 80 to Yellowstone and back through Utah’s Bryce Canyon with stops in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Nevada tourism officials are educating Chinese tour companies about Nevada’s parks, forests and mountains that are easy stops from I-80. It’s paying off.
“When they see Tahoe, their jaws drop,” Vecchio said. “Reno, they’re amazed how close the mountains are and how much there is to do.”
Even Elko is seeing an increase in Chinese visitors.
As the state goes after the international Asian market, casino/resorts in the Reno area target Asians in the drive-up market, especially from the Bay Area, southern California and the Pacific Northwest.
“The number of people we get from overseas is not that great,” said Bill Hughes, the director of casino marketing for the Peppermill Reno. Those who do come to northwestern Nevada, usually have second homes in the Bay Area.
Las Vegas gets the bulk of Asian travelers looking to gamble.
People coming from China to gamble typically want to play $50,000, $100,000 a hand, Hughes said. “That’s not what we do here.”
The Peppermill does get an influx of business executives from Asia, especially from Taiwan and Singapore. Manufacturers with contracts with Tesla and other major companies moving into the area travel here to establish their own businesses in the region, said Paul Wong, the director of Asian marketing for the Peppermill.
But the drive-up market is where the casino puts it’s marketing money. Hughes explained one of the key ways Reno draws Asian visitors to the area is providing big-name Asian entertainers.
“We try to have bigger names, major stars,” that Bay Area residents will drive up to hear, said Hughes.
One such star is Joey Yung. The award-winning Hong Kong-based singer and actress who opened the Beijing Olympics, always attracts a sold-out audience. In the Peppermill ballroom, that means filling 4,000 seats. The Reno Events Center holds 6,000 people.
Although Peppermill often hosts Asian entertainers at its properties, often they join with other casino/resorts to promote concerts at the downtown venue.
“Every month to month and a half, there’s a concert going on, if not here, downtown,” Wong said.
Whether from the Bay Area or South Korea, Asian visitors may come to Nevada for the unique experiences it offers, but finding familiar foods and people who speak their language increases their comfort level, likeliness to recommend the trip, and likeliness to return.
The Peppermill and other casinos in the area host large Chinese New Years celebrations and have increased hiring hosts, like Wong, who speak their language.
“Most properties do have Asian hosts who can communicate in their language,” Hughes said.
As Reno’s Asian population increases, so do specialty businesses such as Asian markets, and restaurants serving Chinese, Filipino, Indian and other cuisines.
“Those kind of things make them feel better about this marketplace and more likely to come back,” Hughes said.
Some ways to make Asians feel welcome are less obvious.
The Chinese visitor appreciates slippers and teakettles in their hotel rooms, Vecchio said, something many hoteliers are beginning to provide, as well as familiar foods and entertainment.
“For the Indian visitor, diet is very important and the number one question asked,” Nevada Division of Tourism Deputy Directory Larry Friedman said in an email. “Receptive operators want to know where Indian restaurants are located and the number of Indian restaurants in a destination they’re considering.
“When we took Indian tour operators to rural Nevada, they commented on being surprised at the quality of vegetarian food available.”
Their appreciation was especially apparent after a dinner in Beatty, where extra care was taken to meet dietary needs.
Lake Tahoe Cruises also went the extra mile. After meeting with a tour operator, the company’s chefs developed a menu of meals prepared in the strict manner of some Indian clients, Friedman said.
South Korean travelers also appreciate finding familiar foods such as kimchi.
For all Asian visitors, familiar foods and language assistance is a sign of being welcomed.
“Food, signage and other language support are all important,” Friedman said. “Some places already offer these while other partners are happy to do what it takes when they are aware of the guest’s needs.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.