September 14, 2011 - 12:59 am
Mexican Independence Day, incorrectly thought by many Americans to be the alcohol-tinged Cinco de Mayo, has emerged as a growing force on the tourism calendar.
When AeroMexico Flight 7158 rolls up to the gate at McCarran International Airport this morning, it will be the first of 23 charter flights from nine different cities that will land by Thursday evening.
Local celebrations also start Thursday night, but the official holiday is Friday.
That will add more than 3,000 seats into the market beyond the 18 scheduled flights and one regular charter from Mexico during the two days.
To handle the surge in jets, airport management has decided to open up a wing of Concourse A that was mothballed when the recession struck three years ago. The concourse will close again on Monday.
By contrast, the airport has rarely seen as many as 10 charters for any past event, said Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County’s deputy director of aviation.
But Mexican independence gained attention last year when AeroMexico package tours managed to fill 16 planes. That prompted the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for the first time to try to sell the Latin-oriented concert lineup and one boxing match at different Strip resorts as a whole.
"As we saw the increasing number of visitors, we saw an opportunity," said Cathy Tull, the authority’s senior vice president of marketing. "It makes it easier for us to show the events as a package and brand it."
However, the authority does not track the holiday for official visitation numbers or nongaming economic impact.
While AeroMexico will fly most of the charters again this year, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel will operate three flights of its own. Allegiant management has talked about potentially flying south of the border years into the future, but it has remained domestic to date.
The authority chose to promote the long weekend under the banner of El Grito, Spanish for the cry, but has plenty of company. Independence Day celebrations in Los Angeles and Denver have taken the name, and Puerto Rico has its own El Grito.
Mariano Lemus, consul general at the Mexican Consulate in Las Vegas, said that the hotel rates often make it easier to come here than a resort at home.
"In Vegas, they offer excellent prices, much lower than a five-star hotel in Cancun," he said.
In addition, the Strip comps many middle- and upper-class Mexicans "because many are high rollers," he said.
The idea of creating a tourist event around Mexican independence fits with the growing trend of trying to draw people through themed events and not just relying on the city’s general appeal. Authority executives define the target market by the term "persuadables," referring to people who like Las Vegas but need an incentive to buy a plane ticket or make the drive.
Further, industry executives have pushed to make inroads into Spanish-speaking countries.
"The Latin market overall is growing for us," said Chuck Bowling, president of MGM Resorts International’s Mandalay Bay.
Authority estimates show that Mexico in 2009 was the third-largest source of foreign visitors, trailing Great Britain and well behind Canada. However, the Mexican total included only people who arrived by air.
Mandalay Bay, Caesars Palace, The Cosmopolitan and Tropicana are among the resorts with Mexican-oriented music events. In addition, the MGM Grand will host the welterweight championship fight Saturday between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz.
But some see the market as still too small for one that can envelop the entire city. Two years ago, South Point staged bloodless bullfighting at its equestrian center, but it no longer does. Instead, it has scheduled a different horse competition this year.
The events on the Strip "are something we cannot compete against on a large scale," South Point Marketing Director Tom Mikovits said. "There is too much out there, and the market is too oversaturated. It is still small, but we think it has growth potential."
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290.