News Column

Hispanic-Owned Businesses Help Create Demand that Will Help Economy

June 18, 2012

Richard N. Velotta

Business owner

The rise in the influence of the Hispanic business community has not gone unnoticed in the tourism industry.

Latinos are gaining footholds in a variety of industries in Southern Nevada, and airlines are creating connections to the south to help foster those growing business relationships.

While the population centers of Mexico have always been fertile ground for direct flights, big plans are on the horizon to reach into Central and South America with connecting service that should open new markets.

Since May 2011, the number of seats from Mexican markets has grown 38 percent to 4,838 a week -- and that's with a decrease in seats from AeroMexico, the nation's major air carrier.

AeroMexico flies nonstop between Las Vegas and Mexico City and Monterrey. Discounter VivaAerobus links Las Vegas with Monterrey. And upstart discounter, Volaris, which has a partnership with Southwest Airlines, flies to Mexico City and Guadalajara.

Southwest and Volaris have hinted at a desire to grow the partnership, and Southwest has even said it eventually plans to fly its own planes to Mexico, although that won't likely happen any time soon from McCarran International Airport.

Southwest's current plan is to develop its Houston operation at Hobby Airport into an international gateway. In a controversial, high-profile Houston City Council vote last month, the city agreed to Southwest's plans to build a five-gate terminal to accommodate flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Southwest hasn't identified what markets it plans to fly in those regions.

While the council approved the plan 16-1, it was opposed by United Airlines, which has its own international gateway at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport. At one time, Houston was a major international hub for Continental Airlines, which merged with United.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she expects United to live up to its promise to turn the city into the airline's largest international hub.

But once the council gave Southwest the green light to pursue its plans, United said the competition at the other airport would force them to lay off employees.

With an average of nearly five flights a day between Las Vegas and Houston, it's likely Southwest will network one-stop trips to and from Mexico via Hobby Airport.

As for Las Vegas, the most promising breakthrough in connecting the city with Latin America will take shape when McCarran's Terminal 3 opens its doors June 27. That's the day Copa AirlinesCopa Airlines -- an acronym for Compania Panamena de Aviacion -- inaugurates nonstop service between Panama City and Las Vegas.

How big is that news for Las Vegas? Based on Copa's assessment, it's huge.

The airline initially announced plans for four flights a week here on Boeing 737-700 jets. But Copa found demand to be so strong that it announced a fifth weekly flight and changed the aircraft to a larger capacity Boeing 737-800 jet.

In a presentation to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Damon Hylton, a vice president with the Seabury Aviation Planning Group, which is collaborating with the LVCVA and McCarran to expand air service, said Copa would park its plane in Las Vegas overnight in order to generate the best possible schedule to connect passengers to and from destinations beyond Panama City.

Copa plans connections to at least 30 destinations in Central and South America. That means one-stop service to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Bueno Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Lima, Peru; and Bogota, Colombia, among other cities.

For several years, the LVCVA has viewed Brazil as a potential growth market. But historic bottlenecks in that country's visa application process limited growth.

Thanks in part to tourism industry pressure on the State and Commerce departments, the process has improved. That, in turn, should improve the flow of tourism and business travel from Brazil and other South American destinations to Las Vegas and beyond.

If the routes are successful, it isn't too difficult to imagine Copa committing to daily service. And, if that's successful, watch for other carriers to follow with their own strategies. Las Vegas can thank the Hispanic business community for helping to create the demand that will lead to better opportunities for all of us.

Source: (c)2012 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)

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