LAS VEGAS — Ready. Set. Spend.
Retailers and shopping centers here are gearing up for what’s expected to be a robust February with the start of Lunar New Year celebrations. The holiday sees big spenders come into town as visitors from China and those domestically who celebrate Chinese New Year come to Vegas and open their wallets to shop, dine, gamble and pursue other forms of entertainment. With the city’s visitors bureau paying specific attention in marketing to China, retail sales are expected to once again be up in 2019 from last year.
“Each year we see an influx of Chinese tourists and, from all the research that I’ve been doing, this year is anticipated to truly exceed last year’s spend and visiting power,” said Maureen Crampton, director of marketing and business development for Simon Property Group’s The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. “That consumer tends to be more willing to splurge on their experiences and really go all out on their vacation.”
The number of visitors from China to Las Vegas totaled 260,000 in 2017, up 12 percent from a year earlier in the most recent statistics available from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The market is important as the largest in Asia when it comes to visitors to Vegas, the organization said.
That uptick has been helped along by several factors, including a broader acknowledgement domestically of the holiday by both businesses and the average consumer as the U.S. sees more visitors from China, in addition to people and families moving from China to live in the U.S. Las Vegas in late 2016 saw Hainan Airlines begin offering non-stop service between Beijing and McCarran International Airport, making the trip to the city even easier to sell.
Retailers and mall operators have responded accordingly over the past few years to capture the growing opportunity, and this year is no different. The tactics employed have included offering in-store payment methods typically used by the consumer in China, ramping up marketing efforts, boosting the level of decor for the holiday on-site at properties, special performances and even New Year-specific dishes at some restaurants.
The Forum Shops’ decorations include a 22-foot long, 12-foot high steel structure in the form of a dragon covered with 30,000 red and amber LED lights. The property also has representatives on-site who speak Mandarin and specials for retailers are available in red envelopes — a traditional packaging used in China and other parts of Asia for gift-giving around the new year or other celebrations.
Retailers across categories and price points generally benefit, too.
“It’s everything,” Crampton said of which businesses see lifts around the holiday. “There may be that novelty item that can only be found in Las Vegas and they might purchase that in large quantities to take back. That goes all the way to the luxury category, which is expected to do exceptionally well this year. That guest, they’re very knowledgeable of quality and how something is made.”
Spending is encouraged when the right payments are accepted, Crampton pointed out.
More than 40 retailers at The Forum Shops currently accept mobile payment through services such as Alipay and WeChat Pay.
“The interesting thing about the Chinese customer is they are more savvy to this [mobile] form of payment because they have been using it for some time, so it’s kind of like we’re catching up in the U.S. with their payment of choice,” she said.
Almost a majority of retailers at Brookfield Properties’ Fashion Show mall and Grand Canal Shoppes, the latter of which spans the Venetian and Palazzo hotels, accept China UnionPay, another payment provider.
“It’s becoming more and more important to both Fashion Show and Grand Canal Shoppes,” said Janet LaFevre, Brookfield Properties Retail senior marketing manager of Chinese New Year. “China continues to be a very strong inbound growth market to the U.S. and here in Las Vegas we see our Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority continue to really market to China and it’s bringing more and more visitors. We’ve been very focused on China in this market for several years because we know the growth and the potential of the market is very important and we’ve seen our retailers focus a lot of energy and effort around it.”
Marketing spend is about on par with previous years, LaFevre said. Influencer marketing, while nothing new, continues to be a strategy employed by the shopping centers throughout the year, with new year celebrations no different. Grand Canal Shoppes is expected to help host six influencers for China in a bid to plug some of the newer tenants added to the center, along with special promotions.
Jimmy Choo at Grand Canal Shoppes has an in-store event planned during which it will offer clients tea and also has red envelopes to give out. Davidoff and Montblanc have exclusive merchandise, while even food-related retailers have created product specific to the holiday, including Honolulu Cookie Company with branded gift boxes honoring the Year of the Pig.
Grand Canal, LaFevre said, generally looks for influencers in the travel, food, luxury and fashion space with high follower counts.
“The Chinese visitors, they come. They stay longer and they spend more than other international visitors,” LaFevre said.
Catering to that with special merchandise and exclusives helps.
The luxury center The Shops at Crystals has several brands offering special capsules around the holiday, which is expected to boost sales even more than what’s been seen historically, said director of marketing and business development Monique Clements.
The benefit to retail and all other businesses on the Strip isn’t just a one-day event. The lift typically lasts throughout the month of February, retailers report.
For Crystals, part of what it sees in traffic is contingent on what the neighboring luxury hotels are doing to host VIP guests and high rollers, Clements said, adding, “Generally, though, we see Lunar New Year traffic spike for the month surrounding the holiday.” Crystals and the Waldorf Astoria, Las Vegas worked together on a $250 gift card running through Feb. 17 to incentivize more traffic to the center. Like some of its peers, Crystals is also working with some Chinese-American influencers in fashion to generate buzz.
The term across visitor and convention bureaus for some time now has been “China ready,” something retailers on the Strip feel they’re more than prepared for — from offering mobile payment systems right down to the “Almond Cookie Shake” at the Venetian’s Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer or the “Goose Goose Duck” dish at The Cosmopolitan.
“It’s a very important citywide celebration,” Brookfield’s LaFevre said, “and it’s definitely been gaining speed over the years with our retailers.”