RENO/TAHOE - The return of Safari Club International's annual convention and the men's and women's USBC bowling championships will provide a significant boost to tourism in the Reno-Sparks region in 2013, but economic uncertainty continues to cloud the outlook.
Safari Club International makes its return to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center after the convention moved to the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas for 2012. And the U.S. Bowling Congress tournaments have led to bookings of more than 100,000 room nights already at regional hotels, says Chris Baum, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.
However, despite a new marketing campaign that resulted in a 47 percent year-over-year growth in Web site traffic for the RSCVA, Baum says the regional and national economic outlook remains worrisome.
"The big question mark is the economy," he says. "If people can't afford to take a getaway weekend, it doesn't matter how compelling our marketing is. That is the frustration for all travel marketers - you can have a greatest product, market or deal on the table, but if people are not sure that they can afford their basics it makes travel a secondary issue.
"We are doing all the right things here, but we are impacted by economics just like everyone else is."
Among areas of concern for the coming year: Increased costs for air fares and gasoline that could curtail tourism travel. Despite those variables, Baum says, tourism officials for Greater Reno-Tahoe have made noticeable strides as they work to reposition the area away from its historical roots in gaming.
Baum says the region is approaching a tipping point in terms of national awareness of its offerings.
"For a lot of the country we are not top of mind, but making restaurant lists and ski lists and Apple spending a billion dollars here, these things are making people notice us. Outside third-party good news is a strong endorsement. All these things help raise the awareness of an audience that either has misconceptions of the region or hasn't given it much thought."
The RSCVA in early December announced its new marketing slogan for the coming year: "All seasons - 1,000 reasons." The slogan is a nod to Greater Reno-Tahoe's 12-month slate of activities, Baum says.
In the Lake Tahoe basin, the tourism community is well positioned to take advantage of a slow but steady increase in visitors to Lake Tahoe, says Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer of the North Lake Tahoe Chamber, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Resort Association.
Summer and fall business was brisk at north shore properties in 2012, Chapman says, and hoteliers could potentially equal the record year of 2011 in terms of regional hotel tax collections.
Overnight visitation during fiscal year 2011-2012 generated just under $10 million in Transit Occupancy Taxes in the Placer County portion of North Lake Tahoe. Average daily rates were up 3 percent and revenue per available room was up 3 percent fiscal year-over-year.
Early storms in October and November also helped ski resorts and hoteliers get an early edge on profits in the fourth quarter, a trend that could continue through the first few quarters of 2013.
"We believe the traveling consumer will continue to want and need to get out of their day-to-day routine and will follow the desire to roam," Chapman says. "In many cases they view their vacation time as a necessity.
"We continue to create and implement programs designed to increase incremental travel to region. Various special events, regional sport tournaments and of course maximizing the visual and emotional appeal of Lake Tahoe both domestically and internationally will continue to benefit the region."
Other factors that could influence tourism at the lake in 2013 are large-scale capital investment for infrastructure improvements at Northstar California, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley, and the opening of a regional bike path that would allow residents to travel throughout the north shore of Lake Tahoe.
The inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe race in September also looms large on the tourism calendar. It's the only full-distance Ironman event on the West Coast and first time California has hosted an Ironman event since 2001, Chapman says.
The event is expected to draw roughly 3,000 competitors and 10,000 family and friends.