Tourists provide fodder for locals | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tourists provide fodder for locals

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

For the lighter side of Tahoe, U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Ranger Don Lane painted a colorful picture of the area’s visitor for those attending the Tuesday afternoon sessions of the SMG Lake Tahoe Tourism Conference.

Lane was one of four industry panelists who wrapped up the fourth annual conference.

But Lane, in his best Charles Kuralt-like broadcasting voice, shared some of the things people ask when they traipse over U.S. Forest Service land. The questions range from: “Is the lake chlorinated?” to “Have you ever found the bottom?” to “When do you close the gates to Echo Summit?” and “What’s the white stuff on the mountain?”

“They actually think it’s white sand,” said Lane, a longtime South Shore resident.

The audience of mostly Lake Tahoe residents of course snickered.

He made the case that visitors want to be a part of the Tahoe culture, which ranges from the most businesslike marketing meetings in high rise casinos to Lane’s knowledge of a popular nude beach. As some speakers and panelists touted special events as important to marketing the area, Lane said he’s heard of a “hat day” — an upcoming event asking nudists to don their best hat and birthday suit.

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When asked if marketers should promote this event, Lane flashed a subtle smile.

“If you ask people why they come here, they say the scenery. They also want to get away from the stresses of life,” he said.

Lane, in all his years of managing the Forest Service’s 76 percent land coverage of the lake, said he would like to see more ethnic diversity in the visitors. The agency has discovered 90 percent are Caucasian, an oddity when considering more than 30 percent of the South Shore residents are Hispanic.

“We’re not getting our fair share of these visitors,” he said.

Lane acknowledged the lake faces the same problems found in other tourist destinations.

“We’re seeing an enormous amount of crowding,” he said, adding outdoor recreation enthusiasts may continue to compete for space as the world becomes more stressful and large population bases close in on Lake Tahoe.

“Tahoe is in danger of being surrounded by urbanization,” he said.

There are solutions to managing the visitation.

“The one thing we know we’ve got to do is educate our visitors,” he said, using the wilderness basic of leaving no human trace. “They don’t understand how to handle the environment. That’s really our challenge. That’s really our goal.”

Most of the four panelists are tasked with bringing more people into the area.

Tom Medland, airport spokesman, is encouraged the Reno/Tahoe International Airport had recovered from its pre-Sept. 11 number of daily departures — 83. Reno is the primary airport for Tahoe visitors.

Another panelist — Heavenly Ski Resort Director of Communications Molly Cuffe — liked hearing that news, considering her daunting presentation showed the South Shore resort must compete with aggressive Colorado and Utah ski areas. Those states rank first and second as preferred winter sports destinations, with budgets exceeding $200 million in the Rocky Mountain state. In comparison, Nevada spends $100,000 in sports marketing, she said.

“We are in an uphill battle. Tahoe is at a significant disadvantage,” she said.

If that’s not enough, Harrah’s/Harveys Lake Tahoe Vice President of Marketing Skip Sayre presented a sobering thought of the impact of Indian gaming on Lake Tahoe tourism.

The industry has learned to evolve in order to sell its distinguishable features like entertainment and outdoor recreation, he stressed.

“Things are changing, but it’s an exciting opportunity for all of us,” Sayre said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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