Businesses fare well over the summer |

Businesses fare well over the summer

The people of Tahoe may as well be farmers. They live in a weather-dependent place that relies on cultivation of its product.

And when your product represents beauty — mixed in with some entertainment — tourism is the result.

Tahoe tourism officials and business owners said Wednesday they are generally pleased and relieved at surviving the critical summer that followed Sept. 11, 2001.

Coming off a national recession, a Bay Area dot-com bust and then a terrorist attack that initially paralyzed the nation, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority channeled its marketing dollars to its mainstay California feeder markets.

Thanks to early planning, the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship was scheduled on a week other than the Fourth of July holiday to get the most bang for the buck. The result: The numbers showed a near record attendance.

With the exception of a fire scare, the July holiday falling closer to the weekend aided the effort to bring visitors to the area.

Harrah’s Lake Tahoe joined the summer promotional effort, making a million-dollar investment in a stage at Harveys parking lot that brought in big-name acts.

Some merchants and lodging managers may have reaped the benefits in the last two months of summer, after a reported slow start in June.

“That’s why they did it, and it worked,” LTVA Executive Director Bill Chernock said. “We, as a community, fared better than most destination resorts by a long shot.”

June was slightly off the mark of success, but, in comparison, metropolitan areas in California have shouldered the brunt of a 15 percent decline in business travel.

“The major cities rely heavily on the convention markets. While that has fallen off, the drive-up market has increased. That’s what we’ve heard from around the state,” said Fred Sater, spokesman for the California Travel and Tourism Commission in Sacramento.

“The rural destinations are holding their own,” Carl Ribaudo of Strategic Marketing Group said.

The numbers reflect the assumption.

The city of South Lake Tahoe’s motel-room tax revenue collected in July increased 3 percent from the prior year to $1.2 million. This came off June’s 1 percent drop in revenues to $755,469.

Jerry Birdwell, owner of the Black Bear Inn, said he pulled in a strong July and August following a slow June, characterized by cooler temperatures. Even September looks like it’s holding its own, with unseasonably warm temperatures bringing in a shifting demographic of those planning their vacations off the peak times.

Camp Richardson Resort management noticed the same trend relative to its campground, Beacon Bar & Grill and the Fresh Ketch Restaurant, Resort Manager Missy Springer said.

Campground By The Lake boasted its best July ever, with $93,000 collected, city Parks Superintendent Steve Weiss said. Campground revenue for the three months in the summer of 2002 surpassed the previous year by $24,000, coming in at $232,000.

The sites sold at the in-town campground over this summer have nearly doubled.

Over the border, the number of guests frequenting the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center at Round Hill Square also showed signs of hefty drive-up traffic. Sales were down, but visitation numbers through the summer fluctuated from a 6, to 10 to 2 percent increase from June through August, respectively.

“It seems to follow a trend. We’re extremely grateful for the drive-up traffic, but we’ve experienced a downward trend in per capita expenditures,” chamber Executive Director Kathy Farrell said.

Victor Babbitt of Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters agreed. He found his retail receipts for this summer’s July and August were in line with the previous year, with the exception of his guide service sales.

“The people were definitely here. I just don’t think they were spending as much,” he said.

The numbers appear to also support that claim.

After a strong June in this year’s sales tax revenue reported as more than $46,000 higher than 2001, July 2002’s $236,200 dropped slightly to $1,500 less than the prior year. August was $11,000 lower.

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