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LTVA is culmination of cooperative marketing history

Sally J. Taylor

Like feuding cousins who keep the peace during a family wedding, conflicting tourism interests gather at the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority to promote Lake Tahoe.

Sometimes sparks fly.

Casinos, lodging, food service, recreation, government and business generally all agree that potential tourists need to be told about Lake Tahoe.



In marketing meetings on the South Shore, the decades-long debate focuses on how, where and with what money to deliver the message.

The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, incorporated in 1986, attempts to unite the factions for the benefit of Tahoe tourism.



“Our aim for years was to have a joint (marketing) effort between Douglas County and South Lake Tahoe, which ultimately ended up as the LTVA,” said Norm Woods, a retired building contractor, city councilman and founding member of the LTVA board of directors.

“We felt there wasn’t a state line. What was good for Douglas County was certainly good for South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County.”

From his vantage point, Woods has watched for nearly 40 years the Tahoe marketing skirmishes.

As a bistate agency, the LTVA pools money from room taxes from both Douglas County and the city of South Lake Tahoe. Private businesses also contribute dollars for cooperative programs.

The intent, Woods said, was for Douglas County and South Lake Tahoe to provide matching dollars to equally promote the entire South Shore.

They never matched.

Douglas County has provided two to three times more in funding than the city – this year, $1.5 million compared to $624,000.

“As (the imbalance progressed) it caused some consternation in the Stateline area,” Woods said. “They felt more should be spent in promoting gaming.”

Balancing the image of Lake Tahoe as a gaming center, recreational wonderland or scenic jewel has fueled many marketing controversies.

Preceding the LTVA, the various marketing campaigns presented a “schizoid” image of the South Shore, according to John Wagnon, marketing director of Heavenly Ski Resort and an active participant in the LTVA since its inception.

“A destination like South Lake Tahoe can only afford to have one image,” said Wagnon, who currently serves as the at-large member of the LTVA board of directors. “Consumers only have so much capacity to hang on to an image.”

Other attempts at cooperative marketing preceded the LTVA.

In the mid-1960s, the Motel Tax Advisory Committee administered city room tax money for promotions and recreation. The city, in 1970, put the tax into the general fund and disbanded the committee.

Reacting to a decrease in tourist traffic, the Chamber of Commerce in 1972, formed the Tourist Development Committee. By 1978, it evolved into the South Lake Tahoe Visitors Bureau.

But with more than 30 board of directors, many considered the bureau too unwieldy, including Bill Killebrew, then the managing partner of Heavenly Valley Ski Resort. He began pushing for alternatives with a broader funding base.

“South Tahoe would be best served if no one business or government would be able to defund and destabilize (the cooperative marketing organization),” Killebrew said.

The South Tahoe Marketing Council formed in 1983 as an interim organization, Killebrew said, to consolidate private and public, California and Nevada marketing dollars.

On July 1, 1986, the visitors bureau and marketing council merged into the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

“People saw (the LTVA) as the best way to move the (visitors bureau) organization to a different level and to share occupancy taxes from both sides of the South Shore,” said Malcolm Pribyl, an investment counselor who served as the executive director of the visitors bureau at the time of the merger. “The LTVA was designed to be more effective, to bring in more key players.”

The authority began with a $2.1 million budget and a seven-member board of directors.

Attorney George Echan, who represented the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce and remains active in both organizations, served as the first chairman of the board. Other board members were Edward Stevenson, representing the South Tahoe Gaming Alliance; Bob Pruett, with Douglas County; Woods, city of South Lake Tahoe; Ed Wright, South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association; Bill Conlon, South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce; and Killebrew served as the at-large member.

Marketing consultant Barbara Klein was hired as the first executive director.

The creation of the LTVA did not obliterate the state line, nor even create a consistently peaceful coexistence for the many interests the LTVA seeks to represent.

Fueling many controversies is a different description of the ideal customers and how to attract them to Tahoe.

“Each of us will, individually, believe we know what ought to be done. All debates are reasonable debates,” Killebrew said. “There’s no other entity (besides the LTVA) to speak in a generic sense for Lake Tahoe.

“(In the LTVA) people are working together (to market Tahoe) in a delicate political coalition. In the beginning it was very successful.”


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