Marketing becomes the talk of the town |

Marketing becomes the talk of the town

Sally J. Taylor

In a community dissected by several political boundaries and numerous economic interests, the normally hot topic of how and where to market Lake Tahoe has recently boiled over. Frustration, even rage, is barely held back by the formalities of board meeting protocol.

The tenuous alliances that make up the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, created 11 years ago to unite the marketing efforts of Douglas County and the city of South Lake Tahoe, have been shaken by repeated funding disputes.

On Nov. 13, a letter from the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance asked that the LTVA return its marketing focus to Northern California after a year spent redefining the organization’s mission and developing a new focus into marketing Tahoe to more distant locations.

Then, last Thursday, Douglas County Commissioners refused to release funds for the LTVA plan, instructing the organization to “go outside and work it out (with the Gaming Alliance),” said Commissioner Don Miner, who is also a member and former chairman of the LTVA board of directors. “When you come back with your act together, we’ll listen.”

Miner on Sunday, further explained the board actions.

“If the Gaming Alliance is opposed to going into Orange County and they don’t make their product available, the program doesn’t work,” Miner said, adding that he continues to support destination marketing. “Our (the commissioners) commitment has not diminished at all.”

Miner expects withholding the funds will “force a good partnership.”

Throughout the halls of Tahoe’s business community, people are discussing the latest developments.

At Tuesday’s Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors’ meeting, board member Greta Hambsch asked Gaming Alliance Executive Director, Steve Teshara to explain the actions of that board, which consists of the general managers of the casinos at Stateline.

“I’m of the opinion that the LTVA has gone through all the hoops (to develop its marketing plan)” said Hambsch, co-owner of the Accommodation Station. “I’m very disappointed to see the Gaming Alliance, after everything has been presented, throw in a wrench.”

Teshara explained that the letter was prompted by dismal September gaming figures, considered the worst in 10 years.

“I’m absolutely convinced, given the current constraints and the crises in the marketing plan, it doesn’t make sense to spend limited marketing dollars outside Northern California,” replied Teshara. “We’re losing the battle of marketing success in our own back yard.”

At the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Debra Howard, who represents the chamber on the LTVA board, chastised the business community for its change of direction.

“(The executive director, Ron Spellecy, realized that) in order for the LTVA to survive and not repeat its past mistakes it needed to draft a long-term vision,” Howard said.

All seven board members, which includes a gaming representative, approved the strategic plan, marketing plan and media plan that resulted, she said.

“There are partners who want to return to reacting to short-term problems. I appeal to those partners to come back to the table and look at the long term,” Howard said.

At Thursday’s chamber meeting, Stan Hansen, Heavenly Ski Resort’s vice-president of governmental affairs, expressed his own frustrations.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said, that in a resort comparable to Monte Carlo, plus Saint Moritz, Switzerland, and with a lake besides, “why the hell can’t we build consensus?

“We were able to bring the president of the United States (to Tahoe), what’s wrong with marketing Tahoe together.”

The controversy has left outsiders puzzled.

Les Otten, the chairman of the American Skiing Company, the new owner of Heavenly Ski Resort, observed the controversy last week while visiting his new acquisition.

Emphasizing his lack of an historical perspective of the arguments, Otten wondered at the “limited thinking” that focuses on Northern California exclusively, when the area has the makings of a”world class destination of the highest caliber,” he said.

“I’m not recommending, certainly, that with (a couple million) you buy television in Hamburg, Germany, but new markets can be established without huge dollars, with human resources,” Otten said.

After attending Thursday’s Douglas County Commissioner’s meeting, Kathleen Farrell, executive director of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce said, “It’s time to bury the hatchet, whatever the grievance, whether perceived or real. … There does need to be a unified effort or we won’t make a difference.”

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