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Marketing crucial to a tourist town

Kathryn Reed, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Tahoe needs all the help it can get.

This may be hard for locals to grasp, but the reality is that without constant marketing of what many residents take for granted, the tourist base would likely evaporate.

It is people like Greg Carson, creative director at Mering and Associates, who make sure Tahoe does not leave people’s minds for long. The Sacramento firm he works for was hired by the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority to develop an advertising campaign that would fill the hotels here and load cash registers and slot machines.

LTVA Executive Director Bill Chernock told members of Leadership Lake Tahoe last week that the first wave of ads that hit in the spring have generated the results he was looking for. He expects a more comprehensive report at the LTVA board meeting later this month.

Still, the South Shore is hurting. Attracting the destination visitor is a long-term investment that will mean pain in the interim, Chernock said.

“No doubt we felt that this summer,” he said of the lackluster tourist business.

It is well-documented that hotels have a habit of inflating prices on holiday weekends. People come away with the feeling they have gotten ripped off and don’t want to come back. That is one battle that will continue to be fought. And it is one reason many of the power brokers in town believe the supply of rooms needs to be reduced.

“If we reduce the supply, then the higher-end will survive,” Chernock said.

He is willing to lose the $30/night room, while maintaining the stock of $50, $60 and $70 a night rooms that attract families.

“Ten years ago the city decided who the visitors would be (with redevelopment),” Chernock said. “They set the direction. It’s just a question of all the other economic realities.”

It is Chernock’s job to get people here. The difference between the two area visitors authorities and the chambers of commerce is the former bring people to town, while the latter deals with them once they are here.

Money to do this is always a problem. The LTVA’s $3.7 million budget is piecemealed together mostly from Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, the city and private funding.

It is not much to work with when compared to what Thunder Valley Casino is doling out. The Indian gaming establishment off Interstate 80 near Lincoln spent $6 million to $8 million before it opened earlier this summer. Now it is spending $1 million to $2 million a month in advertising, according to Chernock. These estimates were provided to him by industry observers.

When it comes to gross revenue, Thunder Valley is projected to rake in $400 million a year, according to Chernock. This compares to the South Shore casinos with a combined gross of $330 million a year in gaming.

Even though Reno is expected to feel the pain of the California gaming site more than Tahoe, there is no doubt Indian gaming is a worry to all in tourism.

“We had seen the threat of Indian gaming several years ago,” Chernock said. “Seven to nine years ago we said we can’t just be a gaming resort, yet our efforts were falling short.”

From there the LTVA and TDVA got together to find an advertising partner. Mering and Associates became that partner. They came up with an ad campaign that appealed to people’s emotions.

The Blue World is even becoming part of the local vernacular, not just a message to tourists.

Television ads have only aired on NBC during the American Century Celebrity Golf Championships. The Web site was launched in May. All advertising directs people to the Web site and an 800 number. The Monday after the tournament ended the Web site received the most hits to date — 18,000.

“As soon as we can afford it we’ll put another one on,” Chernock said.

In the meantime, print ads are still in publications such as Sunset and travel specific magazines.

— Kathryn Reed may be reached a kreed@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 541-3880, ext. 251.


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