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Marketing Tahoe a matter of politics and business agendas

Sally J. Taylor

The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority has long been at the center of a controversy about how best to promote tourism for the benefit of both sides of the state line. Most agree that the South Shore needs more tourists spending more dollars, but how to accomplish that on a shoe string budget is a topic of heated discussion.

For some marketers, Northern California is the goose that lays with the golden eggs. To others, the goose has been pushed too far and these days only produces copper.

“Both are right, but we don’t have the money to do it all,” said LTVA board member and City Councilman Tom Davis, who favors destination marketing for its long-term potential .

Davis, the president of the Tahoe Keys Resort, attributes that organization’s success to promotions in distant destinations whose residents come for longer periods of time and spend more.

But it takes more money to convince those same residents that the trip is worth the time and money.

During the 1996-97 fiscal year, the LTVA had a total budget of about $2.27 million for administration as well as promotions – mere pocket change compared to chief rivals from Reno with $8 million and Las Vegas with $50 million.

Funding for LTVA’s 1997-98 fiscal year, which began in October, remains a crap shoot with funding commitments snagged on the question of where to spend those funds.

Reacting to continued declines in Stateline gaming revenues and room nights, the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance on Nov. 13 asked the LTVA to remove Orange County from its 1997-98 marketing plan and limit its focus to Northern California.

“We’re continuing to see the gaming market trends in Tahoe decline,” explained Michael Bradford, president of the Lakeside Inn & Casino and the casino representative to the LTVA board. “The cause of that, we believe, is in large part due to the erosion of the Northern California gaming market.”

With the Gaming Alliance unhappy with the LTVA direction, the Douglas County Commissioners on Nov. 20 withheld $400,000 previously earmarked for the LTVA.

The actions increased the explosive power of an already touchy political situation in Douglas County.

In early July, the Nevada Legislature passed AB616 to appease concerns that valley-dominated county government was not responsive to the needs of lake residents and businesses. Its passage followed the failure of the Tahoe Citizens Committee campaign to carve a new Tahoe County from the lake portion of Douglas County.

The bill increased the Douglas County transient occupancy tax beginning Oct. 1, from 9 percent to 10 percent. It also ordered commissioners, over a period of no more than 11 years, to shift 65 percent of other TOT dollars from public services to promotions, infuriating valley residents.

To manage the new promotional funds, the bill created the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority with four Stateline casino executives and one commissioner on its board of directors.

AB616 left the bistate LTVA out of the new funding loop. The Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority could pass on funds to the existing marketing organization, possibly even more funds in the long run but the new authority is not yet sufficiently organized to take any direct action.


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