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Nevada tourism sector looks to rebound from its difficulties of 2011

Rob Sabo
Northern Nevada Business Weekly

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – By all accounts 2011 was a difficult year for special events in northern Nevada.

A shooting during Street Vibrations left a San Jose man dead, and a plane crash at the National Championship Air Races in Stead claimed the lives of 10 spectators and injured dozens more.

How those two large special events recover will be key to the overall tourism market in Greater Reno-Tahoe for 2012.

Randy Burke, president of Roadshows Inc., which puts on Street Vibrations, says his production company has prepared all its applications and paid its fees with the City of Sparks to host the annual event for motorcycle enthusiasts. The shooting at a Sparks casino forced the cancellation of Saturday and Sunday events in Sparks during the 2011 event. Until the closures, Burke says, Street Vibrations was on pace for a record year.

The Street Vibrations spring rally is scheduled for June 1-3, while the popular fall event is scheduled for Sept. 19-23. Burke doesn’t expect motorcycle enthusiasts to shy away from the event.

“We don’t expect it will have any influence at all,” he says. “We deal with the 99 percent of the guys and gals who are biker enthusiasts who stay at our hotels and motels and eat in our restaurants. The 1 percent of bike clubs that were involved (with the shooting), we have no relationship with them.”

Burke says Roadshows Inc. will beef up security for both its spring and fall events and will continue to market both events.

Officials with the National Championship Air Races say they are still determining the best course for the future of the event.

Other key indicators of the health of the tourism market are convention business, gaming revenue, room occupancy and room rates.

Joe Kelley, who has served as interim chief of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority and will be succeeded this week by Detroit tourism executive Chris Baum, says convention sales will start the year softly due to the loss of the Safari Club International and Rocky Mountain Elk conventions. The Safari Club convention, which brings about 25,000 room nights, will return to Reno in January of 2013.

Additionally, Kelley says, the Open Championships won’t be held at the National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno.

“The first five months are going to be softer than last year in our convention and group meetings business,” Kelley says, “but we will play the hand we are dealt and make good things happen.”

The second-half of the year looks promising, Kelley adds. Large conventions that will boost second-half tourism revenues include:

• Bowling Proprietors of Association of America Bowl Expo June 24-28.

• 134th National Guard Association of the United States General Conference and Exhibition Sept. 9-12.

• 113th Veterans of Foreign Wars National Conference July 21-26.

“We have got some good convention business the last half of the year,” Kelley says. “We have some good meetings, and we expect that as the economy slowly improves tourism will as well. The first five months will be a challenge, but we are pretty optimistic that from June on the rest of the year will be pretty good to us.”

The RSCVA’s convention sales department is aggressively promoting Greater Reno-Tahoe as a short-term booking option and is offering meeting planners a $5,000 room credit for new business, Kelley says.

A downturn in convention business means properties throughout the Truckee Meadows have unused inventory and have to price rooms accordingly. Room rates should improve during the second half of the year as the convention business gathers steam and the region’s special events season kicks off with the annual Reno Rodeo in early June. Kelley says Reno’s largest special event, Hot August Nights, benefited from all the publicity surrounding a possible move of the event to a different area, and attendance increased in 2011.

Carson City is slowly – grindingly – recovering from the economic downturn. Each of the past two years has trended up slightly from 2009, says Candy Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Room tax revenues in October were up about 2.8 percent from the previous year, Duncan says. The Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau has formed two new committee to actively recruit new sports events and smaller special events to the state capital, Duncan adds.

Events such as the American Motorcycle Association conference in July, which should bring about 2,000 attendees, are a good fit for Carson City, she says.

Another event that should help boost Carson City’s tourism revenues in 2012 is the Polar Express, a winter running of the V&T Railroad with themes and music from the popular Christmas film and children’s book. The train runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights beginning in late November and sold 7,500 tickets in six weeks, Duncan says.

This year, Polar Express sold out in six weeks with a waiting list of over 200 people.

“This is a very worthwhile event and could be a signature event. And it goes on during a slow time. We are planning for next year to have more seats available and have more stays here in Carson City,” Duncan says.


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