What are the limits to luring tourists?
May 16, 2003
Billions of dollars are being spent in the Lake Tahoe Basin to entice visitors to spend the equivalent of that amount or more.
For the first time, hundreds of people directly affected by tourism gathered in one place this week. For the past three years the South Shore contingency has met to discuss what to do here. Finally people are realizing Tahoe, as fragmented as it can be, is usually seen as one area to outsiders.
There is often an us and them mentality between the North and South shores. The East and West shores are afterthoughts.
If Tuesday was any indication, that last paragraph may be something for the history books.
There was talk of the basin entering a new era with the emphasis on villages, corporate ownership, Lake Tahoe having its own identity and environmental improvements.
Carl Ribaudo, who as chief of Strategic Marketing Group ran the meeting, was so bold as to say the future of the basin rests on the ability to double the amount of money people currently spend in Tahoe. A year-old Tahoe Regional Planning Agency study shows $1.5 billion is spent by travelers each year in the basin, with local entities collecting $28 million in tax revenue.
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The premise is the destination visitor will be more likely to empty his pockets than the weekend warrior. In doing so, area cash registers rack up the dough without increasing the number of people in town. It is music to the ears of businesspeople and environmentalists.
While the idea to boost the economy throughout the basin is admirable and encouraged, at what expense are we willing to make this a reality?
It was said at the meeting that we are decades behind in coming around to the village concept — a bandwagon South Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Northstar-at-Tahoe have all jumped on. Beautiful as they are, they also lack originality.
Do we want every resort, every city in the basin to look the same, to offer the same amenities?
What attracted us all here and keeps the visitors coming back is the natural beauty. Hopefully we will not alter it so much that it is unrecognizable. After all, in a survey of locals one of the predominant factors of what the respondents think attracts tourists is outdoor recreation.
But is it enough? When we have the same look and feel of Aspen, Vail or the like, what will make people choose Lake Tahoe as a place to vacation?
In our quest to beckon the destination visitor, it is vital that the character and uniqueness of each town around the lake not be lost. Look at Las Vegas. It has torn down its history to replace it with another monstrous hotel to keep up with the Joneses. Will we tear down our history only to replace it with a replica from another resort area?
People come here to get a taste of what we all experience every day — the Tahoe lifestyle. It would seem more logical to keep providing them that instead of turning the basin into a homogeneous area that is undistinguishable from other areas.
At some point we have to decide how many tourist dollars are enough and what we are willing to sacrifice to reach that goal.
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