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Outlook for tourism atTahoe good

Tahoe Daily Tribune Staff Reports

Conference touts ‘new era’

By Susan Wood

Tribune staff writer

INCLINE VILLAGE – Sprung by a promising state of air travel and play, hope soared Tuesday among 200 tourism-industry professionals gathered at the Hyatt Regency.

Amid a backdrop of lake whitecaps and mountain snow, the 2004 SMG Lake Tahoe Tourism Conference staged in Incline Village kicked off the theme – “A New Tahoe Era” – by discussing the unpredictable nature of an evolving marketplace.

“I think we got into the habit of thinking: ‘Oh, they’ll always come (to Tahoe) with what we have,” said Strategic Marketing Group President Carl Ribaudo, the event organizer.

A relaxed attitude about drawing visitors in a highly competitive industry won’t be enough to sustain the regional economy. On a national scale, tourism shows signs of a slight rebound with unemployment dipping. The Travel Industry of America projects 3.2 percent more people will go on holiday this summer.

With that, panelists from a variety of tourism-related businesses drummed up their offerings to seize the visitor on the prowl for a unique experience this summer and beyond.

Reno gaming consultant Steve Browne urged the Tahoe crowd to stay with its course of pushing entertainment and gambling choices as one of several amenities geared for a visitor market driven by adventure.

The ease of getting them here appears to be an asset.

Reno/Tahoe air traffic

Buoyed by 2004’s 88 daily flights that have surpassed pre-9/11 standards, Tom Medland, director of marketing for the Reno/Tahoe International Airport, painted a rosy picture for local commercial air traffic. The positive outlook is a paradox to the turbulent airline industry, which is trying to crawl its way out of bankruptcies and cutbacks.

But there’s a light at the end of the horizon for carriers, with estimates of a 12 percent rise in air travel this summer, the Wall Street Journal has reported. Reno officials want to be a part of the ascent.

“We are continuing to talk to the airlines about new service,” Medland said.

Aloha Airlines has experienced so much success filling its daily flight from Reno to Honolulu by at least 80 percent that the carrier will add another departure in fall to the tropical islands – “probably Maui,” he said.

As for south of the border flights, airport officials were forced to return to the drawing board when Mexicana Airlines’ top brass moved to Air Mexico. The airline intended to provide air service to the estimated 80,000 Latinos living in Northern Nevada.

And negotiations continue to piggyback on the growing success of New York-based Jet Blue Airlines, with which the Washoe County Airport Authority wants to establish a flight to John F. Kennedy Airport.

Continental may add a nonstop departure to Newark, N.J., while talks persist with Delta to bring a direct flight to Atlanta into its lineup.

Swayed by ski, snowboard market

“It was once again over skiing,” Medland said of the airlines’ interest.

Skywest will forge another six-a-day departure to Salt Lake City, with American bringing a fourth flight to Fort Worth, Texas, a burgeoning ski market.

The ski industry was characterized Tuesday as one that started strong at the beginning of winter and fizzled at the end.

“Summer came early,” Ribaudo said, standing in for Heavenly Mountain Resort Vice President of Marketing John Wagnon.

Still, preliminary estimates show skier visits projected above last year by 3 to 5 percent, Ribaudo pointed out. The marketer serves on the board of Ski Lake Tahoe, a consortium of six ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region. In 2002, skier visits totaled 3.1 million.

The group conducted a survey of Ski and Skiing magazines’ readership last January. It discovered 77 percent of the under 30 sector became more aware of Lake Tahoe. Much of it surrounds visitor enhancements ranging from resort improvements to redevelopment efforts.

“This serves as a tremendous opportunity for our destination in the future,” Ribaudo said.

Forty-five percent of the young demographic said these enhancements would determine the destination choice. For Lake Tahoe, the battle to win the hearts and minds of Utah and Colorado regulars represents a struggle. Tahoe’s marketing budgets are but a fraction of what those states have to work with.

Ribaudo attributed past successes and the future of revenue growth on the Blue World advertising campaign, an image-branding promotion that touts the beauty of the lake as the main attraction.


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