Q&A: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority director addresses changing market
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — For Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, it’s about looking ahead, and answering, “Who will tomorrow’s Tahoe Basin visitor be?”
With expanded global options and regional offerings, it’s an increasingly competitive tourism market — and prospective guests are faced with a wide array of alternatives to Tahoe.
This begs the question: Will longtime Bay Area/Sacramento visitors, staples to the region’s tourism industry, continue to visit long-term?
In an effort to address the future of Tahoe tourism, the Tribune recently spoke with LTVA director Carol Chaplin to get some insight.
What is Tahoe’s biggest challenge as a destination?
You have to understand that the potential visitor is always going to be changing. Our challenge is reacting in time to capture that guest and turn them into a repeat customer. That challenge has to do with a lot of things. It has to do with just being able to turn a bigger ship. Your property or your business can’t change overnight. I think it’s something that daily we have to think about. Are we responding to customers’ needs and are we also reacting to what the competition is also having to respond to? Sometimes, for many reasons — justifiably so in some cases — we’ve had obstacles put in our way that don’t allow us to make those changes easily.
What does that changing market look like and what challenges does it bring?
I think you hear it more and more: the older generation is being outnumbered by a younger generation. And that younger generation specifically acts, reacts and thinks differently than what we have been used to in the past. That would be your millennial and whoever comes behind them.
From my perspective, I believe the international guest is somewhat the same. We may need to understand that the international guest wants or needs different things than our Northern California guest, for instance.
Those are the markets, really, our domestic market and our international market, the age and the preferences of those.
You’ve previously said that in some ways Tahoe has to play “catch-up” to some of its competition. How so?
We have environmental challenges. You can’t just throw a building up, right? We know that our environment is important, but we also know that the environment is important to a point where we have to stop and think about what the impact of doing anything is. That’s one of the things.
We’ve had some challenges with the recession that we’re finally kind of climbing out of. There wasn’t a lot of capital to work with for some of our businesses. They couldn’t make the changes that the wanted. They couldn’t hire the staff that they needed, and those kind of things. I think those are the challenges, and maybe some of them go away and some of them don’t.
Where do you see growth potential?
I think growth potential again is in our younger markets. I also believe that our longer-haul [destination] markets have great potential, either from across the country or across the world. I think that’s an opportunity.
How far have we come as a region?
I think in the past three or four years we’ve made huge progress. I think everybody can be proud of that progress. I think that continues at a rapid pace for the next couple of years, if I’m reading the cards right. I think this is a very exciting time for the community. I think that all the changes are very positive and we can look forward to a prosperous time.
Heavenly Village had a major impact on the South Shore when it was built in 2002. With completed projects like the Lakeview Commons as well as work done near Kings Beach and other plans currently underway, what do you think the impact of future redevelopment projects will be?
I think it’s going to change the landscape a little bit. We’re definitely looking at catering to a guest that perhaps may have a little more disposable income. That’s going to have a big impact.
What do you think the proposed Highway 50 Loop Road would do for the South Shore?
You mentioned Heavenly Village. I know every time I drive down Highway 50 and see all the people sitting out there and walking and enjoying that outdoor space, I think that the Highway 50 project has that potential to extend that experience for a longer day and a larger spend. I think it’s got huge potential. It would definitely liven the place up, modernize it and offer our visitors and our residents a whole new experience.
Walkable/bikeable space seems to be a point of emphasis among a lot of agencies and at other destinations. Where does that idea come from?
I don’t know that it’s one specific place. I think it’s just from a standpoint of watching what else is going on in the world. Other mountain destinations that we look to — that we aspire to — have those elements. That’s the kind of experience people are looking for.
What would you say is Tahoe’s biggest strength?
Obviously the outdoor environment is our biggest strength. Access to that outdoor environment, we still need to work on. But we know that that’s in our sights. That’s in our target. As far as the infrastructural changes that are going on, that will become one of our strengths very quickly.