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Schwarzenegger goes after tourism market from Japan

Susan Wood

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s image as an action hero may go a long way this week in helping the state and the Lake Tahoe region get their piece of the international tourism market.

The governor planned to leave today to woo a market with ties and expectations to the Tahoe tourism industry.

Representatives from the California Travel and Tourism Commission and various travel-related businesses such as Hornblower Cruises will join the governor in Japan.

“The Japanese seem to love the action hero status of the governor,” said Mike Testa, spokesman for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.

And tourism officials from Carson City to San Francisco all agree – the one-on-one meetings with the Japanese culture make the difference in establishing a business rapport.

Beyond recently opening an office in China, the Nevada Commission on Tourism set up stakes in Tokyo in 1987, seeing a large tourism base until the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“They were No. 1 for us before 2001. We were severely impacted by the terrorism attack on our country. To get them back, you can’t do that from an armchair. You have to go over there if you want anything done,” commission spokeswoman Chris Chrystal said.

Nevada commission Executive Director Bruce Bommarito was appointed by Commerce Secretary Donald Evans for the U.S. Tourism Export Expansion Commission.

“We want the Japanese business to come back, so it’s important to maintain these relationships,” said Laurie Armstrong, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have to strike while the iron is hot.”

Japanese visitation was cut in half in the 1990s during an economic slump.

“If we can represent the state as the gateway city and lead people to Tahoe ski areas, then that’s an advantage,” said Armstrong, who once worked for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

The LTVA is on the same plane, so to speak.

“We might not necessarily be the primary market, but there’s no reason why we can’t be a secondary destination,” LTVA acting Executive Director Sue Barton said.

Tahoe tourism officials have taken part in their own efforts to expand its market base.

Barton has helped to spearhead the ninth annual California Travel Market convention at Embassy Suites in February. The event hosts at least 120 tour operators from all over the world.

“There’s no better way for a destination to market itself than to bring the buyers here,” she said. “One of the wonderful things about positioning Tahoe in international markets is we have names like Marriott and Heavenly.”

Heavenly Mountain Resort once considered Japan a key market in its international promotional campaigns. Plus, the resort was bought from the Killebrew family in 1990 by Kimihito Kamori, president of Kamori Kanko. Ltd.

“Tourism is big business for California, generating $78.2 billion in direct spending and producing $5 billion in direct state and local revenues,” tourism commissioner Caroline Beteta said.

In 2003, California welcomed 590,000 visitors who brought in more than $668 million in travel-related revenue.

-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com


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