Smoke, tourism not a good mix |

Smoke, tourism not a good mix

Mother Nature may again play her hand over the Labor Day weekend in Lake Tahoe.

Last year was cooler than normal, with temperatures failing to top 60 degrees and snow falling on Mount Tallac.

This year, temperatures are forecast to be much warmer, but fear of fire may dampen Lake Tahoe tourism as the smoke lingers from the Star fire burning 25 miles from the lake.

“There’s the perception it’s really smoky on the South Shore too,” Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Executive Director Terry LeBan said Thursday. “We’re telling (the central reservations) operators to tell people they can breathe here.”

LeBan said “there are definitely rooms available,” and some cancellations were made because of the fire. But the central reservations line, which gives a partial picture of South Shore lodging numbers, started ringing on Wednesday more than previous days. LeBan expects the last-minute bookers to pull the numbers up, as some hotels have dropped their three-night minimum stays over holidays.

“We’re flat. It’s nothing to brag about here. But there’s hope,” LeBan said.

June and July have turned out to be disappointing months for many California-side hotels and motels, in particular, but August’s hotter temperature helped stage a comeback that brings occupancy numbers closer to a normal rate, South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association President Charlie McDermid said of word on the street. Nevada casino properties traditionally fill up about twice as much.

Transient occupancy tax numbers for these summer months haven’t been released yet.

McDermid predicts the town will start to fill up Saturday and Sunday then die on Monday, as the drive-up market heads home.

Director of Marketing Bill Chernock reported Zephyr Cove Resort experiencing the same business cycles.

“We, like most people, found June and July softer than we like to see. But we had a nice rebound in August at levels we’ve come to expect,” Chernock said.

Labor Day weekends have traditionally failed to bring the tourism business into Lake Tahoe like they did 15 years ago, the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce president pointed out.

It appears this weekend’s Burning Man festival is burning strong despite the smoky haze that primarily hovers over the North Shore and Reno. Kmart Reno Store Manager Brian Lay drove to South Lake Tahoe’s store to sell a truckload of tents for those headed to the annual counter-cultural event. Along with $100,000 in liquor, Lay sold 120 tents.

However, other key destination markets from Anaheim to Orlando are feeling the same pinch of a staggering economy and recovering gasoline prices in a time-starved society.

The American Automobile Association estimates 33.2 million Americans will travel over the holiday, with 4.1 million Californians and 240,000 Nevadans making a journey of more than 50 miles.

Of those traveling, 93 percent are predicted to hit the road by car, AAA reported. This figure represents a 9 percent increase from last year.

“The increase is no surprise considering the sharp drop in gas prices,” AAA San Francisco spokesman Atle Erlingsson said.

Travelers planning to travel by plane are advised to arrive at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport at least one hour before departure, the Washoe County Airport Authority reported.

The authority estimated 80,000 people to pass through the airport through the weekend.

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