Tahoe marketers keep fingers crossed | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe marketers keep fingers crossed

Susan Wood

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Skiers and boarders enjoyed great snow conditions in record numbers at Sierra-at-Tahoe last winter.

South Shore business leaders and officials hope that a slew of winter promotions that have already begun airing around the west end of the country will bring visitors and tax revenue to the region as it did last winter and at least a part of the summer.

California’s television commercial began to air last week in Western states such as Texas and Washington. It shows Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger skiing on some of the state’s premier resorts.

Heavenly Mountain Resort Vice President of Marketing John Wagnon helped escort the governor around the already closed resort last May – a hush-hush assignment given the governor’s draw. Renowned director Ridley Scott’s production company shot the commercial, following the governor along the Ridge Run off the summit’s Sky Express chair lift to seize the Heavenly view.

“I was quite impressed with him. He did very well,” Wagnon said.

Even if Lake Tahoe doesn’t experience the level of snowfall it did last year, interested parties from the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, California Ski Industry Association, hotels and vacation rental companies are relying on the power of the promotion to carry them in the next few years.

After the California Travel and Tourism Commission lost half its budget – $7 million – in cuts two years ago, the governor restored the money in the last budget cycle. The state’s relying on his star power to enhance the tourism during those competitive winter months.

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And for a mountain area that has undergone its challenges in terms of attracting and keeping the visitors, the promotion launched Nov. 1 carries much weight in capturing the coveted destination visitor.

“The governor isn’t necessarily giving us a return for this year. It will build up the mind-set (for future years),” said Andy Chapman, spokesman for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

Adding to the foundation, Tahoe will put out its own image-building Blue World print and radio campaign in Los Angeles beginning Nov. 20. The South Shore had been relying on the Bay Area feeder market, but tourism insiders are looking to branch out this year. They’re directly aiming at Utah’s and Colorado’s destination skiers, those who typically stay the week rather than just weekends.

“The Tahoe Blue World derailed the destination visitors they thought were theirs,” California Ski Industry Association spokesman Bob Roberts said of the other two ski states.

The year of living frugally

This past annual cycle has shown a tourism-driven economy all over the map in terms of increases and declines in the room-tax revenue. With July being the last month reported by the city, lodging tax collection is the most telling indicator of tourism dollars coming into the community. Though the numbers aren’t available from the city yet for September and October, these months have usually proven to be an ideal traveling time for childless couples.

After a woeful May and June, the city raked in $1.5 million in July tax dollars – up almost $100,000 from the year before. April and May were down, after January, February and March proved to be solid play-in-the-snow months.

But then, there’s too much, too fast. That seemed to be the story with December being slightly down on room-tax collections. With the hefty storms, travelers either had a hard time moving around in the snow or were afraid of doing so.

“We had the rush of snow at the holidays. Snow is funny. We need the perfect time and the perfect amounts,” said Carl Ribaudo, who runs a South Shore-based marketing research company. The LTVA board member attributes the strong tax collections during winter months to the adequate snow base at the ski resorts.

California reported record skier visits topping 8 million, and the winter lasted through late spring.

“The weather was on and off in May and June. I think July was the recipient of pent-up demand,” Ribaudo added.

Agreeing was South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association President Eric Eymann, who runs the Station House Inn.

“May and June just about killed me,” he said. Room tax collections were $448,276 and $802,571, respectively. In 2004, they came in as $519,275 and $898,736. But last July’s collections soared $1.5 million versus $1.4 million in 2004.

South Shore businesses such as the Accommodation Station, which rents and manages 90 vacation homes, wants to keep the momentum of promotion going. Reservations are down for the holidays by about 20 percent.

“We’re normally booked for Christmas and New Years,” said Greta Hambsch, who owns the business. Hambsch commiserated Sunday on increasing competition from other areas and time-share units as well as decreasing marketing funds here.

“I’m concerned our area over the long term – especially with the stall of the BID money. Is it just sitting in an account somewhere?” she said.

She was referring to the citywide Tourism Promotion Business Improvement District spawned by the local government to compensate for lost marketing subsidies.

Doing business is hard in Tahoe.

“If I had these market conditions 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have gone into (business),” Hambsch said.