The 21st century Tahoe tourist wants to play in the woods and at the blackjack tables, economists say
July 30, 2010
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Tourism has always been a salient economic driver for the Lake Tahoe Basin. However, economists said the region needs to redefine the type of tourists it tries to attract – moving away from marketing efforts geared toward Las Vegas-style gaming and entertainment and heading toward a geotourism-centered approach.
Applied Development Economics, a Sacramento-based economic development firm in charge of spearheading the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan, identified geotourism as one of three emerging economic sectors capable of igniting Tahoe’s smoldering economy. The others are health and wellness and green building.
After presenting the draft prosperity plan in mid-July, ADE continues to collect input from community residents, business owners and government representatives in preparation for a presentation to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in late August.
Implementation of the final action plan is scheduled for September.
Authentic connection to the geographical features of the Lake Tahoe Basin is a central message of the tourism and visitor services cluster of the prosperity plan, according to Trish Kelly of ADE.
“The gaming industry is in decline and no longer a primary economic driver,” Kelly said.
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Kelly, along with Tahoe-based business owners, citizens and public representatives, said tourist-oriented businesses need to collaborate to devise a new marketing strategy that promotes the pristine natural environment in and around the lake.
One of the ideas to emerge from the prosperity plan meetings is a central a website where potential visitors can access information about the natural amenities in and around the basin.
Geotourism not only promotes environmentally sustainable visitations, but could be a key revenue source for places like the Lake Tahoe Basin, said Nicole DeJonghe, program manager for the Sierra Nevada Geotourism project. The project includes an online map that highlights geographically interesting locations throughout the Sierra Nevada range.
“It’s not only engaging in outdoor recreation, but engaging in the cultural and historically authentic aspects of a particular place,” DeJonghe said. “For instance, eating at a local family owned restaurant that has a long history in a place.”
DeJonghe said http://www.sierranevadageotourism
.org is designed to distribute tourism more evenly through the basin. For example, if tourists come to Tahoe City and find it too crowded they can easily learn about points around the area, such as Donner Summit, which might align with their expectations, DeJonghe said.
Participants in the prosperity plan have also said Tahoe needs a centralized tourist desk, where visitors can receive reliable, streamlined information about the entire lake as a whole.
“It’s important to think of Lake Tahoe as one unified destination, rather than constantly pointing out the differences between North Shore and South Shore,” Kelly said.
While the Lake Tahoe Basin is a world-renowned ski/snowboard destination, many of the participants in the prosperity plan said they would like to see a concerted effort to market other recreational opportunities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, paddle-boarding, rock climbing, boating, water skiing, fishing, disc golf and snowshoeing.
“We need to give visitors so many recreational options that they truly want to come back,” said Alex Mourelatos, owner of Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort.
The emerging popularity of paddle boarding at Lake Tahoe, leading to the growth of retail outlets centered on the burgeoning recreational activity, is an example of how a niche economy can result from recreational innovation, Mourelatos said.
While many of the tourism and visitor services focus on marketing the bevy of outdoor recreational opportunities in the region, Kelly said culinary tourism can also help bolster regional business.
A cookbook that features recipes incorporating locally grown products that was created by former Tahoe resident and current Auburn resident Joanne Naft is an example of how to engage the local economy while meeting visitor demand, Kelly said.
“People care about what they eat, and by (supporting) locally grown products you can help support local farmers and the (local) economy,” Kelly said.
Mourelatos said that lodging businesses that engage in environmentally friendly practices such as using solar heat or reducing their carbon footprint should find a way to disseminate that information.
“While people won’t go to a hotel in Tahoe specifically because of green practices, for some visitors it can be a differentiator,” he said.
However, the APE study identified several existing factors that may present obstacles to an eco-tourism message.
According to the study, Lake Tahoe businesses lack a unified marketing message, with some businesses concentrating on recreation while others promote the gaming industry.
Blight, infrastructure deterioration and deficient transportation systems may also hinder the visitor experience and contradict the “pristine environment” marketing message, the study concluded.
“It’s tough when you tell people to come to a region to enjoy an authentic natural experience and, when they get there, they get stuck in a traffic jam,” Kelly said.
In addition, an expensive and constrained regulatory environment make it financially and temporally difficult for private businesses to redevelop degrading facilities.*