Tourism experts discuss changing market
RENO – With its visitor base topping 50 million this year, Nevada tourism will continue positioning itself as the state for adventure travel – and Lake Tahoe is a part of that effort.
Nevada is no longer considered a state where one just bellies up to the bar or poker table. It’s one where one may belly up to a kayak on a whitewater course or a climbing rope during a rappel off a rock.
This was the overriding notion of “Nevada: Leading the Way,” the theme of the state Governor’s Conference on Tourism, which ends on its third day at the Reno Hilton today. Hundreds, including tourism industry regulars from Lake Tahoe, gathered at the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s annual conference, which featured speakers from the aviation, gaming and tourism worlds.
“I end up working with the NCOT a lot, and the lake is never left out of that mix. They depend on us as a draw. Look at the Reno/Tahoe (International) Airport,” said Carol Chaplin of Aramark, the national concessionaire that operates the Zephyr Cove Resort and two lake paddle-wheelers. “I think the campaign speaks directly to our markets and does well for us.”
The campaign to promote the Silver State started two years ago with “Nevada: Bring It On,” designed to attract hard-core adventure seekers. A year later, its horizons broadened the target audience to the recreational weekend warrior with “Nevada, Wide Open.”
Tuesday’s session of the tourism conference began with Gov. Kenny Guinn boasting a rise in visitor numbers by 3 million in one year – a 50-million mark that far surpasses the state’s 2.3 million residents.
“To put this into perspective, this is 10 million more than all of the international visitors last year to Italy,” Guinn said. He shared a slew of optimistic numbers that give the economic picture of the state.
Guinn wasn’t alone. Krys Bart, executive director for the Reno/Tahoe International Airport, told the crowd gathered during a luncheon that she’s grateful the airport has rebounded since 9/11. It has seen a 3.6 percent increase in passenger counts from last year alone.
This is despite an industry with four carriers facing bankruptcy, high taxes and exorbitant fuel costs. When the price of a barrel of crude hits $50, the airlines lose billions, she said.
Bart said the wave of the future lies with the smaller carriers with less overhead and less willingness to expand beyond their means.
“You know Southwest has never had an unprofitable quarter,” she said.
Southwest Airlines constitutes 40 percent of Northern Nevada’s airport business.
At the same time, people will notice the larger carriers moving into international markets. For one, United Airlines plans to offer flights in 2005 between Chicago and Buenos Aires.
“And I think you’ll see more expansion into the Pacific-Asian lands,” Bart said.
Giving people access to move across the globe is one thing. Giving them the desire is another.
Some tourism insiders believe a nation at war in the world may be more apt to spend money on recreation – as did the World War I and II generations.
“I think it goes back to the whole escape thing – that people want to recreate during these times,” Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Executive Director Patrick Kaler said. “And people are looking for the entire experience – not just gambling. I never thought gambling was the reason to come to the lake.”
The basin sports 2.2 million visitors annually, according to the LTVA.
That message even makes sense to gaming officials, who acknowledge the need for the industry to diversify.
“In spite of war, we have an economy on the rebound. And with all the bad news, it’s a great way to take a break. People tend to take stock in their personal accounts,” American Gaming Association Vice President Walton Chalmers told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
Despite never having been to Tahoe, he said Horizon’s parent company’s desire to turn Caesars Tahoe into a casino catering to the younger set could be right on the mark with today’s highly competitive world of Indian gaming.
“This was discussed at the Global Gaming Expo. The trend will revolve around people under 40,” he said before his keynote address.
Beyond appealing to young audiences and targeting markets where the small airlines thrive, part of tourism’s future rides on making emotional connections to casino consumers, according to Harrah’s Entertainment Vice President Marilyn Winn.
That’s why Winn believes hosting events like the World Series of Poker at its properties – including Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – is the key to boosting the image of a casino company that has enjoyed a 19 percent growth rate in five years.
“We want to own that emotional connection to the gaming experience – that when they draw an ace, they’re hoping for that 10,” she said in her speech.
Other components to the tourism effort include organizing televised events with “real people” like the newly announced Nevada Passage, and expanding promotion into the Pacific Rim.
Nevada tourism officials have even opened a Beijing office.
“Global tourism is the key to our state,” said Lt. Gov. Hunt, who serves as the NCOT chairwoman. “With the proliferation of Indian Gaming, we need to expand our market, and we know that. We saw that a long time ago, and that’s why they’re saying Nevada is leading the way.”