Tourism Forum highlights lessons learned
Development and change require making hard decisions and a strong push from community business leaders – a message keynote speakers advocated during the 2015 Tahoe Tourism Forum on Tuesday.
Examples included lessons learned from a 2014 TahoeChamber trek to Park City, Utah, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and a recent push by the local community to transform South Shore into a recreation destination.
TahoeChamber Betty “B” Gorman said the purpose behind various treks was to learn and explore different options.
“We believe there is value of traveling to other communities to explore best practices and get new ideas,” Gorman said during the forum’s open.
The tourism forum, held at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, focused on how Lake Tahoe could market itself and the shift in tourism trends that affect mountain towns.
It’s an effort Park City’s economic development manager Johnathan Weidenhamer and recreation manager Ken Fisher said reflected their own city’s past.
“We started as a mining town then stopped in the 1950s,” Weidenhamer said during the forum. Eventually Park City slowly declined, becoming what he called a ghost town.
Weidenhamer called the 2002 Olympics, hosted in and around Salt Lake City, the galvanizing moment for Park City.
“The games gave us confidence that we can control our own destiny,” Weidenhamer said.
Fisher added that the Olympics showed a city could have a governing stake in how the Olympics were set up instead of having the International Olympics Committee dictate everything.
Both Park City residents noted not everything has so easily transformed.
Some bond and tax initiatives failed before and since the Olympics came to Utah, while others helped it thrive. In the 1980s, the city took over a facility that eventually transformed in a recreation center.
Fisher and Weidenhamer stressed partnerships with county and local government agencies as another component for success, as well as the community’s willingness to self-tax.
“Local partnerships are probably most important thing to do to move that needle of success,” Weidenhamer said.
Park City also took the bold leap when it created its Olympic Park, which hosted the 2002 Olympics ski, bobsleigh and luge events. It’s still used as a prime training ground for professional athletes and as a recreational mainstay.
Fisher and Weidenhamer also noted the city has become the main stomping grounds for the Sundance Film Festival.
Both voiced their appreciation for Tahoe’s unique situation in multi-jurisdictional environment that involves the federal government, two states and two counties and one city.
“The leadership you have (in the business community) at a political level is amazing,” Weidenhamer said. “The strength of where you want to go is amazing.”
He remarked South Shore has a similar history to Park City, only different elements.
“You have the hard challenge of transitioning from casinos to recreation,” Weidenhamer said.
Another challenge he said would be retaining a distinct community character while balancing tourism.
“You have to figure out the vision and what is the prize,” Weidenhamer said. “You will have to make hard choices and some people will get mad, but doing nothing is a terrible choice because you die on the vine.”
Fisher said the city’s vibrancy and friendly attitude, as well as Heavenly Village and the gondola impressed them.
Carol Chaplin, executive director of Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, in wrapping up the forum, echoed the message from the Park City officials.
While South Shore keeps saying it wants to be a recreational destination, she said the importance thing should be promoting diversity in the recreation offered.
Chaplin encouraged participation and public interest in the various recreation planning processes going on between South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado and Douglas counties.
“It’s important to weigh in and a great time to pay attention to the master planning process,” Chaplin said.
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