Tourism pros offer seminar |

Tourism pros offer seminar

In a town where tourism, tourism, tourism is the mantra, the means to deliver the tourists to the world of gaming, recreation and retail consumption becomes all the more critical.

That’s why organizers to the second annual South Shore Tourism Conference have invited two high-ranking officials who manage the Reno/Tahoe International Airport in two weeks to discuss the issues facing the conduit connecting Lake Tahoe to the traveling public.

The conference is scheduled to be held at the Embassy Suites Resort at Stateline from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 3.

And in a year underscored by departing air carriers, flight reductions, lower passenger counts and skyrocketing fuel costs, there’s plenty to talk about in terms of balancing the business of air travel with the emerging needs of tourists, Washoe County Airport Authority Director of Marketing Tom Medland said.

“No question about it, there is a connection that (the Reno airport) needs to promote to the airlines that buying into Lake Tahoe is buying into a significant ski destination,” said Medland, who will be joined by airport authority Executive Director Krys Bart.

Beyond the “role of Lake Tahoe as one of the most critical things” to the airport authority, Bart plans to cover the impacts of fuel prices on the northern Nevada airline industry, up-and-coming markets and the cooperative collaboration with supporting entities like the Tahoe Casino Express shuttle service that transports passengers between the Stateline casinos and the Reno airport.

“The No. 1 objective right now is to replace the flights that American Airlines canceled,” Medland said, referring to the major carrier’s buyout of Reno Air and subsequent flight reductions. The July merger consequently led to the airport’s other pressing issue – lower passenger counts this past fall.

The Reno/Tahoe International Airport lies at a crossroad, keeping its evolving neighbor in southern Nevada in its peripheral vision, Medland implied.

Although domestic travel represents the authority’s “most immediate concern,” its long-range plans include attracting an international carrier to the region.

What will it take?

“It will take an understanding of the opportunity to make money and to have an understanding of the Reno/Sparks market. Collectively, what we can bring to the table is to make the international carrier say, hey, we can make money in this market, Medland said.

It took the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas more than five years to land a carrier with service outside the United States.

“The folks in Reno realize just how important Tahoe is to the (region’s) economy,” conference organizer Carl Ribaudo said.

Ribaudo of the Strategic Marketing Group in South Lake Tahoe said he’s “pretty optimistic about the future” of Tahoe, sharing this year’s tallies through September as a barometer for the area’s economic outlook.

Although the Reno airport’s passenger counts were down by 7 percent, gaming revenues and room nights were up 9 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Traffic headed east on U.S. Highway 50 also increased by 2 percent this year.

“What sets us apart (compared to other tourism conferences) is that now we have baseline indicators from last year that we now can talk intelligently about,” South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce Director Duane Wallace said.

At last year’s conference, redevelopment – which includes Heavenly’s prized gondola project – was the hot topic in Tahoe’s changing tourism environment.

Still, the evolving face of surrounding development may also pose a key competitive issue for Lake Tahoe, in particular, Stateline casinos.

University of Nevada, Reno economics professor Bill Eadington will address the impacts of California Indian gaming on the Nevada casino industry.

One example is the $150 million project proposed in Shingle Springs by the Miwok tribe. Plans include a 250-room hotel and gambling facility with more than 1,000 slot machines.

Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance Executive Director Steve Teshara, a conference presenter, said the Stateline gaming community is closely monitoring the progress of the project but officials recognize that the tribe is a long way off from completing the project.

The “sophisticated, well-financed” tribal group has proposed laying down millions of dollars for an interchange off U.S. Highway 50 between North Shingle and Greenstone roads, El Dorado County Deputy Counsel Tom Compston said.

The neighborhood has not thrown out the welcome mat, Compston added, but the plans on tribal land fall under federal jurisdiction – not local.

“Customers primarily attracted to Tahoe are going to be sorely tempted by comparable properties. (The) Shingle Springs (development) certainly falls into that category,” Eadington said. “The real question is: How is Nevada going to respond? And what kind of reasonable competition will (it) pursue?”

Those who are interested in competing for a seat at the conference are encouraged to reserve by Dec. 22, as space is limited. The conference fee is $125 per person, with a $25 discount if the attendee is accompanied by two others. The fee includes lunch and conference materials.

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