Transporation issues raised at South Shore Tourism Conference
With all the Lake Tahoe region’s challenges and opportunities in regard to the world of tourism, the most pressing may lie with business outside the area that can get them here.
That’s at least one of the many issues and prospects that high-ranking tourism officials discussed at the South Shore Tourism Conference held at Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Wednesday.
Among the group of tourism panelists addressing the conference-room crowd, Washoe County Airport Authority Executive Director Krys Bart implied the desire to return to the heyday of better times at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport.
National airline challenges like the high cost of fuel, labor relations and mergers compound regional issues such as a competitive new management at Sacramento International Airport as well as departing carriers and flight reductions in and out of the Reno airport.
To achieve a turnaround, Bart wants to bank on the Reno-Tahoe region’s global reputation by aggressively attracting the European visitor.
“I was very pleased to find out Heavenly is marketing to Europe,” she said. The director will also continue to urge carriers like Southwest Airlines to add more flights like it did on Saturday with another departure to Houston.
“That’s you (Lake Tahoe), that’s your market,” she said, adding that Frontier Airlines is very close to coming on board with the Reno airport.
Beyond signing on airlines that offer more nonstop service, Bart also seeks to evenly distribute the load factors on a perishable good like airline seats from busy weekends to unsold seats on the weekdays.
Bart pointed to a chart that showed 33 percent of the airline seats unsold in November, hoping to stem the tide of those numbers and generate some help to reverse it.
“You are so important to us because you can help change that picture,” Bart said, adding that 14 percent of the passengers come from South Shore. Six percent are traveling to and from the North Shore.
What it will take is marketing cooperation from the Lake Tahoe business and civic community as well as the airlines, she insisted.
The airport authority director has already started working on the carriers, sharing her vision of American Airlines’ signing on as the official carrier for Lake Tahoe.
“We think American is the perfect airline,” said Bart, who cited the carrier’s chief executive officer’s pledge to take on the promotional task. “He said, ‘if we know business travelers fly to Lake Tahoe, then we can ensure a system will be in place to get them there (from the Reno airport),'” she said the CEO told her.
This comes at a time when the carrier prepares to bring flights into the Mammoth/Yosemite Airport, Director Bill Manning confirmed Tuesday.
By whatever means the visitor arrives, Heavenly Vice President of Marketing John Wagnon told the crowd his resort is ready for them while keeping Mammoth’s plans in his peripheral vision.
The promising aspect to Mammoth’s taking a very serious view of the destination marketing game involves shifting the focus from the Rockies’ ski areas, he said. But obviously, there is competition as well from the ski town to the south.
Wagnon cited other challenges for the South Shore ski resort.
There are the changing demographics of the general population which is aging while skiers and boarders tend to be younger.
Of the ones who are snowpark riding, he’s also found they’re cutting short the number of days with the sport.
Wagnon even took a whimsical aim at other competitive sports occupying the sports-minded youngster.
“Whoever invented soccer wasn’t a skier,” he said, prompting a chuckle from the captive audience.
The light-hearted, entertaining approach to serious business didn’t end with Wagnon.
Jim Rafferty, Harveys senior vice president of corporate marketing, was giddy over his casino’s having reported its best year in its history.
“We have no reason to be anything other than optimistic,” Rafferty said of the future of Lake Tahoe and tourism.
He pointed to strong market conditions in Northern California – mainly the San Francisco Bay area. He also cited significant capital improvements in the basin, with Sacramento Rotary Club members recently pledging $1 billion of investments in Lake Tahoe. The casino marketing wizard, who also wears a hat on the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority board, even pointed to signs of increasing prestige as international viewers continue to watch reruns of Bonanza.
Rafferty, electing to take the positive point of view, was also happy to show the crowd that Gov. Gray Davis chose a picture of Emerald Bay to run adjacent to his welcoming message to readers perusing the state’s official visitor magazine.
“We are the stewards of this message,” he said.
Rafferty proposed that Lake Tahoe tourism authorities face east to combine efforts with Reno, as opposed to turning the focus west, a perspective which would divide the two communities, he insisted.
As for the challenges, Rafferty agreed that transportation is the big, sleeper issue. Instead of bemoaning the downfalls of air travel, he cited the challenges of ground transit and complained about the backups on U.S. Highway 50. On the other side of the Sierra Nevada, he lamented about the 13 traffic lights in Carson City.
“When they put the Kmart light in, I nearly died,” he said, as a roar of laughter rose from the audience.
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