Unified tourism effort | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Unified tourism effort

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily TribuneTourism-conference participants mingle between meetings at Embassy Suites.

A new day and age for Lake Tahoe tourism has emerged. It is marked by a crossroads filled with optimism as well as patience during a sputtering economy, war and fierce destination marketing competition.

That’s the message marketing officials emphasized at Embassy Suites on Tuesday during the fourth annual SMG Lake Tahoe Tourism Conference, the first lakewide effort of its kind.

“We do have a unique opportunity here. Yes, there are economic challenges, but when I look at the glass, I see it’s half full,” said conference organizer Carl Ribaudo, owner of Strategic Marketing Group.

Some of the 200 people who were at the sold-out event agreed they had heard a lot of what was presented. After all, being close to the subject helps them develop strategies to combat the changing challenges.

But statistics and a community survey supported their notions that pedestrian-friendly ski villages, a heightened corporate presence, building a regional identity and improving the environment will drive the present and future of Lake Tahoe tourism — the bread and butter of the economy.

Early on, Ribaudo coined the modern-day stage of tourism promotion as The New Tahoe Era. The period follows the timeline of Tahoe from its discovery period of 1955-65 to explosive growth over the next 20 years to the regulation years of 1985 to 2002.

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The New Tahoe Era requires a balancing act between promoting and protecting the environment and developing the infrastructure for the visitor and local resident.

Today, Lake Tahoe tourism accounts for $1.5 billion in travel spending, 22,000 jobs and $28 million in tax revenue, Ribaudo said citing a Tahoe Regional Planning Agency study.

“We need to take a macro look at how we can increase these numbers,” he said, referring to the travel spending amount. “If this pie does not grow, it will challenge the services we provide locally. Without the revenue, we’ll begin to lose what we have and our identity.”

This harsh reality faces civic leaders.

“There are no big surprises here. But I think the numbers tell the picture,” South Lake Tahoe City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell said after the opening sessions. She joined councilmen John Upton and Tom Davis for the all-day event.

Lovell took note of a report shared by Ribaudo ranking Monterey County as a leading tourism-based destination for lodging revenue with $461 million a year. She cites the blend of wildlife and environmental education through the area’s aquarium as the reason for the success of its tourism-based economy. Then there’s the shopping on Cannery Row, bike paths and scenic land-and seascapes.

“We’re just as pretty (here). They’re ahead of us, but we have the opportunity to put it together. We’ve yet to tie the two together,” she said.

Following the Reno-Sparks area as No. 2, Lake Tahoe came in third with $249 million generated annually. Sixty-three percent of that amount was collected on the South Shore.

Tracy Owen Chapman, now one of three marketing directors at Sierra-at-Tahoe and Northstar-at-Tahoe, mentioned the Tahoe public opinion poll as the one new topic the longtime promotions expert found interesting.

SMG received 170 of 280 surveys that were sent out. Of those surveyed, Lake Tahoe residents ranked the importance of a healthy California economy and outdoor recreation as critical to tourism promotion in the area.

More than half of the respondents saw economic recovery happening no sooner than 2004 for the nation, California and the Reno/Tahoe International Airport.

“We see this time as very challenging years as far as these perspectives,” Ribaudo said.

A continuing trend in bringing visitors to the area lies with the popping up of ski villages from the North to South shores. They’re designed to offer a complete experience for the destination visitor — one who stays longer than the weekend.

Booth Creek Vice President of Marketing Julie Mauer outlined the future of Northstar’s village, which with its developers, East West Partners, wants to create an environment that emulates college towns. She used Dartmouth University in New Hampshire as an example.

Jan Vandermade, the marketing director for Marriott’s Grand Residence Club and Timber Lodge, focused on the family in defining the village he promotes at Park Avenue. He stressed the village concept by using Hillary Clinton’s best-selling book that begs the question — “What does it take to raise a child? It takes a village.”

Developers of ski villages are challenged with appealing to diverse preferences of family members.

“Family members expect different experiences,” he said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com