Convention and Visitors Bureau, lodging properties seek common ground

In the wake of complaints about Carson City's tourism bureau by some hotel and motel operators, others have come to the agency's defense, saying it is not only responsive but on the right track in marketing Nevada's capital city.

A group of lodging property representatives went to the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 18 to plead for help with a tourism bureau that they say has focused on the past and does little to create and support events that attract overnight visitors to the city.

Plaza Hotel owner Dwight Millard, one of two people representing lodging properties and tourism on the five-member board of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, did not join the operators' plea to city officials.

"I do think there's a need for a new direction, but we've responded to that by creating an events committee and by adopting a strategic plan with new short- and long-term goals," Millard said. "We are trying to respond to people using the freeway and to the economy. This has put a lot of pressure on the bureau to create some reason for people to come here and spend the night."

The brouhaha is not likely to be settled anytime soon, however.

Linda Barnett, general manager of Hampton Inn & Suites, was in the group that approached supervisors with a two-page letter calling for change.

Part of the problem, Barnett said, is that the tourism board's votes have been consistently split, with Millard, Steve Lincoln and Delsey Mills voting in a bloc against Supervisor Molly Walt and former member Terri McNutt of Courtyard Marriott (recently replaced by Jesse Dhami of Holiday Inn Express).

For this reason, the lodging properties also asked supervisors to consider placing term limits for service on the tourism board. Millard, for instance, has served for nearly two decades.

The five members of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau Board are Dhami and Millard, representing lodging and tourism; Walt, representing the Board of Supervisors; Lincoln, representing general business; and Mills, citizen at large.

"There is no V&T board member," Barnett said, "but Mr. Millard feels it's his duty to represent the V&T."

The Virginia & Truckee historic railroad runs from the eastern edge of Carson City to Virginia City and back Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays most weeks.

CCCVB Executive Director Candace Duncan said last week that she had been surprised by the letter, because her board had already addressed several of the suggestions contained in a recently adopted Strategic Tourism Plan.

She said this week that the city promotes a number of attractions, including its hotels.

"We can offer first-class tourist rooms, and we need to be able to create a community partnership with them," Duncan said.


At the heart of the division is where the room tax dollars should be spent.

Millard said he believes the best course of action is to take attractions the city already has and build on them, such the Silver Dollar Car Classic and others.

"We need to find events put on by someone with a passion for that event. We need to be facilitating things like chili cookoffs and bike races. The hotels need to be doing that, too. I don't see the fault that the lodging properties are talking about. I don't know what they want," he said.

"What are you doing to promote yourself?" said a frustrated Millard, addressing his comment to the lodging operators.

Debra Dudley of HD96 Custom Publishing, who designs the bureau's annual vacation guide, believes that CCCVB is right on track.

"We try to present everything our consumers are asking us for in order of importance, and they want to know what to do here, why should they come here, what kind of experience they'll have, and lastly, where are some nice places to stay," Dudley said.

"Carson's great dining and its history - the Old West - are very attractive to visitors. This is all based on research. More than half plan to visit state capitals, and this is a beautiful place," she said.

Of the lodging operators, she said: "I just think it's unproductive to not be a part of the collaboration."


Hotels and motels had also criticized the bureau's focus on two of the city's biggest attractions - the V&T Railroad and the "Divine 9" golf courses - because they don't generate overnight stays, but Millard called them part of the city's tourism portfolio.

"The lodging properties have pretty much told me to shut up about the train, but I'd bet we get more calls now, even with the economy, than we've ever had in the past. It's beginning to go big. The train can put us on the map as a destination," Millard said. "When we started it, we had to promote it, put 150 percent into it. We had to sell it and talk about it. And it's what sets us apart from Reno and Tahoe."

Barnett didn't disagree.

"We can keep what we have, but there are unlimited opportunities for sports tournaments," she said. "And we're not against the V&T. We hope it does what it's supposed to do, but the seats are limited.

"If Mom, Dad, Aunt and Uncle want to come here to see their kids play in a tournament, they stay overnight and we all make money. Short term, let's keep what we've got, but long term, we need to look for new ideas," she said.

Barnett also explained that Carson City's three branded hotels - Marriott, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn - are limited in their ability to form partnerships with the V&T.

"The train tickets are limited," Barnett said. "I can't sell train/hotel packages on my website if I'm not able to guarantee seats on the train. Some of the packages we offer are Cowboy 101, whitewater rafting, Shakespeare and ski passes. I can sell those because they're unlimited. I can't sell the train."

Duncan said that even though Carson City is up against tough tourism competition with Reno and Lake Tahoe, it has the potential to hold its own with star attractions like the V&T and the Divine 9.

"We have nothing to be ashamed of. The V&T and the Divine 9 are two of our most amazing assets, and we shouldn't apologize for that," Duncan said. "The train is a world-class attraction, so let's make it work for us. If we ignored it, I can guarantee the Reno hotels would be all over it with shuttles and packages."


In an effort to resolve the differences, an Events Advisory Committee recently was formed. It includes representatives of various organizations which have an interest in increased tourism such as the Brewery Arts Center, restaurants, lodging properties, museums, the city Parks and Recreation Department, the Chamber of Commerce, the planning division, Western Nevada College, Muscle-Powered, the Downtown Business Association and others. A sports subcommittee also has been formed.

Some ideas tossed around that could generate overnight stays are motocross and dance competitions, rock and mineral shows, rodeo events, a weeklong Pony Express event, Ultimate Fighting Championship matches, gun shows and paintball tournaments.

"We need special events," Walt said. "If the lodging properties shut their doors, where will we get our room tax? The CCCVB needs to sell the city as a whole. We should be marketing our performing arts and recreation - add to what we already have."


At the crux of the recent debate is how much clout lodging properties should have.

"They think they pay the room tax so they should have a say in how it's spent, but they're nitpicking everything we do," Millard said.

Duncan noted that the CCCVB is funded by a 10 percent room tax. Lodging properties do not pay this tax; they merely collect it from hotel guests.

However, Barnett said the hotel-motel operators believe that since they are the sole revenue source for the city's tourism bureau, their voice should be heard and respected.

"No other entity generates this tax," Barnett said. "It seems people feel we only collect it, but we're the ones who generate it through our businesses. If nobody's coming in our doors, then the CVB has no money to work with.

"For them to say that because we only collect it, we shouldn't have a say in how it's spent is unacceptable to me. Me and my staff generate that tax, and CVB has not generated any money for me in the four years I've been here. I personally think they should be going after the things that bring in overnight visits."

Barnett, who has been in the hotel business more than 30 years, said she has managed hotels in major metropolitan areas like San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego and New York City.

"In most cities, transient occupancy taxes (room taxes) go directly to the city, where they are then dispersed. Their tourism bureaus have to document how much business they've brought into the city," she said.


All parties agree that it's going to take teamwork to achieve success for Carson City.

"What you've got to have here is something unique and a new attitude of 'What can we do to work with you?'" Millard said. "We're all frustrated, but I think it's possible to do this. We just have different ideas about how to get there. We need to create a unique vision."

His vision, he said, is establishing Carson City as a tourism destination and coming up with events and attractions that are unique to the region.

Barnett said cooperation is possible if the lodging properties' concerns are not ignored.

"When the hotels speak, we'd just like someone to listen," she said.

Walt agreed.

"Sometimes (CCCVB) goes out and books groups, but they want to stay in Reno or Lake Tahoe," she said. "How can we change this? Is what they're doing really selling Carson City? Businesses also are saying we need more events, so let's work together and get it done.

"Are those room-tax dollars fulfilling their mission statement to bring visitors in for overnight stays?" she asked.

A joint meeting will be scheduled within the next couple of months between the Board of Supervisors and the CCCVB board to try to hash out the issues and reach some sort of resolution, said City Manager Larry Werner.


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