Experts: Tahoe tourism shows room for growth

A look at Lake Tahoe at sunset this summer from Incline Beach. With the lake being the region's biggest draw, tourism officials say there is room for the industry to grow.

A look at Lake Tahoe at sunset this summer from Incline Beach. With the lake being the region's biggest draw, tourism officials say there is room for the industry to grow.

It’s not a secret that tourism and real estate are the bread and butter of the Tahoe-Truckee economy. Anyone who’s spent a holiday weekend in the region has seen how busy it can get, and those who have stayed have seen just how much traffic dies down during the week.

The real challenge facing the local economy, according to those in the tourism industry, is figuring out how to get visitors to stay more than just the weekend.

“Our challenge is to create demand during other times of the year,” Ralf Garrison, director of the Colorado-based firm Destimetrics. said.

The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association hosted the annual North Lake Tahoe Tourism Summit in September in Kings Beach for industry pros to network and gain insight into the state of the local economy.

Marily Mora, president of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority; Caroline Beteta, CEO of Visit California; and Garrison were among presenters at the North Tahoe Event Center.

“This last year, tourism recovered for the first time since the recession,” Garrison said.

According to the most recent Destimetrics Mountain Market Briefing on Sept. 16, industry-wide data from participating resorts (which include dozens from six states including Colorado, Nevada and California) shows bookings for the upcoming winter season are already up 10.9 percent compared to last year.

Meanwhile Placer County’s Transient Occupancy Tax for the North Tahoe region on the California side, which is levied on visitors via hotel rooms and other lodging options, also shows tourism has been on the rise.

The county reported in August that last year’s TOT revenue was up to more than $15 million, an 18 percent increase from the previous year, and data obtained by the Sierra Sun shows consistent increases in TOT revenue since the 2011-12 season.

While local tourism is up, there’s always room for improvement. The Destimetrics data revealed two key areas for the local industry to grow: occupancy and non-peak periods.

In a later interview with the Sun, Garrison said Lake Tahoe’s geographic location is what makes it such a popular weekend destination.

“All the things you’d ever need are right there on the West Coast,” he said.

That means visitors can get to Tahoe on short notice, but it also means they’re not staying as long.

“Other destinations, people have to travel longer distances to get to, so people have things like three and four night stays,” Garrison said. “Mostly resorts like those longer-stay guests.”

Another point he mentioned is that while Tahoe is a popular destination for West Coast residents, people in other parts of the country actually have to fly over other ski resorts like those in Colorado to get here.

These challenges, paired with concerns about snowfall, provide a lot of insight into how local resorts are working to maintain visitation.

“Our collective thinking is not how to grow more during the busy times but to grow during slower times … it’s a smarter business decision,” he said.

Garrison explained that since resorts have improved snowmaking efforts, beginner and intermediate skiers (and snowboarders) are still able to have fun even when the weather isn’t as favorable for winter sports.

Plus, there are other things to do. While lift ticket sales might decline during a bad snowfall record, he said retail sales actually go up — and that’s important, since it also increases county tax revenue.


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