‘Inside game’ plays bigger role for visitors | nnbw.com

‘Inside game’ plays bigger role for visitors

Anne Knowles

It might be called the inside game of Nevada’s tourism efforts.

People may come for the skiing, cycling, rafting or other outdoor activities widely promoted by the state, but they often stick around to see the state’s museums.

“We’re positioning as ‘All seasons, a thousand reasons,’ and we’re heavily promoting culture as part of that mix,” says Chris Baum, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority in Reno. “And what we’re seeing is among those things, museums are gaining the most traction.”

Baum says visitors are increasingly including trips to area museums as part of their stay. In 2011, 14 percent of tourists visited the Nevada Museum of Art and National Automobile Museum, according to RSCVA surveys. In 2013, that climbed to 18 percent taking in the art museum and 21 percent making a point to see the famed Harrah Collection of vintage cars.

“That’s a very high number to reach for an activity,” says Baum. “And one of the strongest numbers we have for attractions.”

“About 85 percent of our daily visitors are out of area,” says Jackie Frady, executive director of the National Automobile Museum, which hosts about 80,000 visitors annually.

The car museum doesn’t do much out-of-market marketing, says Frady, relying on the RSCVA, casinos and resorts to bring the visitors here. But the automobile museum, like the art museum, is already well known outside northern Nevada.

“Our reputation precedes us,” says Frady. “If they’re auto enthusiasts, they’ll find us.”

The Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum is building a name for itself outside the area, too, says Patrick Turner, marketing and director at the science museum geared to children.

“Anecdotally, in talking to folks, we have a growing reputation as hands-on science center,” says Turner. “Children’s centers are not that much a draw because the experience is much the same in each. We’re more of an exploratorium with greater potential for change and a reason to come back. It’s a unique experience each time.”

The museum attracts about 155,000 people annually and asks for Zip codes of non-member visitors. About 10 percent are from out of the immediate area, says Turner.

The Discovery Museum, along with the automobile museum and the art museum, are in the preliminary stages of creating a super pass that would give visitors admission to all three museums, or possibly more if other venues take part, says Turner.

“Historically, there’s not been a lot of synergy between museums,” says Turner. “But it’s worked in larger markets.”

Virginia City, which boasts nearly a million visitors annually, is taking that potential for cooperation to a new level. Probably no other northern Nevada town or area is as chockfull of museums or as dependent on them.

“We have 17 of them on a one-mile stretch of the downtown main street,” says Denny Dotson, director of the Virginia City Tourism Commission.

That collection of institutions includes the Mackay Mansion, the Nevada State Fire Museum & Comstock Fireman’s Museum, the Silver State Peace Officers Museum, the Western Historic Radio Museum and the Wild West Museum, plus a dozen more.

Last week, the city kicked off Flashback Fridays, offering free admission to the museums the first Friday or every month through October and giving away a framed photo of the historic town to those who get a certificate stamped by visiting all 17 venues.

“Most of our visitors are from out of town,” says Barbara Mackay, executive director, Fourth Ward School Museum, the last four-story, Victorian schoolhouse still standing in the country. “I feel we play a very important part in tourism, not only locally but for the state.”