NLTRA CEO: Marketing Tahoe’s ‘secret seasons’ is biggest opportunity
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Over the past 35 years, Cindy Gustafson has worn a variety of hats while serving the North Lake Tahoe community — including sitting on the Truckee Tahoe School Board to serving as general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District.
Currently, Gustafson is embedded in the tourism industry. In August 2017, Gustafson became the CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association (NLTRA).
“I’m not a fish completely out of water jumping into a tourism destination marketing organization,” Gustafson told the Northern Nevada Business View.
With a little over a year under her belt, the NNBV sat down with Gustafson to talk about the opportunities and challenges facing the region as a tourism destination.
NNBV: What have been your primary goals since taking over at NLTRA?
Gustafson: Since I’ve joined, our board of directors has done a comprehensive reorganization plan based on input from the key members of our business community. And our business community represents; the last comprehensive analysis was completed for 2016, and we represented about $615 million worth of tourism activity along the North Shores and valleys of Squaw Valley and Northstar — that region of Placer County. So it’s a very significant economic impact for our region.
And then our efforts have been focused on creating solutions to some of the impact we see from the growing markets in the area — the drive-up market, those in Northern California and Nevada. And the growth in the region is certainly impacting our transportation systems and our housing. As a destination marketing organization, we’re very focused on trying to even out the valleys that we see. Because we have significant amounts of time where we have less than 50 percent occupancy; many times less than 30 percent occupancy during midweek times of the year. So that creates a very large burden on our lodging and our community during the valleys to keep year-round employees and keep people employed full time.
NNBV: WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST OPPORTUNITIES OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS FOR MARKETING TAHOE AS A TOURISM DESTINATION?
Gustafson: We’re focused on what we hear and what we believe are really our hidden treasures, our hidden gems of Lake Tahoe — the secret seasons, the times of year you can come here and really enjoy and get around without the impacts of significant influx of population. That is really truly the majority of the year.
And so, we’re trying to encourage people to come in those seasons, to stay longer, and to get out and enjoy a wide variety of activities around the region. We’ve done a lot of work on our local luminaries campaign, which won an award from Nevada as well as the state of California. And that’s a focus on the people of our area, healthy activities and getting disconnected from the rest of the world. Really enjoying escape.
NNBV: HOW BEST CAN TAHOE AND RENO COLLABORATE ON MARKETING THE REGION AS A WHOLE?
Gustafson: Well, we do work closely on the destination visitation. I think we all want the destination visitors who fly in and don’t need a vehicle and stay longer and spend more. So we’ve worked very collaboratively. We’ve been members of … the Regional Air Service Corporation, with many of the business interests in Nevada, to try to expand direct flights into Reno. So we’ve been working with them on that.
We work with the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. Often we share booth space and opportunities with them and with their agency, as well as Visit California. So we’re kind of the glue in-between those two and we try to further our efforts through partnering with these much larger organizations.
NNBV: How is the Reno-Tahoe tourism industry prepared to combat for poor snow years?
Gustafson: We have really focused on activities that are non-ski dependent. Because there is plenty of year-round recreation opportunities to be outdoors — to snowshoe even when there’s light snow or to walk or hike when there’s little snow.
We certainly see that’s an increasing threat — climate change. And so what we need to focus on are those experiences that people come to the mountains for. Often they’re coming to get away and to spend time with their family and to disconnect from the stress and issues they face maybe in their home destination. So we realized health and wellness is a big factor, outdoor adventures of all sorts, and focusing on more of the arts and culture as well.
NNBV: ARE THERE CONCERNS THAT TAHOE-TRUCKEE HAS REACHED A TIPPING POINT IN TERMS OF VISITOR-AIDED ROAD CONGESTION?
Gustafson: I certainly think the impacts of transportation are being addressed. Everybody’s concerned about it. So we’re working collaboratively with our county government and our resorts to look at opportunities for park-and-ride lots and expanded transit services. As a business community, we’re fostering those relationships and … working with our business partners to incentivize it. Because leaving your vehicle is hard for us, whether you’re Californian or Nevadan, we rely on our vehicles and we’ve got to make it fun and easy and have some incentive to leave your vehicle and put your gear in a transit vehicle. So we’re working closely on that.
We have some park-and-ride lots that are going to move forward this winter season, and working with those to expand transit services. We’re also looking at some pilot programs for three-laning along sections of highway where we could use those as transit lanes. So that you see a reason to get out and get in a vehicle like that — you’re going to get there quicker and have less hassle. So we’re working with our business community to support those efforts.
The unanimous approvals Wednesday came despite state leaders promising to tighten up requirements for Nevada’s tax abatements and incentives for future companies.