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RSCVA strategic plan eyes convention dollars

John Seelmeyer

Now that the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority has a five-year strategic plan the first in the organization’s history Ellen Oppenheim leaves no question where the work begins.

RSCVA needs to move decisively, the RSCVA president and chief executive officer says, to build a war chest of marketing dollars.

That means the organization needs to bring more dollars through the front door mostly from the room tax at the same time that it keeps dollars from wandering out the back door.

If the organization can reach its goals boosting its annual revenues to $51.7 million from the current $43.1 million within five years RSCVA expects to have enough money to grow its marketing effort and set aside money for routine repairs of its facilities.

The plan adopted by the RSCVA board last month gives priority to a strong push to build meetings and convention business. That’s important, Oppenheim says, because of the number of hotel rooms filled by conventions as well as the need to begin working the conventions business years in advance.

It’s important, too, because increased numbers of hotel guests translate into more revenues for RSCVA.

Much like a successful football program supports money-losing sports on college campuses, RSCVA needs the conventions business to generate money to support other initiatives.

Within five years, RSCVA’s goal is to host one major city-wide convention a month.

RSCVA can build a war chest, too, as hotels raise their room rates. The strategic plan notes price increases among Reno and Sparks hotels have lagged national trends, and relatively low rates discourage construction of new hotels and reinvestment in existing properties.

Higher rates also generate more revenue for RSCVA because it gets an 8.62 percent cut of room taxes that run from 12 to 13.5 percent at hotels in Reno and Sparks.

RSCVA doesn’t have any direct power over hotel owners’ decisions to raise their rates, but the agency wants to keep the issue in front of the hospitality industry.

At the same time the RSCVA looks to increase its revenues, the plan calls for the agency to tighten down some of its spending.

Oppenheim notes, for instance, that losses at the Northgate golf course owned by RSCVA amount to at least $500,000 a year, and the RSCVA board may want to spend that money on marketing instead.

“It’s not consistent with our core mission,” the RSCVA CEO says.

The agency also needs to reduce its losses at facilities ranging from the Convention Center to the Livestock Events Center to the Bowling Stadium, says the strategic plan.

While convention centers don’t make money anywhere in the country, Oppenheim says her staff wants to cut the operating loss of the Reno-Sparks facility in half.

As the agency develops more money for marketing, the strategic plan calls for a continued emphasis on selling the region to individual travelers from the San Francisco Bay Area. That region accounts for about 70 of the leisure travel to Reno and Sparks.

But at the same time, the plan calls for RSCVA to work with Reno/Tahoe International Airport to develop more air service from Southern California service that can be supported with tourism marketing.

More mundane, but equally important, is development of an on-going program to maintain RSCVA’s facilities, Oppenheim said.

The facilities are insured for a value of roughly $250 million, but RSCVA hasn’t had a program to take care of routine replacement of major equipment that wears out.

SIDEBAR:

RSCVA BLOG

An effort to generate on-line comments about its first strategic plan brought mixed results for the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority.

On one hand, only a handful of people made comments about the elements of the plan that were available on line through the winter.

But Ellen Oppenheim, the RSCVA’s president, notes that the strategic-plan blog drew more than 1,2000 distinct visitors. The fact that relatively few of them commented, she says, may reflect their satisfaction with what they saw.

The blog was part of a public-participation strategy that also saw dozens of presentations by Oppenheim to community groups from October to February and a series of open community meetings that drew several hundred participants.

“We worked very hard to make sure the public was aware,” says Oppenheim.