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Sacto vies for visitors to Tahoe

John Seelmeyer

It is, Adam Mayberry says with some emphasis, the Reno/Tahoe International Airport.

On the other side of the Sierra, however, airport and tourism officials want to make Sacramento an equally attractive gateway for travelers to Lake Tahoe.

Advertising for the Sacramento airport makes prominent mention that the facility is a gateway to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco or the Napa wine country.

Tourism officials are working with Mexicana Airlines which flies between the Mexican capital and the California capital to create ski vacations in the Sierra.

And Sacramento-area officials continue to seek an outfit that could provide regular bus service between their airport and the shores of South Lake Tahoe.

None of this is exactly worrisome to officials of Reno/Tahoe International Airport, but Mayberry said last week the airport staff keeps a close eye on the competition.

About 15 to 20 percent of the 5 million travelers who come through the Reno airport each year are bound for Lake Tahoe.

“We still capture more passengers that are destined to the lake than Sacramento does,”Mayberry said.

“We don’t take their competition lightly.

They are a competitor to us.”

Bill Chernock, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitor Authority, said last week that his agency continues to have unofficial talks with Sacramento officials about ways that the lake could draw more visitors through Sacramento.

“It’s good to get on their radar,” Chernock said.

But that doesn’t mean the Lake Tahoe region is about to forsake Reno for a new gateway.

“We are still primarily, primarily, primarily connected to Reno/Tahoe,” Chernock said.

No matter how much marketing the Sacramento airport might undertake, the fact remains that the one hour, forty-five minute drive from Sacramento International to South Lake Tahoe is about an hour longer than the drive from Reno.

Proximity is one of the key selling points that Reno airport officials make for their facility as the gateway to Tahoe.

The importance of regular bus service between the airport and the casinos on the south shore also provides an advantage to Reno.

The Tahoe Casino Express runs 14 departures a day between the airport and South Lake Tahoe at a round-trip cost of $34.

No similar service is available from Sacramento.

“We see transportation as a key asset,” said Cheryl Marcell, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento airport.

Offsetting some of that advantage, however, is the greater number of flights through Sacramento.

Daily departures from Sacramento number 138, compared with 74 at Reno/Tahoe International.

About 8 million passenger a year travel through Sacramento 3 million more than recorded at Reno.

“We feel that we have service levels that are great,” said Marcell.

The competition over Tahoe-bound air travelers is just one of several competitive skirmishes between the two airports.

Mayberry said airport officials in Reno view their market as stretching throughout northeastern California as far as Auburn which is on the eastern outskirts of the Sacramento metropolitan area.