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Survey: Shopping key to economic growth

Rob Sabo

Shoppers play a key role in the health of the tourism industry and are a strong target for future growth, says a recently-published survey of visitors to Washoe County throughout 2011.

The 2011 Visitor Profile Survey commissioned by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority polled nearly 3,000 tourists to the region, and nearly half the visitors say they intended to do some shopping during their stay.

Forty-two percent of tourists visited the area’s three largest shopping destinations: Legends at Sparks Marina, The Summit in South Reno and Meadowood Mall. Visitors spent an average of $117 per day on shopping in 2011, but that figure rose to $183 in the fourth quarter, says the survey conducted by EMC Research Inc. of Oakland, Calif.

Chris Baum, president and chief executive officer of the RSCVA, says retail attractions such as Scheels or Cabelas, and upscale shopping centers such as The Summit provide crucial leverage to draw in retail-minded visitors.

“People in our state are coming here for better shopping than where they live, and people coming here from other areas are finding we have above-average choices,” Baum says. “Many stores are available in other areas, but they are nicely packaged in an upscale way, and for people whose hobby is shopping, they are drawing on that experience.

Increasing the prominence of shopping attractions in northern Nevada was one of the primary reasons RED Development brought the Legends at Sparks Marina project in east Sparks online in June of 2009, says General Manager Dennis McGovern.

The Reno-Sparks area already had plenty of strong and well-positioned retail offerings, McGovern says, but it lacked a true “destination” shopping center. Legends has added more than 2 million square feet of retail space to the market, and the center continues to grow.

“Our goal and our vision from Day 1 was to provide the destination that when someone came into town to visit that we were the prime shopping destination in the market for visitors,” “McGovern says.

Shopping centers in Reno-Sparks may lack the upscale tenant mix found in venues such as Union Square in San Francisco, or the world-class offerings found in Palm Spring’s El Paseo Shopping District or on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, but they still offer visitors many of the most sought-after brands, McGovern says.

“When someone comes from out of town, they recognize Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, Gap, Banana Republic. When you put value with those names, it makes a difference. We keyed on being first in the market and being new to the market.”

Larry Hunt, regional general manager for Bayer Properties/The Summit, says the region’s diversity of retail offerings not only provides crucial stimulus for visitors and locals alike, but it also increases the ability of Greater Reno-Tahoe to lure new tenants to the market.

“When we speak with customers that are vacationing at the lake or in Reno, they tell us that sometime during that week they are going to leave the ski slopes or the beaches and have a different experience. Shopping is a key piece of the experience while they are here,” he says.

More than half the stores at The Summit are unique to the market, Hunt says. The offerings at Summit and other shopping centers in the Reno-Sparks market serve to draw new tenants in the region.

“The larger area surrounding Reno, where people drive in to enjoy these things, and visitors to the area are important to new tenants to locate to Reno. All these pieces become significant when someone is making a decsion to locate in Reno,” Hunt says.

Gaming still plays an integral role in the region’s economy, the RSCVA report finds. Fifty-five percent of visitors to Washoe County enjoyed some gaming while here a figure that represents the region’s diverse offerings, says the RSCVA’s Baum.

“We are starting to draw people here for other reasons,” he says. “Gambling is so widely available that it can no longer be our most powerful lever. We need to be perceived as high desert location with great skiing, and lots of good festivals. We have so many strong and unique festivals and events, and that is a real strength to be leverage by us moving forward.”

And though the marketing slogan “America’s Adventure Place” was scrapped in 2009 by the RSCVA, the ad campaign still resonates with visitors to Greater Reno-Tahoe.

Eighty-nine percent of visitors to the region in 2011 came here to vacation, and among vacationers more than half came for activities such as hiking or biking (23 percent), golf (15 percent), kayak (15 percent) or ski/snowboard (12 percent). More than one-third of total visitors to the region 41 percent said they intended to visit Lake Tahoe during their stay. Thirteen percent intended to check out Truckee, and 12 percent planned to see historic Virginia City.