The ‘bleisure’ effect: Conventions, marketing and more contribute to Reno-Tahoe tourism growt
RENO, Nev. — The rest of the country is catching on to the secret: Northern Nevada is the place to be.
Washoe County welcomed 5.1 million visitors in 2017 — breaching 5 million for the first time in a decade, according to the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA), after falling as low as 4.3 million in 2011.
There are a number of factors at play in the growth of tourism in the region: a stronger economy; the influx of big-name companies like Apple, Tesla and Google; increased marketing efforts throughout the region; and the relocation of high-attendance conventions.
“The real catalyst to the changes with our organization was when the tourism surcharge was approved by the state legislature in 2015,” Jennifer Cunningham, RSCVA executive vice president, told the NNBV. “That was very significant because it increased our media budget from under $1 million to over $6 million.”
The additional funds allowed the tourism agency to expand marketing efforts from its core market, the San Francisco Bay Area, into Seattle and Los Angeles.
They rebranded the destination to appeal to a younger demographic, with hip ads featuring skateboarders riding by Midtown murals, groups of friends enjoying the nightlife, and scenic shots of a standup paddleboarder with her dog in Lake Tahoe, among others.
“Within the first quarter, when we looked back to see what movement we could measure, we saw a 600 percent increase in website traffic from those three markets,” said Cunningham.
By the end of 2017, hotels reported a 2.6 percent increase, or 1.5 million more visitors, from these three markets alone. In total, lodgings saw a 12.3 percent increase in room revenue and 190,000 more occupied room nights.
For this fiscal year, the board approved a marketing budget of roughly $10.7 million, which includes roll-over funds from the year prior.
In addition to legacy events like Burning Man bringing visitors to the region, the arrival of large conventions has also bolstered tourism.
After a six-year stint in Vegas, one of the biggest hunting conventions in the world is returning to Reno for at least three years beginning this January. Safari Club brings in upward of 20,000 attendees.
Additionally, this September, Reno hosted the bicycle trade show Interbike for the first time with attendance numbers also around 20,000.
“We are seeing a lot of ‘bleisure’ — business blended with leisure — as well. Interbike is a great example of that,” added Cunningham, referencing the pre-event held at Northstar California Resort prior to the trade show.
“Research shows that when people come visit a destination for a convention there is a strong percentage will return with friends and family.”
As tourism numbers have increased, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport has responded to meet the needs. Between 2014 and 2018, the airport attracted four new airlines, increasing passenger count and seat capacity by 25 percent.
In 2017, the airport saw 4.2 million passengers, up 10 percent from 2016.
“The last time we saw those numbers was a decade ago,” said Trish Tucker, manager of air service development and communication.
With support from the stakeholders across the region in the Regional Air Service Corporation, the airport has been able to fill in the gap for marketing these flights.
“We pool financial resources to help fund marketing to make the flight a success. We do it like no other airport does it in the country,” said Brian Kulpin, vice president of marketing and public affairs at the airport. “We’ve been doing since the end of recession and it’s really helped turn the dial and bring in 2,400 daily seats.”
The airport is projecting passenger numbers to increase to 5.7 million by 2036.
“But you just never know with factors like the economy,” added Kulpin.
RSCVA’s Cunningham agreed, noting that they remain “cautiously optimistic” about the future of tourism in the region.
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.