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Tourism bright, in transition

John Seelmeyer

The summer tourism season that kicks off this week promises to one of transition, both in the Reno area as well as Lake Tahoe.

Tourism officials throughout the region are cautiously optimistic about a recovery in an industry that has been hammered by a weak national economy and the lingering effects of the Sept.

11 attacks.

But when the tourism business revives in northern Nevada and the Lake Tahoe region, it will be different in some cases dramatically different than the business in the late 1990s.

The biggest change is coming in the Reno area.

The much-ballyhooed Thunder Valley casino along Interstate 80 near Auburn, Calif., will open in mid-June.

No one knows exactly how large a bit that casino will take from Reno’s gaming business, but it’s a clear sign that big changes have arrived.

At nearly the same time, however, the Reno-Tahoe area will be touted in about $15 million of advertising on ESPN venues including the sports network’s ticker in Times Square.

The message? This is America’s adventure place, a spot where travelers can find activities ranging from mountain climbing to whitewater trips to golf within a short distance of the city lights.

Deanna Ashby, marketing director for the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, said the ESPN advertising is part of the deal negotiated by RSCVA when the network chose Reno to host the Great Outdoors Games.

And the games themselves will provide another boost to the tourism business as 60,000 or more visitors are expected for the event, which runs July 10-13.

Other spots on ESPN will highlight the city’s special events everything from Artown to the air races to further deepen the message that Reno is more than gaming, Ashby said.

“We are feeling very optimistic about this summer,” she said.

That optimism is supported by rising passenger loads on aircraft bound for Reno in recent months, said Adam Mayberry, public affairs manager at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport.

Mayberry said airport officials anticipate the addition of more flights into Reno in the near future.

“We’re real bullish on this summer,” Mayberry said.

Around Lake Tahoe, meanwhile, tourism officials say early bookings by summer visitors appear promising.

“We’re seeing some real nice increases in booking patterns right now,” said Andy Chapman, tourism director for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

Particularly interesting to the tourism industry, he said, is an increasing number of families often large, extended family groups who are headed to Lake Tahoe for stays of a week or more.

That’s probably an outgrowth of the trauma many felt after Sept.

11, Chapman said, as families look to spend more time together.

“People are re-evaluating their priorities,” he said.

The trend is reflected in a strong market for vacation home rentals this summer.

With about 78 percent of the visitors to the north shore coming from northern California, the region was hard hit by the implosion of the Silicon Valley economy in recent years.

Chapman said North Lake Tahoe Resort Association officials think the worst is behind them.

“Lake Tahoe is a very attractive place to go.

It’s easy to get to.

It’s relatively affordable,” Chapman said.

On the other side of the lake, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority thinks the economic revitalization of South Lake Tahoe will begin paying dividends this summer.

Bill Chernock, executive director of the authority, said the Heavenly Village and adjacent Marriott resorts that are among the centerpieces of the redevelopment effort already is proving to be a big draw.

New resort and shopping amenities are expected to open throughout the summer.

“The product is getting better,” he said, noting that the big hotel-casinos on the Nevada side of the market also are stepping up their entertainment offerings.

That comes at a time that the national economy appears to have stabilized, war jitters are past and travelers continue to grow more comfortable with the post- Sept.

11 environment.

Some factors, however, are beyond the influence of tourism officials.

Unusually cool weather in California’s Sacramento Valley last summer, for instance, meant that fewer visitors headed to Lake Tahoe to cool off.

If all else fails this year, Chernock said with a laugh, gangs of tourism marketing officials might be sent to drive temperatures up with their hot air.


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