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Tourism drives most Tahoe industries

John Seelmeyer

Nearly every business along the northern shore of Lake Tahoe benefits from tourism, a new study finds, but tourism marketing efforts are supported solely by a bed tax.

That raises a question for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association: How can it ensure that other businesses which benefit from tourism pay their share of attracting visitors to the region? Steve Teshara, executive director of the resort association based at Tahoe City, Calif., said last week it’s likely that some sort of self-assessment might be proposed for companies that benefit from tourism but don’t currently support the marketing effort.

That, he acknowledged, might be a tricky proposition as tourism officials look for a funding mechanism that’s not a tax but still ensures that businesses pay a fair share of marketing costs.

Tourism, the new study finds, accounts for 70 percent of the employment and two-thirds of the earnings for communities around the north shore of Lake Tahoe.

And the effects of tourism aren’t limited to businesses in lodging, food service and recreation.

About 60 percent of the retail trade in the region is tied either directly or indirectly to visitor spending.

So is 54 percent of its construction and 76 percent of the market for rental real estate, says the study by Dean Runyan Associates of Portland, Ore.

“Tourism is a key part of our economy,” said Teshara.

Among major findings of the $43,000 study:

* Visitors to the north Lake Tahoe area spent $355 million in 2002.

Although travel spending increased by an annual average of 3.1 percent from 1997 through 2002, most of the increase occurred in the late 1990s.

* Tourism directly generated 5,000 jobs with total earnings of $111 million in the north Lake Tahoe area the study didn’t include Incline Village or Truckee while visitor-related construction and real estate activity created another 1,000 jobs.

As visitor-related dollars flowed through the economy, another 900 jobs were created.

* Average annual earnings in the area were $28,000 in 2002.

Looking at other major resort markets in the West, Dean Runyan found that average wages ranged from $41,400 at Aspen, Colo., to $24,500 at Park City, Utah.

* Median household income in the area is $48,500.

Again, that lags other Western resorts.

The median household income at Vail, Colo., is $62,700; the figure at Park City is $65,000.

* About 40 percent of the earnings in the north Lake Tahoe area are dependent on the leisure industry.

That’s the highest of any of the six resort markets studied by Dean Runyan.

At Aspen, for instance, 22 percent of the earnings were leisure-related; at Sun Valley, Idaho, the figure was 15 percent.

* Visitors in 2002 spent $74 million on lodging (including condominiums and rented homes), $75 million on food and drink, $128 million on recreation and $79 million on retail purchases.

The study also found that the growth of population and jobs at the north shore lags the other resort markets.

The area posted a 3.2 percent average annual growth rate through the 1990s.

Among the other resorts studied by Dean Runyan, both Park City and Vail posted annual population growth rates exceeding 6.5 percent.

Much of the north Lake Tahoe area falls within the territory governed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which keeps tight control on growth within the Lake Tahoe basin.

Moreover, Teshara said, many residents of the region support control of population growth to protect the area’s natural splendors.

“We don’t see the fact that we’re not No.

1 in growth as a bad thing,” he said.

The nearby Truckee area, which is linked economically to north Lake Tahoe but falls outside the TRPA boundaries, posted annual growth that averaged 4.3 percent during the 1990s.

The study found that about 1,500 homes were built at north Lake Tahoe during the 1990s, and another 350 rental units for visitors were added.

Rented homes and condos account for about 31 percent of the spending on lodging in the area just a hair behind the 32 percent spent on hotel and motel rooms.