Gaming may still be king in Nevada, but the draw of the state’s arts and history is a powerful queen for the tourism industry.
Visitors to the Silver State are increasingly discovering a wealth of cultural options to enjoy from the traditions of cowboy poetry and railroad history to the alternative culture of Burning Man and modern art.
“Cultural tourism is big for Nevada, especially statewide,” said Bethany Drysdale, chief communications officer for the Nevada Division of Tourism. “So much of Nevada is rural and in the rural areas there’s so much history.”
Even rural areas have museums, antique shops, ghost towns, and ancient history sites.
“Anywhere, visitors can participate in some kind of cultural activity,” Drysdale said in a phone interview.
And it’s catching on.
In 2015, 44.76 percent of a sample group of visitors reported that they participated in casino activities — 31.43 percent said they specifically participated in gaming, according to a TravelsAmerica study conducted by TNS Global.
Comparatively, 44.9 percent reported participating in cultural activities including museums, railroads, live entertainment, antiques, and ghost towns. That means 26.7 million of the 55 million visitors to Nevada in 2015 included cultural activities in their trip. (The study allowed multiple activities to be reported.)
Travel spending in Nevada totaled $64.4 billion in 2015, which generated $3.2 billion in tax revenue for state and local coffers.
Data for 2016 is not yet available, but Drysdale said judging from online activity, cultural tourism is growing.
“More people are searching our website for ghost towns and museums,” she said. “More and more people are interacting on posts” about events like the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, which began 32 years ago.
“Cowboy Poetry keeps growing. They had to scale it back so it doesn’t outgrow itself,” she said.
It’s popular enough that Genoa began it’s own cowboy poetry event in 2010. The 2017 Genoa Cowboy Festival will take place April 28-30.
Then there’s Burning Man, an annual celebration of counter-culture and art in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno.
“It seem like anywhere in the world, you can say ‘Burning Man’ and people have either been there, want to go, or know someone who’s been there,” Drysdale said. “It’s lucrative for Nevada.”
Cultural tourism is recognized as such an important part of the state’s tourism industry, that the Carson City Visitors Bureau added an arts & cultural coordinator position to its staff. Mark Salinas started in that capacity in October of 2016.
He is currently focused on helping the city of Carson City develop a master plan for public art, plus meeting with cultural and art leaders and writing grants for funding public art and events.
A community that develops its “creative environment” helps business owners attract and retain the talent they need, Salinas told the NNBW in a phone interview, and attracts a larger audience to the community.
“Once the cultural events are in place, they won’t only benefit residents, but attract visitors as well,” he said.
“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.