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Tourism season not so bad

John Seelmeyer

Today’s surprise: The tourists kept arriving in the Reno-Tahoe area throughout the

summer despite all sorts of dire predictions.

In fact, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates tourists spent

14 percent more nights in hotels in the region than they did in the same month a year

earlier. The agency estimates August tourist stays were up 22 percent over the same

month a year ago.

There are, however, some clouds

inside that silver lining.

Ralph Witsell, executive director of

travel industry sales for the RSCVA,

says it appears more of the tourists visiting

the Reno-Sparks area booked

their rooms through on-line services

such as Expedia or Yahoo! Travel.

Because those services pride themselves

on aggressive pricing, Witsell said,

“The rate is a lot lower than we would

have hoped for.”

Still, he said, it’s hard to be discouraged

about average room rates when the

number of nights spent by visitors was

up sharply.

(The RSCVA estimates are prepared

from figures provided by major travel

wholesalers, and cover only tourist travelers.

Convention and meeting travelers

including bowlers aren’t included.)

Witsell said the tourism business in the

Reno-Sparks area was stronger than many

other destination markets around the

nation, largely because the region still

could rely on motorists from northern

California even after the Sept. 11, 2001,

attacks scared away air travelers.

That was the story, too, around the

north edge of Lake Tahoe.

Paige Nebeker, director of marketing,

sales and tourism for the North

Lake Tahoe Resort Association, said

the number of visitors traveling by air

was down through the summer, but

number of visitors who drove appeared

to be up.

The result? A summer tourism season

that appears to have been about flat

or down slightly compared with 2001.

The region’s travel industry feels

good about the possibilities for the next

few months.

“People are feeling a lot more optimistic

for the fall and winter seasons,”

said Nebeker. “I haven’t heard anyone

predicting gloom and doom.”

Witsell said the national economic

recovery, the restoration of confidence

among airline travelers and the busy calendar

of special events in the Reno-Sparks

area this autumn all should bode well.

Bruce Bommarito, executive director

of the Nevada Commission on Tourism,

noted that the concerns of air travelers

have shifted since the first weeks after

the Sept. 11 tragedies.

“We’re dealing now with a fear of airports

rather than a fear of flying,” he said.

The addition of four National

Airlines flights a day to Reno-Tahoe

International Airport should provide

another boost, Witsell said. Those

flights from Las Vegas will provide better

connections for air travelers from

the East Coast.

“It means everything,” Witsell said

of the additional National flights.

“Because those folks are traveling farther,

they’re staying longer.”

The new flights begin in late

October.

Another measure of the state’s

tourism business, meanwhile, comes

from Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, whose

duties include oversight of the Nevada

RV Adventure Sweepstakes.

That sweepstakes, with entry forms

available at RV parks, state parks and

chambers of commerce, offers a

$95,000 RV as a prize.

From January through the end of

August, Hunt said the state has

received 13,297 entries compared with

8,267 in the same period a year earlier.