RENO -- Northern Nevada's dependence on cars and Californians for its tourism trade continues to help the region weather the sharp national downturn following the Sept. 11 attacks, officials say.
"One of our concerns over the last seven or eight years has been our dependence on what we call the drive-in part of our tourism economy, the people from the Pacific Northwest and Northern California," Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin said.
"Quite frankly, it's really saved us because people are reluctant to fly and they still want to recreate so we have found that our business, while taking an initial dip, has really come back fairly strong."
Tom Cargill, a University of Nevada, Reno economics professor and editor of the Nevada Review of Business & Economics, agreed that southern Nevada was harder hit initially by the fallout from Sept. 11 because of the numbers of people who fly there.
"Things are slowing down. The bottom isn't falling out. The state was already feeling the effect of the national recession that began in March 2001 and the events of 9-11 just intensified that, particularly in the south," he said on Friday.
Statistics bear that out. October unemployment reached 6.7 percent in the Las Vegas area, where thousands of layoffs have occurred since the attacks, while Washoe County was lowest in the state at 3.7 percent.
October sales rose 2.3 percent in Clark County while the Reno area was up 6.2 percent. October's gambling win was down 10.6 percent on the Strip, 4.4 percent in Reno and 2 percent in Sparks.
"We did take a hit with our sales tax and gaming tax. That's a big chunk of the state's budget," Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt said.
Hunt, who chairs the Nevada Commission on Tourism, said the state was trying to be more creative in attracting tourists by promoting rural Nevada to Nevadans, by targeting the state's Hispanics with Spanish ads and by promoting Nevada with a booth at the Winter Olympics, "right near the Budweiser beer booth."
She added that after Sept. 11, it was obvious that Nevada was in for some rocky times and she formed the 8-member Tourism Stability Task Force to aggressively market the state.
"People need to recreate," she said. "Each weekend we see the occupancy rates climbing back up again. Nationally, I think the tourism industry is hurting much more than in Nevada."
Deanna Ashby, marketing director for the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Bureau, said her organization was taking a different approach to capitalize on the Salt Lake City Olympics.
"We are currently dealing with Ski Lake Tahoe to try to launch an effort in Northern California and the LA area to take advantage of the Olympics-displaced skier -- the people that usually go to Utah," she said.
"We want to make sure that we're in their face in the Mid-January time frame to say, 'Reno-Tahoe's your alternative. We have some of the best snow in the nation.'
"RSCVA's marketing vision in the past was always very long-term. Since Sept. 11 we've re-evaluated, taken advantage of the short term strategy which meant going into our own back yard and trying to grow the visitor base."
In the state's appeal to Hispanics, who represents 20 percent of the population, the lieutenant governor studied with a language coach before recording two public service announcements, one promoting northern attractions and the other, the south.
"We are focusing on the future and we feel very optimistic. We're just trying to be a lot more creative."