Tourism director explores more online outreach

Dann Lewis admits he picked an interesting time to become Nevada's tourism director.

The state is deep in a recession with gaming revenue weak and vacation travel down sharply. As a result, the tourism commission, funded by a share of room tax collections, has seen its budget drop nearly 50 percent from its peak several years ago.

"It's a good challenge," he said.

Lewis said things were different two or three years ago.

"Today, it's a little frightening."

He said this is the first recession that has really affected leisure travel.

With revenues falling, tourism was hit hard by budget cuts that Lewis said forced layoffs of nearly a quarter of the tourism office staff before he arrived here in May.

"There's no question there are going to be some more rough years before things can be expected to be on a firm upward path," he said.

Lewis says he hopes to take tourism in new directions. And he has the credentials and experience to do just that. He was director of the successful "I love New York" campaign after running tourism programs for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Before that, he was deputy director of tourism in the Bahamas.

"It definitely can benefit from, let's say, a fresh approach - not taking things for granted," he said of Nevada's tourism program. "People are more comfortable doing what they've always done."

Lewis said he is looking to new ways of reaching potential visitors.

"Given the budget reduction, we're doing a lot more electronically," he said. "We're able to target those messages."

An example is skiers. Tourism is running last year's TV ski advertisement on Google.

"The response has been tremendous; 1.4 million people have looked at that TV ad," he said.

They also plan to start providing information such as weather and ski conditions on mobile devices such as iPhones and Blackberries.

"We've not abandoned print or television ads but have reduced them," he said.

He is also looking at markets he says haven't been exploited yet.

"We're doing more outreach to some major population centers with direct flights to Las Vegas and Reno," he said. "We want to get some new blood coming in. We're getting more business out of Chicago, Boston and New York than some of the Western states."

So he and his staff are hitting consumer and trade shows in those areas.

But they're also looking closer to home for more business, planning to run a ski TV ad in Las Vegas this winter "to steer some folks away from Boise and Mammoth and get them up here."

Nevada, Lewis said, "has a great deal more to offer than I think the general public realizes."

He said some things such as Great Basin National Park along the Utah border haven't been well promoted.

Overall, he said the state has a very high approval rating from its visitors, which means a lot of repeat business.

He also has high hopes for the V&T Railroad.

"I'd love to see that finished," he said. "It's going to be one of the longer excursion railroads and it goes through some spectacular scenery."


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