Statistics, winter snows point to a recovery in tourism

After 21 consecutive months of declining revenues from taxes on hotel occupancy, the Reno-Sparks market saw gains for six of 10 months at the start of this year, leading to optimism that the worst might be over.

The declines in hotel room tax began in March of 2008 and continued through November of 2009. But with many months in 2010 trending up from the same period a year earlier, hoteliers and tourism officials head into the new year with measured optimism.

"Hopefully we are past the worst of it and the bottom is behind us," says Ellen Oppenheimer, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. "It appears that we are seeing some ups and downs and a little more general positive findings as we look ahead in the economy."

Still, the RSCVA planned conservatively for the current fiscal year, Oppenheimer says. Two of the region's primary markets for tourism - Nevada and California - have the highest and third-highest unemployment rates in the nation.

"Those are key feeder markets for leisure travel to Reno-Tahoe," Oppenheimer says. "People still want to travel and take getaways, but they are staying fewer nights and trending down in spending. But the good news is that there are still people out there traveling. People feel they are entitled to a getaway or vacation, and when they can afford it and make the time, they are going."

In Carson City, revenues from room taxes have begun to trend up, says Candy Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Total room tax revenues for the first four months of fiscal year 2009 were $281,097, while in the same period of 2010, Carson City took in $283,625, an increase of about three percent.

"We are very cautiously optimistic that we are starting to see an uptick in room tax collections and occupancy," Duncan says. "The fly-in market is still recovering slowly, while the drive-in market is recovering much quicker - and that is great for Carson City; we really do get a lot of drive-in market, and that helps us."

Other factors that may help Carson City's tourism numbers rise in 2011 are a full season of running the historic V&T Railroad from Carson City to Virginia City, as well as increased publicity about the train that will draw more riders.

"We have a feeling that things are slowly starting to turn around," Duncan says. "If we truly have hit bottom, then maybe those people who still have jobs will feel more secure and take more vacations and trips." At Lake Tahoe, round after round of snowstorms has resorts fully open and enjoying their best conditions in a decade, which should help provide an early boost to tourism around the lake.

"We are set up very nicely for what looks to be an outstanding season," says Andy Chapman, director of tourism for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. "We have twice as much snow year to date as the prior year. We are going to be very well set up for the holiday period."

Chapman says the crystal ball is slightly cloudy for the summer season at Lake Tahoe, but revenues from the Transient Occupancy Tax were among the highest in history for the Placer County portion of North Lake Tahoe. Other areas around the lake, including Incline Village and South Lake Tahoe, are expected to enjoy healthy visitor counts.

"I think we will continue to see some further easing of the doom and gloom that was out there over the last 18 months or so," Chapman says.


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