Special events critical piece of Fallon’s tourism strategy
Nowhere are festivals, concerts and fairs more important than in rural communities. And few rural communities succeed as well at hosting them than Fallon.
“Special events are a major component to our tourism strategy,” said Rick Gray, executive director, Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority. “We market to nearby urban areas like Reno and Carson City and rural neighbors as well, like Lovelock, Hawthorne.”
The goal is to attract as many visitors to the small northern Nevada town and to keep them coming back. Everyone is welcome, from the overnight hotel guests who pay a room tax that helps fund the special events to day travelers who spend money before turning around to drive home.
“Fallon has so much going for it. It’s large enough that it has places to eat and shop. People can explore the community, go the museum, make a little day trip out of it,” said Gray. “Day visitors are as important as overnight visitors.”
So, how does Fallon do it?
The city has over the years developed a year-round calendar of eclectic events that appeal to a broad range of attendees while reflecting the interests of the small town.
An event, “has to fit into community culture because that generates community support and drives locals to it,” Gray said. “That’s important financially and helps to create excitement.”
Take Octane Fest, for example, a three-day summer motorsports event held at the Churchill County Fairgrounds. The event, which features, dirt track racing, monster trucks, music and more, is an offshoot of sorts of the Top Gun Raceway, a popular drag racing track south of Fallon that was scheduled to open last weekend and offers about two dozen days of races through October. Another dirt track racing venue, Fallon’s Rattlesnake Raceway, dovetails with its own seven-month schedule of races.
Or any of the farm-related events, including the Hearts O’ Gold Cantaloupe Festival, the state’s longest-run food event, or the much newer Tractors & Truffles, a farm-to-table feast that features local celebrity chefs from Reno and elsewhere.
“A lot of small farms provide food to a lot of Reno restaurants so we try to play that up,” Gray said. “The event concludes with a concert at Barkley Theatre in Oats Park. It’s a great blend of ag and arts that Fallon is really known for.”
The Churchill Arts Council, the 29-year-old arts organization that owns and operates the 350-seat theater, works hand-on-hand with the city on Tractors & Truffles and other events.
“Performance is part of that package. We book it and make sure the artist is willing to do a talk,” said Valerie Serpa, CAC’s executive director.
CAC also worked with Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. to host two free summer concerts and other projects around town, such as the painting of the city’s electric utility boxes by Annie Hooker, a Truckee photo realism painter.
The CAC also offers a schedule of concerts, film series and art exhibits and readings in it two galleries.
“When Rick brings tours by the arts center, the comment we always get is they’re very surprised by quality of presentation of art we offer,” Serpa said. “There is some impression that rural communities are somehow compromised.”
The city also invests in infrastructure to help ensure that visitors want to return. Its built overlooks and walking trails to entice birdwatchers attending its Spring Wings Bird Festival, held in April at the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere, come back on their own.
The tourism authority helps support events through a grant program funded by the room tax. The $110,000 annual fund, which gives an average grant up to $10,000, helps event organizers defray the costs of marketing.
Gray often cuts the fee for participating in an event in half, but asks the vendor to spend the savings on promoting it, buying an award giveaway or outfitting employees with event-oriented T-shirts.
Fallon’s special events calendar runs year-round and Gray says he doesn’t try to manage whether events overlap or conflict.
“I’m a big believer in not worrying what else is scheduled in town,” Gray said.