Economist: Slow recovery begins for tourism
RENO – Battered as badly as any economic sector in the country, Nevada’s tourism industry has started a slow recovery from the nation’s longest and deepest recession since World War II, a leading university economist said Tuesday.
“Nevada tourism is making a comeback already from a really big blow,” said Stephen P.A. Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“It’s been a very deep recession and the recovery has been so weak that most people don’t think it actually is recovery,” he said in a speech to the Nevada Gover-nor’s Conference on Tourism.
Brown said visitation numbers and casino revenues both have been up slightly in each of the last three monthly reports, the latter lagging a bit behind because “bargain hunters” are finding cheaper than usual hotel rooms.
Corporations have seen their profits return to levels they enjoyed before the recession began in 2007, but most are banking that money rather than investing it, which will mean slow job growth with high unemployment rates likely for another two years, he said.
“The economy is going to add jobs more slowly than it grows,” said Brown, who also serves as executive director of Nevada Kids Count – a program that gathers and distributes data aimed at improving the well-being of children.
It’s the first time the conference has been held since the previously annual event was scrubbed in December 2008 due to state budget problems.
“You’ve all gone through so much,” Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki told the group Tuesday afternoon. “Two years was too long to not get together.”
Krolicki defended the decision to cancel what was to be the 25th annual conference in 2008, saying that “the context of a ‘tourism festival’ was not appropriate at the time.”
But he said he was delighted private contributions made it possible to resume this year so business leaders can help learn from each other about how to survive the economic storm.
“We’re not back yet, make no mistake about it. But I think the trends are very good,” Krolicki said. “I’m proud of the durability of our tourism family. … I think this is a happy time.”
Reno Mayor Bob Cashell urged participants from different regions of the state to put any parochial interests aside as the convention continues today at the Peppermill Spa Resort Casino.
“We’ve got to all work together,” he said. “It’s our state and our region.”
And while Northern Nevada long has depended on Californians for the significant majority of its tourism dollars, about 40 percent of all visitors to the Las Vegas Strip also hail from California, Brown said.
On the bright side, Brown said corporations are sitting on “sizable profits,” and many have considerable room for growth as uncertainty over the economic future begins to lift.
“Once the light bulb turns on, they’ve got people to put people back to work,” he said. “If the cloud of uncertainty lifts, things could look very good very fast.”