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Snow, lower gas prices luring visitors to Tahoe resorts, casinos

Sara Thompson
And Nick Cruit
Nevada Appeal News Service

Holiday travel is expected to be down 2 percent in California this season, but enough people will be traveling to result in clogged roads and packed airports, a travel organization said.

More than 8.6 million Californians will travel 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate the end-of-year holidays, according to a forecast by AAA Northern California.

“The significant reduction in the cost of gasoline has been insufficient to offset concerns over unemployment, job security and loss of disposable income,” said AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris. “But despite these fears, many will still be venturing out of town, and we can expect packed airplanes and congested highways.”

The average price for regular-grade gasoline in California is $1.80 per gallon ” down $1.46 from a year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Lower prices appear to be attracting hesitant travelers who recently saw a decrease in travel-related costs, according to the Mountain Travel Monitor Report recently released by the Mountain Travel Research Program.

The drop in gas prices has been good news for skiers and riders driving from the Bay Area and Sacramento this holiday season.

Despite a 10.5 percent decrease in the total number of passengers flying in and out of Reno, the South Tahoe Express airport shuttle’s numbers are the same as last year, said Mike Abercrombie, general manager with operator Amador Stage Lines.

Reservations for the shuttle started to increase with the snowfall, Abercrombie said, and buses have been added to accommodate the skiers.

“It’s good news for the casinos, resorts and business,” Abercrombie said.

Lodging businesses are seeing an increase in bookings.

Most of the reservations for the South Shore came shortly after the snow, said Tom Davis, Horizon Resort Casino marketing director. The destination market is looking strong for both fly-in and drive-in visitors, he added.

Horizon Casino Resort and MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa are almost 100 percent booked, Davis said.

Harrah’s and Harveys Lake Tahoe are almost filled, too, said John Packer, director of entertainment and public relations for Harrah’s and Harveys at Lake Tahoe.

So far the holiday and winter season looks good because lower gas prices allow skiers to drive up from the Bay Area, Packer said.

“The word is out about the snow,” Packer said.

Part of the influx of reservations could be attributed to the good deals travelers receive on last-minute airline bookings, Davis said.

The ski resorts have seen an increase in sales and reservations. However, ski resorts are not out of the woods yet.

“At this point, this season is unlike any other in memory,” said Ralf Garrison, Mountain Travel Symposium founder and author of the report. “The final results for this season will depend on several key factors including the economy, amount of snowfall, and the aggressiveness of promotional efforts and programs,” he added.

Only time will tell what the economic downturn has in store for the industry.

“Resorts and lodging properties need to remember that it ain’t over till it’s over,” cautioned Garrison. “Businesses that want to weather these turbulent times need to remain up-to-date on changing economic variables and then be flexible in finding ways to take care of their loyal guests,” he added.