Tough times help unify state’s tourism industry
RENO – Nevada’s tough economic times seem to have helped unify disparate interests in the state’s tourism industry as it tries to best position itself for the future, state and business leaders say.
This past week’s statewide tourism conference was not without contention, ranging from disagreement between big and small casinos over Internet poker to whether the Bush or Obama administration was more to blame for the extended recession.
But Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said the level of exchanges between experts and industry leaders at the gathering helped demonstrate a renewed commitment to put aside political differences and pull together to promote Nevada as a whole.
“This is a critical moment, a pivotal point in the history of our tourism industry,” Krolicki told The Associated Press. “Essentially the friends and family are gathering over the patient saying, ‘Where are we going? What tools do we have to move forward?'”
“Whether it’s conventions or casino properties, Northern or Southern Nevada, rural or urban, there’s this sense that it’s critical to Nevada that we all work together,” he said. “Bringing people to Nevada is not a partisan issue.”
Politics did bubble up a few times last week, especially in regard to congressional negotiations over taxes and federal monetary policy. A leading economist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said he believed that in terms of “fiscal policy and uncertainty … the George W. Bush and Obama administrations are about equal.”
“The Bush legacy was one of spending but no taxes. Everyone knows there is a bill coming due at some point,” said Stephen P.A. Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV.
“The Obama administration basically continued those policies, but threatened taxes,” he said.
Eric Bello, vice president of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a state tourism commissioner, said the uncertainty about the extension of tax cuts and continued deficit spending under the Obama administration was keeping many companies from making new investments needed to help spark the economy.
“You’ve got a lot of money sitting out there,” said Bello, whose company owns The Venetian and Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casinos, as well as the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.
“A lot of big companies, I think, are limiting their investments because they don’t have any incentives,” he said.
Brown said that was true, but “the decline we’ve seen started during the previous administration. We shouldn’t blame the current administration that has only been in the office for two years.”
Brown said that while budget tightening ultimately is unavoidable, “doing it when we are in a slow recovery is probably not the right thing to do.”
“So I think extending the Bush-era tax credits, providing an extension of unemployment benefits are things that help the short-term economic recovery,” he said. “Everybody knows that taxes are going to be coming at some point. We can’t run the kind of deficit and build up the kind of debts that we are doing as a country.”
Bello questioned whether the economic stimulus packages had a significant impact on the move toward recovery. Brown said yes, but not as much as it could have because it was not focussed on building infrastructure.
“It was too dispersed,” he said. “If you repair bridges and roads, those are repairs you don’t have to make five or 10 years down the road so you can actually balance the budget.”
Executives for Reno’s Peppermill and Atlantis hotel casinos said that with or without federal stimulus programs, the state’s industry needs to continue to reinvest privately in their properties to keep pace with competition.
“We can’t just stand still. You cannot succeed by trying to save your way to prosperity,” said Bill Hughes, the Peppermill’s marketing director.
The two Reno casinos that operate within about a mile from each other south of the downtown casino district have had heated competition over the years but recently became the poster children for cooperation within the industry.
“As much as we are in competition with each other,” Hughes said, “we all ultimately need to work together as best as we can to support the overall goal of tourism here in the state.”