Lake Tahoe tourism officials strive to be relevant


By Kathryn Reed

OLYMPIC VILLAGE – Is Lake Tahoe relevant? Relevant to those planning a vacation, that is.

This is a question those in the tourism business must ask themselves – especially after attending the 37th annual Mountain Travel Symposium at the Resort at Squaw Creek.

“Now every community between here and the Bay Area has an event and a website. Back in the day Tahoe had minimal competition,” Carl Ribaudo said. The president of South Lake Tahoe-based Strategic Marketing Group spoke with Lake Tahoe News in between workshops April 18. “We have to change the look, not just for tourists, but for locals.”

Lake Tahoe wants to be relevant to people eager to travel. Photo/Kathryn Reed

He wants the South Shore to become more relevant for locals and tourists. Two ways to do that, he believes, are by improving the infrastructure and adding special events to the calendar.

It was reiterated at the various workshops that competition is getting greater among destinations. Nearly every town touts its attributes to would-be travelers.

Tahoe has a beautiful lake, but other locations have bigger ski mountains, more robust mountain biking, extravagant casinos, five-star lodging, shopping, reliable public transit and other amenities travelers are looking for.

The difference, though, is Tahoe – all shores combined – has the whole package. While marketing gurus work together on occasion, notably last year’s Tour de California bike race, usually it’s North v. South.

As Dan McHale, general manager of Inn by the Lake in South Lake Tahoe, said, he was glad to come to Squaw so he could drive around the lake, see what is going on, because it’s easy to feel isolated.

Those involved with Tahoe’s tourism have also become complacent in some ways. Some business owners believe Tahoe sells itself. Not so. Look at the vacancy signs — even on holiday weekends. People aren’t coming to Tahoe like they used to. Part of the reason is because they have other choices, part of the reason is because the area is stale.

Carol Chaplin, executive director of Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, believes those speaking at the multi-day conference reaffirmed her agency’s beliefs.

“Those who have the passion for recreational activities-sports are those who will continue to spend on those experiences,” Chaplin said.

She added that the conference, which is touted as the largest gathering of mountain travel professionals in North America, “Confirmed also that our products-services need to be relevant. That would mean a hard look at those – including infrastructure – to understand if we have what it takes.”

While the conference is about mountain destinations, with a focus on winter activities – skiing and snowboarding in particular, it didn’t stop Tony Lyle, marketing chief of Aramark on the South Shore, from attending. His company runs Zephyr Cove Resorts, which includes snowmobiling, the lodge, stables, and the paddle-wheelers that launch from there and Ski Run Marina.

“Tahoe is unique. It has all these different opportunities,” Lyle said. “You can get on the lake, that is my pitch.”

It’s a mantra other ski towns cannot boast about.

He has been successful in telling that story to visitors this season. The boats have been full when the lift lines were non-existent.

Tourism is Lake Tahoe’s economy. It’s also big business throughout the world. That is why this area of California and Nevada is striving to keep a hold of the market it has and then increase it.

The World Travel & Tourism Council says the global tourism industry is twice the size of the automotive manufacturing sector and about one-third larger than chemicals manufacturing.

The council says U.S. travelers contribute $2 trillion to the world economy.

Andy Chapman, marketing guru for North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, smiles when talking about having more than 1,000 tourism professionals in his back yard for nearly a week.

“The best way to sell it is for them to witness it,” Chapman said moments before he participated in a panel discussion on social media.

With Squaw Valley as a backdrop, snow glistening and finally covering all the runs, it is hard not to see Tahoe as an Olympic-caliber destination.

But driving the roads, looking at dilapidated infrastructure and knowing the Ritz-Carlton at Northstar is the only five-star lodging property in the area, proves Lake Tahoe doesn’t have it all.

As Chaplin said, the conference, “Confirmed also that our products-services need to be relevant. (It) confirmed that LTVA is getting there, but is not there.”



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Comments (13)
  1. TahoClimbr says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    I can’t agree more that “our products and services need to be relevant”. People like to go on vacation to destinations that are not only beautiful and have plenty of outdoor recreation, but they also like to go places which also have unique and/or familiar conveniences. I don’t think Kmart, TJ Maxx, Ross, or some measly outlet stores get it done. They don’t help local’s either. We need retail establishments with products that people want, are familiar with, and that are relevant to the AREA. I can’t say it enough, we need REAL CHANGE. I feel that anyone who is trying to understand what the community wants/needs should be finding common themes in these responses to articles.

  2. dryclean says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    Unfortunately, when tourists come to Tahoe and see the beautiful mountains, lake, green pine trees and blue sky the ugliness of our built enviornment and shoreline (South Shore) is accentuated. The contrast is terrible.

    Until we fix our runoff, streets, sidewalks, and business owners renovate their storefronts and interiors we can’t escape this reality.

    Tourists will not come back nor will they become promoters of our destination until these issues are addressed. I don’t care how much you market or brand because the effectiveness of any campaign is very short lived without fixing these things. Its like going to a shabby looking restuarant in the middle of the ghetto, great food but do you think I’m coming back.

  3. 30yrlocal says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    You can’t wait for all of the fixes to be put in place….we fix from the inside out, just like a human. You can’t be a beauty queen very long without being a good person inside. Our local businesses and residents being the catalyst to make our area a true destination resort will make us succeed. The rest will follow.

    I challenge every single person in our town to take off the “go home tourists” bumper stickers, get rid of the “I don’t work with tourists so I wish they’d leave” attitude. Tourism is the #1 thing we have going, no matter what you do for a living. Tourists go away, the jobs go away.

    As Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” You be the change you wish to see in Lake Tahoe. It will work, it will snowball, but it starts with YOU.

  4. jenny says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    I remember a time when weekend traffic on Hwy 50 in SLT was a reason to avoid the area. SLT has amazing potential to become the getaway destination with beautiful bike trails, easily accessible hiking trails, a ski mountain at your door, and boating. All come together, but without better traffic planning and a frequent shuttle to all of these points of recreation, the experience won’t be worth the effort (kind of like waiting an hour to go on a ride at Disneyland).

  5. Steve says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    A simple and relevant improvement for tourists and locals would be to synchronize Highway 50 traffic signals and adjust to eliminate totally unnecessary and unneeded stops late at night, early mornings, and when there is otherwise no cross traffic to justify having to needlessly stop for no reason.

    Amazing that TRPA, as usual asleep at the switch, hasn’t realized that unnecessarily stopping and idling for no reason simply adds to exhaust fumes and waste of fuel.

  6. Eric Taxer says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    But, the big elephant in the room hasn’t been addressed. At the end of the day, will the tourism entities from north and south areas of Lake Tahoe work cooperatively together to market all of Tahoe as an entire package? Or, will there continue to be the “us vs. them” divisive mentality that will hurt everyone in the end?

  7. Passion4Tahoe says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    I completely agree with Eric Taxer – we need to market this area as a region. There is enough of the fantastic pie to go around!

  8. tahoegal says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    does anyone else remember when CVS at the Y was Long’s, and they had a whole section of carvings, scenes of mountains on throws, pictures, etc.? I still have a few of those items I bought for our house at the time, and so many visitors have told me they miss that kind of thing.

  9. Hangs Ups From Way Back says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    You can put a gold chain on a hog and it’s still a hog!

    People from across the pond come here,their biggest disbelief is there’s no rapid transit to, from, the airports(if you do any across the pond travel you’ll find Sac airport has direct flights,not Reno,NO ONE LIKE WAITNG ON A CROP DUSTER TO SHUDDLE YOU TO ANOTHER AIRPORT)) or bus service on a regular basic around the lake,laugh about cafe having seating in the driveway parking lots, right next to the noisy trucks ,fumes.They can’t understand how any town could be so ignorant to build their city along a highway with no gardens,fountains,culture,one major mall with free parking.
    I do believe some the money bag business people need to take a trip to Europe see what a well designed town with culture looks like.Even their mountain towns have trains,planes,buses,groomed gardens,quite place to sun,tastes fine wine with cars not sharing your Fish,Lamb with a bunch rubberneckers looking for a address.
    Highway 50 one ugly sucker,it looks like one big over commercial racket of uncultured business that have been proven not to even brush the snow off the sidewalks,they CAN’T HAVE NICE DESGNED SIGNS,FLOWER POTS,LACK IN PARKING.
    This concept been going on for decades,but it’s light years away from having a real draw like 30 years ago,We got a lake got too old for most people who just as soon visit the ocean BE AWAY FROM ROAD WORKS,be able to sit in a normal earth atmosphere other than dying pine trees,rental boats,parasailing distraction,over flowing garabage cans with no lids,shorter drive home.
    Normal towns have normal feeling this town feeling are all based on what event going on,it’s too commerical,underdone with lack of space,stress on the streets.

  10. 30yrlocal says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    Tahoegal…there are still items like that for sale (and yes, remember the store well as I was a fan of Longs). Raleys, KMart, CVS all carry souvenirs. Also, fun shops at Heavenly Village with Tahoe stuff as well as Cecil’s next to Embassy.

  11. Garry Bowen says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    First, how or when did Tahoe become irrelevant?

    When it was finally noticed that the numbers didn’t add up for our accountant (?), or when suppliers haven’t heard from us for awhile, lacking reorders on a timely basis (?)

    Relevance is defined as (1): having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand, or (2): affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion, implying that even the beauty of having our own lake is no longer even the attraction – and to whom do we attribute that decreasing lack of appropriate interest ?

    To a regulatory environment that had to be dragged ‘kicking & streaming to the table’ to understand the economic impact of their being in a leadership position ?

    Or to a business culture that truly doesn’t understand what drove individuals like Harvey (Gross) or (Bill) Harrah’s success in a place like Tahoe – but were all too willing to share in the success these two brought to the South Shore (?), absent any curiosity or understanding of what it might take to sustain it (?)

    The common person still needs a “getaway”, and in earlier days that was the predominant driver – it was obvious that there was plenty to do when coming here, that something interesting to do awaited everyone in the family, more or less around the clock. . .

    Emphasis or de-emphasis on what sovereign nations were doing to our market, or too much attention to those who spend a lot (versus what to spend to enjoy “our” getaway) as ‘high-rollers’ or ‘whales’ became the focus in a declining market, instead of realizing the impending need to upgrade the product, caused additional time to lapse without any answer. Now here we are.

    Now, we don’t even know what question to ask – is Tahoe ‘relevant'(?) is a GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) question, as we will not get any better out of Tahoe than what we’ve put in – not too much…

    As the CA ‘mini-vacation'(or, weekend getaway) developed for more & more locations in CA, Tahoe relied on the momentum of its’ “beauty”, essentially resting on laurels built before. . . now does not how to compete in a visiting world built all around us – one of the first rules of marketing is to differentiate yourself from others. . .
    which we assumed was already our fate…

    Why are we surprised to find out otherwise (?). . . Tahoe’s simply lost its’ mojo – where’s the relevance in that (?)

  12. Careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    South Lake Tahoe & Heavenly can learn from others advertising. Create a magical emotional feeling that pulls the whole family in, with promises of memories.

    Makes me want to go :)

  13. Parker says - Posted: April 19, 2012

    Yes Steve, better synchronization of the lights would go a long way to improving the tourist experience in our town! And it’s a simple matter to address.

    Amazing the TRPA gave so much attention to the disaster that was BlueGo, and hasn’t focused on this!