Lake Tahoe setting example for summer tourism around the West
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — For years, mountain towns in places like Colorado and Utah essentially closed down when the chairlifts stopped spinning in the springtime.
Locals might have embraced summer opportunities, but ski area marketing departments were less apt to aggressively pursue summer traffic.
That’s all changed, said Tom Foley, director of operations for DestiMetrics — a Denver, Colo., based organization that tracks mountain lodging bookings at 19 western mountain destinations in California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Wyoming.
“All mountain destinations are learning that a single winter season does not a business make,” Foley said in an interview with the Tahoe Daily Tribune. “Summer is a season of opportunity,” especially with increasingly unreliable winters.
DestiMetrics recently reported record summer lodging occupancy and revenue numbers for the third consecutive summer across the West, with individual markets up anywhere from 2 to 14 percent.
“It’s not a fluke. It’s the result of good marketing,” Foley said.
But for Lake Tahoe it’s nothing new, and in some respects, the region is leading by example.
“There are destinations that look to Tahoe,” Foley said. “It (summer tourism) is established in the West and Tahoe leads the way. Tahoe has the resources and the lake, and for a long time they’ve had an established clientele.”
Still, Tahoe could learn a thing or two from some of its Colorado counterparts, Henry Parry-Okeden said.
Parry-Okeden is one of the founders of InvitedHome, a vacation home rental agency that oversees 41 properties in South Lake Tahoe and one newly acquired property in North Lake Tahoe.
The company also manages vacation property operations for rentals in Steamboat, Breckenridge, Telluride and Vail, Colo.
He said that Telluride is a shining example of a mountain town that has brought more summer visitors through a host of music and arts festivals.
“That’s something Tahoe could learn from,” Parry-Okeden said, also recognizing Tahoe’s longer-standing summer market. “They (Tahoe) haven’t needed to create this demand as much as the Colorado ski resorts. Tahoe has just relied on the lake.”
Both Foley and Parry-Okeden described Tahoe as a more traditional summer destination.
“The ski resorts in Colorado are catching up,” Parry-Okeden said.
While more diverse summer offerings may be worth considering, it is also something that the Lake Tahoe Visiting Authority and the City of South Lake Tahoe have been working on.
“It’s something we promote — America’s all-year playground,” South Lake Tahoe city manager Nancy Kerry said of increased marketing efforts.
The city’s summer music series is one example of the expanded effort. LTVA is also increasing promotional efforts toward summer visitation with greater emphasis on activities like mountain biking.
While specific lodging data for Lake Tahoe Basin was not immediately available, LTVA executive director Carol Chaplin said that, anecdotally, lodging partners had described summer occupancy as up.
“Some (are) quoting the best season ever and some are saying as much as a 20 percent increase year-over-year during peak weeks,” Chaplin said in an email.
She also described a number of properties experiencing 90 percent occupancy going into summer weekends, which she explained meant close to 100 percent by Friday nights.
Kerry reinforced LTVA’s summer numbers, estimating city collections for hotel taxes were up roughly 20 percent over last year. But she cautioned that substantial annual growth was likely not sustainable.
“It’s one-time money,” she said, advocating for strategic investments for funds raised.
DestiMetric, InvitedHome, LTVA and Kerry all cited a strengthening economy as a substantial credit for the increased growth.
“Three years ago the numbers dropped dramatically,” Kerry said, describing a recovery from that drop.
As for future expansion, Foley said, “there’s a lot of good ideas out there that everybody can learn from.”
He and others credited the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act — passed in 2011 — as another contributing factor in resort market success in summer offerings in recent years.
The congressional act expanded what resorts can offer as far as summer recreation under their U.S. Forest Service special use permits.
Proponents of the act say it makes expansion of activities like bike parks, disc golf courses, ziplines and ropes courses more feasible.
While the bill excludes amusement park-type features like waterslides, golf courses and roller coasters, it is a source of contention with activities that fall in more of a gray area, like alpine slides.
“I think the trends are great,” Parry-Okeden said of the potential for continued success.
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After more than a year since the outbreak of COVID-19, the economy in the Truckee-Tahoe area is now being allowed to fully reopen.