Reno-Tahoe tourism white paper highlights future economic potential | SierraSun.com

Reno-Tahoe tourism white paper highlights future economic potential

David Bunker
Special to the Sun
Shredding the slopes at Sugar Bowl Resort at California's Donner Summit.
Courtesy Grant Barta |

RENO-TAHOE — There are equal parts hope and warning written into SMG Consulting’s white paper “Reno-Lake Tahoe Tourism Industry: Navigating Change,” which was recently released as a forward-looking assessment of the regional travel and tourism industry.

Based largely on SMG President Carl Ribaudo’s 20 years working in the tourism industry, and leaning on both proprietary and industry data, the report illuminates the challenges and opportunities that the Northern Nevada and Lake Tahoe tourism industry faces now and in the future.

The main message in the 23-page white paper is that change is here to stay and the region must adapt and capitalize on the widespread cultural, technological and generational shifts in travel, tourism and outdoor recreation.

“I think we have to look at change as opportunistic not as threatening. I think we need to do a 180,” said Ribaudo, a South Lake Tahoe resident who has advised tourism organizations across the nation.

The change that Ribaudo dissects in the guide is diverse. Examples range from rapidly growing new technology-driven companies like Uber and Airbnb to popular cultural and outdoor events like Wanderlust and Burning Man.

In detail, the white paper outlines five tactics to capitalize on this change:

1. Redefine the region and its experiences

As gaming continues to decline in the region, the entertainment and outdoor recreation events are stepping up to fill that gap. But each micro-region — North Tahoe, South Tahoe, Reno, Carson City — must further define itself, giving a rich tapestry of different experiences for travelers and creating reasons for visitors to return and explore the region on a deeper level, the SMG white paper says.

2. Harness creativity/passion-based marketing

The creativity within the local community is one of the things that can attract and impress visitors, writes Ribaudo. This authentic form of marketing reduces the friction between locals and visitors and creates new ideas and attractions.

“The constant creative renewal will ensure the destination is relevant well into the future,” wrote Ribaudo.

3. Continue regional cooperation

Regional cooperation is critical for air service and destination skier marketing, but these regional efforts should also include governmental entities and work to solve regional issues like public transportation.

4. Take the long view

Here, Ribaudo cites some very powerful examples, such as the rise of tribal gaming, the loss of the Outdoor Retailer trade show and the growth of Burning Man. The message is clear: Recognize these trends, opportunities or threats without getting derailed by short-sightedness.

5. Embrace a mindset of change

New ideas and opportunities constantly arise, and the tourism industry must embrace this new energy. Welcome new ideas instead of fearing change. “At a minimum we need to be open to new ideas, and not so quick to discount them,” wrote Ribaudo in the report. “Too often, industry segments have moved to protect their interests, instead of seeing the broader possibilities that might exist.”

Ribaudo is not urging reaction to change. He is pointing out the need to get in front of change to be at the leading edge of a new era of lodging, travel and outdoor recreation pushed by a generation of technology-savvy Millennials and Gen Z travelers.

TEN TRENDS FOR THE FUTURE

The white paper also details 10 trends influencing the Northern Nevada/Tahoe tourism industry, including climate change, the shared economy, non-stop air service, special events and outdoor recreation.

Within these 10 trends, Ribaudo sees huge opportunity as northern Nevada and Tahoe matures culturally and economically while maintaining its strong connection to the natural environment.

“The core essence driving these agents of change in our region is the human connection to the natural environment that inspires innovation. Here, our engagement with nature is the catalyst for invention,” wrote Ribaudo.

In the long-term, this welcoming of new ideas and change can create a truly unique tourism destination, one that is original and authentic to travelers from around the globe.

“This is a compelling region to come and visit,” said Ribaudo. “We have an urban center, a growing technology sector, outdoor recreation, an unmatched environment and diverse entertainment. It is a soup we are making. It is a mix of it all,” said Ribaudo. “And it is infinitely more interesting than it was 10 years ago, and it will be more interesting in the future than it is today.”

In short, if we navigate change effectively, the future is very bright for the region.

“When you are interesting and authentic, you become very competitive in the tourism world,” said Ribaudo.

David Bunker is the director of content for The Abbi Agency, a Reno-based PR & Marketing firm. Email him at david@theabbiagency.com.