Visitor centers highlight what visitors are looking for in their Tahoe vacation

Hannah Jones
North Lake Tahoe's reputation as a winter and summer destinantion has created an economy reliant on visitors who come to enjoy snow covered peaks and serene lake views.
Courtesy Diamond Peak

With a serene landscape and endless recreation opportunities North Lake Tahoe has long been a destination for tourists, which has largely resulted in an economy dependent on tourism.

A growing number of tourists in the past two decades has prompted the creation of resort associations to determine how to best cater to tourists and keep revenue flowing.

“Once they get into Tahoe and they’re walking through the doors of our visitors center we want to find out more about them,” said Liz Bowling, director of communications and membership for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “We want to know where they’re visiting from, if they’re spending the night, if they’re from our drive market, which would include Reno and the Bay Area, or if they’re flying in,” she said.

Currently 68 percent of visitors to North Lake Tahoe are from the Bay Area, Northern California and Nevada, with 21 percent arriving by air. Overall, North Lake Tahoe sees over 1,275,000 visitors each year, according to 2016 data from the resort association.

When guests come to the visitor center, Bowling said they are mainly tracking if visitors are traveling by air, as they tend to spend more time — and money — in the community.

“That’s what really supports our business community, people that are coming here and staying here mid week,” she said.

What visitors wish to do when they get here always depends on the season, according to Cindy Gustafson, the association’s chief executive officer.

“In the winter, it’s snowpack conditions. In the fall, they want to look at the brilliant colors. Some people want to know about family hikes or they just want to walk around and get a good view of the lake,” said Gustafson. “What we hear is people are up here to be outdoors and do recreational activities.”

In addition, the center directs visitors to restaurants and other activities.

During winter months, Bowling said the visitor center receives inquires about snow conditions as well as road conditions.

“They want to know what the weather is like, how they are going to get around. That’s a big one for us,” said Bowling.

This involves directing visitors to the Caltrans website to track road conditions as well as hotels if they are not able to leave due to road closures or unsafe conditions.

“As a region we’ve come together to say what the best way to direct travelers is,” she said.

In August, the Tahoe City visitor center had 6,420 visitors with 10,000 visits in total, counting the center in Kings Beach that is only open in summer months. This meant the centers averaged 297 referrals per day to guests for hotels, restaurants or other services.

“This data goes into how to best serve our guests,” said Bowling.

While it does not have the same proximity to the lake, Truckee’s visitor center continues to welcome increasing numbers of people, with 221,067 visitors in 2017. That’s up 12 percent from 196,886 visitors in 2016, despite receiving significantly less snowfall in the 2016-2017 season than the prior year.

Putting tourism to work

Using information from the visitor center as well as public outreach, the Resort Association has been able to advocate for local projects through Placer County, including new trail developments.

This year, the Capital Projects Advisory Committee, a 13-member group tasked with evaluating project proposals in the region, reviewed and evaluated 29 grant applications totaling over $36 million in Transient Occupancy Tax funding requests.

The committee ultimately presented 18 projects to the board that were all intended to promote tourism and align with the county’s Tourism Master Plan. These include the completion of the Resort Triangle bike trail that would connect Truckee, Tahoe City and Kings Beach; visitor facilities, including a visitor center at Donner Summit; a performing arts center at Northstar California and parking facilities and bike repair stations in Tahoe City.

“Ultimately it’s always Placer County who approves funding; we just make recommendations,” said Gustafson. “The county understood that and wanted those recommendations.”

In fiscal year 2016 to 2017 the total amount of TOT taxes collected in Placer County was $2 million for capital improvement projects, $1.8 million for transportation, $3.8 million for marketing and visitor services and $5.5 million for county services.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at or 530-550-2652.

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