New tourism model looks at visitor experiences, passions

Sara Thompson
Sun News Service
Jim Grant / Sun News ServiceA mountain biker rides a trail near Fallen Leaf Lake on Tuesday. Experts say the more a visitor is passionate the more they will return.

LAKE TAHOE and#8212; With almost everyone resetting their spending levels, businesses have to adapt to the new realties the economy has created, experts are saying.

Visitors are looking for experiences, and they’re not spending the same amount they used to when they came to the South Shore. Businesses need to cater to the consumer’s new needs.

and#8220;They’ll ask: Do we need this, or do we want this?and#8221; SMG President Carl Ribaudo said. and#8220;What’s real are the experiences and the connections destinations allow visitors to make.and#8221;

Ribaudo spoke last week at SMG’s tourism conference, and#8220;Why Travel Matters.and#8221;

Ralf Garrison presented data from the ski season to show how visitor behavior changed because of the recession.

and#8220;This winter has more stories to tell than any other,and#8221; Garrison said.

Garrison works for Mountain Travel Research Program, which collects visitor data from ski resort destinations around the country from November to April every year.

Instead of spending money on things they want, they’ll spend money on things they need, Garrison said.

Part of the reason the skiing industry fared better than other industries during the recession is because skiers and snowboarders view the sport as a definition of themselves, Garrison said.

and#8220;It’s who they are, not just what they do,and#8221; he added.

Overall occupancy was down 15 percent for destinations, Garrison said. The average room rate was down 9 percent.

In the past, most lodging properties lowered prices to increase bookings, Garrison said.

and#8220;When we dropped the rate, it did not significantly change the occupancy,and#8221; Garrison said. and#8220;We didn’t get that bump.and#8221;

The same marketing tools used before the recessions aren’t going to be as effective, Garrison said. Because of the economy, consumers have shifted their behaviors and reevaluated their spending, he added.

Recreation is something people identify with because it defines them, Ribaudo said.

and#8220;Understand that passion because that’s what is recession-proof,and#8221; Ribaudo said.

During America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, cyclists were out in droves even though the rain kept pouring, Ribaudo said.

and#8220;It’s a perfect example of a passion we have to take advantage of,and#8221; Ribaudo said.

Geotourism is one way to engage the visitor and create that experience Ribaudo referred to, said Betty and#8220;Band#8221; Gorman, Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce president.

The concept involves visitors protecting an area through best practices and sustainable methods, Gorman said. For example, visitors could help take measurements for stream and water-quality monitoring, which in turn helps the lake.

and#8220;It’s a whole new premise: How do we engage the visitor in a more meaningful way?and#8221; Gorman said.

Some said improving recreation is essential to Lake Tahoe’s economy. In the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s compact, recreation is one of the nine thresholds used to measure the overall environmental health of Lake Tahoe, TRPA spokesman Dennis Oliver said.

The TRPA Governing Board will consider an updated Environment Improvement Plan in July. The update includes $28 million for multi-use trail improvements, $54 million for better lake access and $107 million for recreation facilities, such as campgrounds.

One improvement project already in the works is a new 13-mile segment of the Tahoe Rim Trail on Daggett Summit, Oliver said.

and#8220;By working collaboratively with our agency partners and the private sector, we will assist their efforts to deliver high-quality, environmentally sustainable recreation choices,and#8221; TRPA Recreation Program Manager Melissa Shaw said in a statement. and#8220;With the outdoors more accessible and user friendly, the public will value Tahoe as a national treasure worthy of protection, restoration and continued investment.and#8221;

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