Tahoe tourism facing new challenges | SierraSun.com

Tahoe tourism facing new challenges

Susan Wood, Sierra Sun News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Tourism officials expect vacation travel to Lake Tahoe to remain in a holding pattern as the nation braces for the prospect of war, recession and struggling airlines.

South Shore travel agencies and the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority are reporting cancellations, with the LTVA’s central reservations line “extremely quiet” Friday, Executive Director Terry LeBan said Monday.

“The reality is, life isn’t going to be fat city. We’re going to face real challenges this year,” she said.

In comparison to last year’s banner tourism season, the region already was reporting a slump, with some South Lake Tahoe hotels reporting 50 percent occupancy this summer.

As winter approaches, the LTVA, Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Authority and Ski Lake Tahoe – a consortium of six major ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe Basin – stand ready to pump promotional dollars into campaigns aimed at boosting ski-season tourism.

Climatologists predict the chance of an El Nino heading toward the region this winter. The tropical weather phenomenon has traditionally brought more precipitation to the Sierra Nevada.

“Are they going to come up for a ski vacation come hell or high water, or hole up?” LeBan asked.

Like TDVA Executive Director Steve Teshara, LeBan said it’s difficult to gauge.

Much of Lake Tahoe’s tourism runs on the drive-up market, in contrast to the $455 billion global tourism market that faces a serious downturn in air travel after last week’s terrorist attack.

“People need a break from this. Maybe by the ski season, that will be the time,” LeBan said.

Carl Ribaudo of Ski Lake Tahoe believes South Shore tourism will remain soft in the short term. In the long term, the market could hold up with drive-up tourism and the city’s redevelopment plans coming online.

Tom Cargill, an economics professor with the University of Nevada, Reno, agrees, predicting Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., will get hit harder than Lake Tahoe.

“The Tahoe area, on the balance, will be adversely affected but I don’t think everything is negative,” Cargill said.

Predictions aside, the California Tourism and Travel Commission reports the state has already lost a week of business. Overseas tour packages took a dive, with cancellations and stranded tourists capping off a week of tragedy and uncertainty.

“Right now, we’re going to wait and see our next move,” commission spokesman Fred Sater said.

Meanwhile, South Lake Tahoe travel agents are scrambling to take cancellations and changes for tourists.

Emerald Travel Manager Jane Starkey has pushed forward many travelers’ plans to the end of the month. Some may need to completely repack their bags. One of Starkey’s clients decided to forgo a Cancun beach trip to work a dude ranch in Wyoming.

Airlines serving Reno/Tahoe International Airport are moving toward full schedules, with Frontier Airlines starting service Oct. 1 as planned, the Washoe County Airport Authority reported.