Truckee-Tahoe chasing tourism rainbows | SierraSun.com

Truckee-Tahoe chasing tourism rainbows

Myron Hawkins

I vaguely remember an old song “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.” Although I cannot recall all of the lyrics, I can still hum a few bars. Nevertheless, even the title seems appropriate to the marketing plans for the Truckee-Tahoe area.

For years “we” have spent millions of dollars attempting to lure tourists to this area, and even though this effort may have had some success, the same old socio-economic problems are still with us. Local businesses still suffer from both the seasonal and mid-week absences of tourists. This was recognized as a major economic problem in the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association (NLTRA) Master Plan of 1995, and its solution was targeted as an objective of NLTRA’s marketing effort.

This objective was so unsuccessful that it was not even mentioned (as near as I can determine) in the NLTRA Marketing Plan of July 2004. The only solution to the area’s economic problems that organizations in the region can dream up is “more tourists.”

If the current approach should happen to work (and I have my doubts), what are the benefits that will accrue to the local communities and residents?

First of all, we get more buses and automobiles loaded with one-day tourists who bring their own box lunches; and, except for a few junky souvenirs, they spend only a little money. On the flip side, they crowd the roads, parking lots, vista points and museums.

Big deal. During the peak winter and summer days we get the skiers, snowboarders, hikers, bicyclers, water sport enthusiasts, and relaxers. Some of these are big spenders and who help the economy. However, even during the peak seasons there are business slumps at mid-week.

So what do we get with more tourism? The same old, but now amplified, problems of crowds, traffic and parking congestion, periods of slow business and increased numbers of poorly paid, part-time workers.

It appears to me that any benefits of increased tourism are going to be reaped only by a few (many of them outside of the area) and the “costs” are going to be borne by the general public of the region. Of course, taxes can be levied, either directly or indirectly, on the tourists, but I doubt if they adequately cover the costs to the governments and therefore the resident taxpayers.

A major problem of tourism in my opinion is the cyclic nature of the demands that it places on goods, services and employment. Small local businesses are particularly vulnerable to such variable demands, and they, their employees and the community suffer.

In my opinion, the solution to this problem is simple in concept, although it may be somewhat difficult to implement, particularly with the “mind sets” of the local tourist industry.

The solution is this: We need to rebuild our economy so that it is based to a significant extent on full-time, year-around residents, rather than on tourists, vacationers and second-home owners.

Although, promoting the community as a desirable retirement area would have some impact, most of the benefits could come from the promotion of the Truckee-Tahoe area as an ideal site for light, clean industry and businesses that serve national and international clients.

The resulting influx of additional full-time work forces would go a long way in solving the area’s, particularly the Tahoe Basin’s, economic woes.

The basic question is, “would it be possible to lure such businesses to Tahoe?” A clue to this appeared in an article by Joel Kotkin in the San Francisco Chronicle of March 6. Kotkin describes the exodus of business and high-tech industry from the San Francisco Bay Area and other metropolitan areas to such “garden spots” as Boise, Idaho and Reno. Kotkin explains such relocations have been made possible by the Internet and other means of modern communication.

Surely the Tahoe area can compete successfully if it really wishes to do so. Admittedly, there are some problems to be faced and solved, but the area has a quality-of-life environment, ideal climate and recreational attractions that are seldom found elsewhere.

In my opinion, the pursuit of tourism is “chasing a rainbow.” Even if the wishful dreaming of the local tourist industry were to be successful, I question whether it would solve our economic problems, except for those few large owners who are headquartered outside of the Sierra and the emigrant workforce that considers a minimum wage to be better than they can obtain at home.

More tourism will not solve the economic problems for the average resident who works for the tourist industry as a seasonal, part-time employee or the business owner who depends to a large extent on the tourist’s spending.

In any case, we should give serious thought and study to the concept of basing our economy on an increase of full-time residents, rather than solely on tourism. We are now putting “all of our eggs in one basket.”

Myron Hawkins is a retired environmental engineer and consultant living full-time in Tahoe City.