The number of visitors to the Reno-Sparks and Washoe County regions over the past year has topped the 5 million mark for the first time since 2007.
What caused the increased visitation for fiscal year 2017? The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority and area policymakers have a few ideas. The U.S. economy is stronger than ever, and this has led to a renewed push to market the Reno-Tahoe Area, plus all of the buzz from the arrival of high-profile tech companies including Apple, Google and Tesla.
In 2002, this region was in the midst of an economic boom that tracked nearly 5.7 million tourists. The housing bubble popped five years later when the recession hit and tourism fell as expected. Visitor counts fell by nearly a quarter to as low as 4.3 million in 2011. Nevada’s economic recovery since then has been impressive to say the least. Governor Brian Sandoval is among those who say the numbers validate that.
“We’re in the midst of a renaissance right now, but what’s important is that it’s sustainable.” Sandoval said.
The visitors authority gained a new CEO in 2016, former Safari Club chief Phil DeLone, which led to added stability. They also decided to address concerns about venues that were underperforming and hired a third-party management firm SMG Worldwide Entertainment. They have been overseeing facilities such as the Reno-Sparks Convention Center and National Bowling Stadium. Besides the various convention centers, SMG oversees the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and NRG Stadium in Houston.
From these improvements, the visitors authority has gained the return of the Safaris Club International convention, the biggest trade show ever held in Reno, after it left for Las Vegas for a few years. They’ve also managed to bring the Interbike convention up from Vegas for the very first time. The bicycle trade show is projected to either rival or surpass Safari Club numbers for its upcoming show.
VP of Sales of the Visitors Authority, Mike Larragueta, says that interest in Reno was a lot stronger during the U.S. Travel Association’s annual convention last year in Denver. The event was attended by 1,000 travel organizations and about 1,300 domestic and international buyers.
“We struggled to get accounts to meet with us in the past, but we ended with 84 appointments over three days, which is unheard of for us,” Larragueta said. “It’s not us, it’s the destination. For the first time ever, we’ve become relevant.”
For a market Reno’s size, the visitors authority is making a big investment with its marketing budget. In 2012, the organization’s sales and marketing budget totaled $1,6million, which limited the number of markets where it could run marketing campaigns. For the upcoming fiscal year, the board has approved a sales and marketing budget of nearly $10.7 million. The funding boost allows them to expand their marketing in Seattle, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. They’ve also increased their regional representatives to nine and regional offices to eight, including Sacramento, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Chicago.
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