“Strong” and “evolving”— that’s how Lt. Governor Kate Marshall, chair of TravelNevada described the Silver State’s tourism industry today.
Its robustness is evidenced by visitor spending, which has increased year-over-year since 2009. In calendar year 2018, the 56 million people who visited Nevada collectively spent $65.5 billion here, up from $63.7 billion the year before, according to the Nevada Department of Tourism & Cultural Affairs, part of TravelNevada (previously the Nevada Commission on Tourism or NCOT). TravelNevada drives revenue for the state through travel and tourism activities. Whereas visitor spending hasn’t recovered to preGreat Recession levels, it continues in that direction.
The industry’s current strength is critical for Nevada because tourism remains a significant component of its economy. Tourism accounts for around one-quarter of the state’s employment, 26 percent in 2018. Also, through various taxes, it provides revenue to cities, counties and the state; last year that amounted to just under $5 billion.
Diversification a Focus
Marshall said Nevada’s tourism is evolving in two ways. One is ongoing diversification into segments that are more resistant to economic ups and downs. Another is outdoor recreation, opportunities for which are ample throughout the state. Accordingly, the industry is working to capitalize on those natural and other resources to supplement tourism with a more resilient component.
For instance, state legislators passed legislation in the most recent session to create and fund a division of outdoor recreation within the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. With appropriations now in hand, an administrator will be hired and the 11-member advisory council positions, four of whom must be appointed, filled. Marshall will serve as the council’s chair.
The next goal for the division is to conduct a required study to join the Confluence of Accords of States, a coalition committed to multiple principles: conservation and stewardship, education and workforce training, economic development and public health and wellness. The study will center on how Nevada will promote outdoor recreation such that it aligns with those core tenets.
Diversity is also appearing in the types of attractions that Nevada’s tourism industry makes available. The Elko Mural Expo, an inaugural art event for the city, was held in September, during which 43 artists, 24 of them youths from the Duck Valley Reservation, painted 61 bare walls.
In the category of outdoor recreation, the city of Caliente, also in September, held its first Mountain Bike Fest, showcasing its newly developed, 25 miles of connected mountain biking trails, with at least 100 more miles to be added.
A new historical and cultural offering in the form of the Stewart Indian School and Museum is slated to open in Carson City in the next month or two. The Great Basin National Park in Eastern Nevada, will debut some new exhibits in its Lehman Caves Visitor Center in mid-February.
Facilitated Extended Stays
The other paradigm shift taking place in Nevada’s tourism is a push toward getting domestic visitors to stay an extra day, international visitors, three days, during which they’ll explore the state beyond Reno and Las Vegas, Marshall said. Instead of flying into and staying in Reno, visitors might drive to Elko for cowboy poetry, the National Basque Festival or another annual community event. Or rather than spending a vacation only in Las Vegas, tourists might also hop on the train to Boulder City to explore or go offroading in Pahrump.
This fresh strategy, in part, promotes and supports the state’s less traveled, rural areas. It also offers Millennials and the Generation Z what they’re interested in and seek out broader experiences.
As for tourism in rural Nevada, it is seeing growth, Marshall said. Earlier this year, TravelNevada awarded a total of about $1.35 million in grants to 56 nonprofit organizations for tourism marketing projects that, hopefully, will result in overnight stays and ultimately increase room tax revenue for the state.
The Winnemucca Convention & Visitors Authority received $19,880 to promote the city’s 2021World HorseshoePitching Contest. A $16,500 grant was awarded to Nevada Silver Trails, an organization promoting south-central Nevada, which will use the funds for a six-month social media campaign promoting rural towns including Tonopah, Beatty and Pioche and targeting younger travelers.
The Mesquite Chamber of Commerce received a $10,000 grant to create and distribute a visitor’s guide.
To promote Pyramid Lake as a fishing destination, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe will use its $5,000 grant to get print ads created and its website updated.
In 2019-2020, TravelNevada will award $200,000 to rural partners for tourism-related projects, through a different program, one in which grants are given every other year.
No Lingering Recession Effects
In northern Nevada, great excitement exists around a large, tourism-related project currently underway, Jacobs Entertainment’s Neon Line District. The $1 billion mixed-use development is slated to encompass 20 city blocks, or 25 acres, of downtown Reno’s western side, and contain dining and entertainment options, a hotel and more than 2,000 residences. This will all be built around what is being called Reno’s Neon Line, a half-mile stretch of land adorned with public art, installed on a rotating basis.
“We feel that, when completed, it will change the face of downtown completely,” said Phil DeLone, president and CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority (RSCVA). The RSCVA attracts overnight visitors to Reno-Tahoe lodging properties through tourism marketing, convention sales and facility operations, and featuring local amenities, attractions and events.
As for the region’s tourism industry overall, convention business included, it has been and continues to be “very strong with no lingering effects from the recession,” said DeLone.
Financially, the tourism and lodging community in Reno is doing well. For the first time in Reno-Tahoe’s history, in 2018- 2019, fiscal year taxable room revenue in Washoe County exceeded $401 million, RSCVA data showed. The fiscal year also showed a 10.7 percent year-over-year increase in the county’s daily rate of all lodging facilities, at $115.53.
With respect to convention and meetings business, “we had an excellent year,” said DeLone. Additionally, RSCVA exceeded its annual goal and booked 289,000 future room nights. For more than a third of those bookings, Reno is a new meeting destination.
“That’s a good sign,” DeLone said. “That means our salespeople are attracting new customers to the destination rather than just churning repeat business.”
Washoe County visitor volume for the first six months of calendar year 2019 was 4.9 million, consistent with late 2016-early 2017, according to RCG Economics, a Las Vegas-based market research and analysis firm.
The gaming win for 2018-2019 was relatively flat compared to the prior year, at $855 million. However, John Restrepo, principal of RCG, noted that in July, South Lake Tahoe had the highest year-overyear increase in gaming win in the state, calculated net baccarat, at 16.9 percent. Sparks also did well, increasing 10.7 percent. In comparison, Reno’s gains were 4.7 percent.
Overall gross gaming revenue was $71.3 million in Washoe County as of June 2019. While down 0.2 percent year over year, it was close to the most recent high of $72 million in 2009.
The RSCVA, with an operating budget of about $30 million for fiscal year 2019, has been busy tackling its agenda, said DeLone. For one, this month, it will reopen the National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno and showcase its new look after 10 months of renovation. Also, upgrades and rehabilitation continue on the Reno Livestock & Events Center.
Further, the authority invested in a number of new social media influencers, DeLone said, noting that almost half of its advertising budget is spent on digital efforts.
To drum up fly-in business, the RSCVA now has seven offices around the U.S.—Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles and Sacramento—staffed with eight hospitality professionals.
The agency may open a fourth target drive-in market next spring, depending on availability of air service. That addition, whose location hasn’t been decided yet, would complement the existing markets of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
“We are prepared with a budget to go in and support the airlines with a marketing campaign in that area to drive travel and tourism to northern Nevada,” DeLone added.
With respect to air service in the north, while it has improved, DeLone said, it still remains a challenge. The volume of people flying into and out of the RenoTahoe International Airport has risen every year since 2014. Certainly, the recent nonstop additions to Atlanta on Delta Airlines and Houston on United Airlines help.
“We are in discussion with two other airlines on new service,” he added. “We need to not lose sight of trying to open up some new nonstop service from the East Coast.” Looking forward, DeLone expects mild growth for the area’s tourism industry over the next 12 months.
“We are bullish on northern Nevada’s economy but, at the same time, we’re prudent and we watch for any signs of a weakening economy nationally or in California that could potentially affect tourism to Nevada,” he added. “But we have not seen any of that at this time.”
Big Doings in the South
As always, much is happening in southern Nevada’s tourism market. To name a few upcoming entrants to the scene, AREA15 is scheduled to open soon. It is an experiential retail and entertainment center that will offer live events, art and more. Meow Wolf, an immersive art installations entity, will anchor the Las Vegas complex, and Nomadic, which offers physically interactive, video game-like experiences, will be a tenant, too.
Next to debut, in the summer, will be the $1.9 billion Las Vegas Stadium, the future home of the National Football League’s Raiders.
The first new megaresort to join the line-up on the Strip in a decade will be $4 billion, 3,400-room Resorts World Las Vegas, due to open next year.
Also expected in 2020 is the Circa Resort and Casino, a 777-room, 1.25 million-square-foot property and part of the Fremont Street Experience.
Tourism metrics provided by RCG Economics showed that visitor volume in Southern Nevada in fiscal year 2019 was about 42 million, lower than that of the previous three years but not far off from the recent high of 42.8 million in 2016-2017.
Convention attendance was a bright spot, hitting a record high of 6.5 million in the same fiscal year.
During that period, direct visitor spending in the region was an estimated $34.5 billion, according to Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority statistics. The LVCVA is the destination marketing organization of Southern Nevada, promoting tourism, conventions, meetings and special events. Of note is that about 23.7 percent of that visitor spending was on gaming. In fact, gaming revenue last year in Clark County was about $10.2 billion, the highest it’s been since its peak in 2007.
The volume of passengers traveling through McCarran International Airport has increased every year since 2010 and continues that ascent. Between January and August of 2019, the number grew 3 percent.
As for some of the efforts of the LVCVA, its now $980.3 million renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center continues, with completion anticipated in 2021.
For the convention center, earlier this year, the authority contracted with The Boring Company to design and install a one-mile long, underground people moving system. Basic infrastructure would encompass three underground passenger stations, a tunnel for pedestrians, two tunnels for autonomous vehicles and elevators and escalators.
On the Horizon
How the Silver State’s tourism fares during the next 12 months will, in large part, depend on the strength of the U.S. dollar and increases in flight service, particularly to Las Vegas, Marshall said. A stronger dollar supports domestic travel, which currently is the case. If a stronger dollar boosts foreign currencies, international travelers are likely to increase their stays in Nevada, and they tend to spend a lot more money than visitors from within the States.
“That’s likely to happen,” she added. “We look forward to that.”