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Benjamin Spillman

Nevada not all about Las Vegas

30 March 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – When big-spending Chinese gamblers visit Nevada, they often seek riches at high-limit betting tables on the Strip.

Don Newman thinks the gold mines of Elko - a small mining town about 450 miles north of Las Vegas -- could strengthen Nevada's Chinese connection.

Newman knows China issues more visas for business than tourism and figures Elko's gold mines would make a great excuse for Chinese businessmen who would also enjoy a side trip to Las Vegas.

"The main focus of their trip is going to be Las Vegas, but Elko is going to provide the means to get the business visa," said Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority.

It was just one of many ideas bandied about Thursday in Primm during a conference aimed at getting more tourists to go beyond Las Vegas and Reno and visit rural Nevada.

The Rural Roundup, sponsored by the Nevada Commission on Tourism, is an annual event that attracts about 250 people from a lesser-known segment of the state's tourism industry. That is, it draws people who are more likely to market wagon rides, American Indian art and mountain biking than to offer five-star dining or risqué stage shows.

"There are people coming from overseas who want to visit California. We have to give them alternatives in Nevada besides Las Vegas," said Tim Maland, director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

The two-day conference at Primm Valley Resort includes talks on everything from maximizing the potential of the Internet to networking with American Indian tribes as means to attract visitors deep into one of America's largest, and least populous, states. It also covered ways communities can capitalize on state and national parks, scenic highway designations and adventure tourism.

With new gambling venues popping up in virtually every state and many foreign countries, small Nevada towns need more than a few rustic casinos to maintain a steady flow of tourists.

"Sitting at a slot machine doesn't really cut it," said Kerrie Supanich, administrative clerk for the West Wendover Tourism and Convention Bureau, of Nevada's most popular tourist pastime.

West Wendover, located on Interstate 80 near Utah and the Bonneville Salt Flats, is marketing itself as a destination for myriad outdoor activities, from off-road racing to bird watching and hiking.

The community recently added a rental car business that helps passengers on charters to West Wendover's five casinos enjoy more of an area that has mountains, water and 300 days of sunshine annually.

"They love the gaming but they want to see the surroundings," Supanich said of West Wendover tourists, who in the last year included 900 Germans, about 500 United Kingdom residents and about 400 people from Australia and New Zealand, according to informal polling in the town's visitor center.

But getting people into Nevada's backcountry is a challenge.

The region's mountain vistas are overshadowed by California's scenery, and Colorado and Utah are better known for river rafting, downhill skiing and mountain biking, even though Nevada offers an abundance of those activities.

Speakers at the conference focused on how rural Nevada communities could take advantage of the massive marketing behind Las Vegas to increase the profile for the rest of the Silver State.

The tourism commission, for example, is trying to raise its profile at conventions, sporting events and in the media in Las Vegas.

"I don't want to see (West) Wendover competing with Las Vegas," said Tim Maland, director of the commission, which has an annual budget of about $20 million that comes from room taxes in the state. "I want to see the state of Nevada competing with California."

The Internet is another source of equalization between rural Nevada outposts and better-known destinations, according to speakers at the conference.

"I want many of you, if you are not in the blog mood, to at least give thought to creating a blog," Andrew Wetzler, president of the Internet company MoreVisibility, told the audience at a keynote address.

"People are reading blogs. Blog results are showing up on search engines," Wetzler said.

Besides distance and isolation, culture can also be a barrier to rural tourism.

Las Vegas and Clark County residents make up a large segment of visitation to rural Nevada. But in places such as rural White Pine County, the insatiable thirst for water to fuel housing tracts and golf courses in Clark County is a source of resentment.

And the Internet, which allows rural communities to tout their attributes around the world, can also come back to bite rural tourism boosters. That's because one Web savvy guest who experiences resentment, rudeness or slow service can lodge their complaints in the same global forum.

To reduce the chances of a negative incident tarnishing the reputation of an entire community the Nevada Commission on Tourism conducts four to six seminars annually called Nevada Tourism University.

Chris Chrystal, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the university offers front-line workers such asservers and hotel desk clerks tips on the finer points of good customer service.

"They are first people you see when you come into the town," Chrystal said. "The impression you get of that town can be created by the person you see behind that desk."