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Chris Jones

Hey Las Vegas! This Ice Is Nice!

3 January 2005

Still stinging from the effects of competing tribal casinos in Northern California, some Lake Tahoe business leaders are again looking southward to find more customers.

A group of South Shore casino and recreation businesses known as the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance will on Saturday launch a 2 1/2-month marketing campaign aimed at Southern Nevada residents. Through a combination of television, radio, print and online messages, the alliance hopes its $253,000 effort will inspire more Las Vegas-area residents to take a winter getaway in Northern Nevada.

"We're trying to make a resurgence up here ... (and) keep the money in the state," said Don Marrandino, a Harrah's Entertainment executive who also represents the alliance on the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority's board of directors.

The new campaign, which features the tag line "Lake Tahoe: So cool, it's Heavenly," follows this summer's similar $400,000 media blitz of Southern Nevada. Although Marrandino said it's too soon to measure the effectiveness of the previous ads, it's also too early to back away from efforts to promote Lake Tahoe in an market many believe is vital to the destination's long-term success.

"To say, `Wow, it's been overwhelming,' I can't say that," Marrandino said of the "So close. So Cool." summer ads. "But in any advertising and marketing campaign ... I think you have to let it ride a little bit.

"Some of the properties up here are going to have record revenues this year. You have to look at all of the pieces."

Lake Tahoe's winter sporting attractions remain world-class, but casinos there and in nearby Reno have suffered since Las Vegas-based gaming giant Station Casinos and the United Auburn Indians in June 2003 opened the $215 million Thunder Valley casino near Sacramento, Calif.

Although Thunder Valley is one of many possible influences, total room nights rented at the lake's South Shore Nevada properties fell from 138,117 in fiscal 2001-02 to 124,226 last fiscal year, a decrease of nearly 11.2 percent, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority data show.

Flights from Las Vegas can reach Reno/Tahoe International Airport in less than an hour, however, which makes this an ideal feeder market to offset reduced drive-in traffic from the Golden State, Marrandino said.

Las Vegas' high concentration of service industry workers also creates many potential travelers who have weekdays off and enjoy gambling and nightlife, Marrandino said, adding such visitors would be welcomed in Lake Tahoe.

Jack Taylor of Lund & Manasse Advertising, the Las Vegas-based agency that produced both of Lake Tahoe campaigns in Southern Nevada, said the winter campaign was cheaper because it emphasized radio and print over television.

A billboard is already in place near McCarran, and 15-second daily ski updates will soon air on KVBC-TV, Channel 3's morning news broadcasts, Taylor said.