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Outdoors-oriented marketing draws visitors to Reno area

By John Seelmeyer
Published: Last Updated on

Is this glass half empty or half full?

Hotels in the Reno-Sparks area reported that 41.4% of their rooms were filled during August. That’s more than twice the occupancy that had been projected by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

On the other hand, it marks a 29% decline in occupancy compared with the same month a year ago — that seemingly long-ago time before COVID-19 appeared.

Part of the seemingly positive news represents nothing more than deep pessimism among RSCVA’s budget-makers last spring. But the tourism agency believes that things actually are stirring, too, as consumers in nearby markets hear the Reno area’s new marketing pitch.

First, the pessimism: RSCVA developed its current budget last May, during some of the darkest days of the COVID-19 lockdown, and its executives projected less than 20% hotel occupancy during August, says Jennifer Cunningham, the interim president and CEO of the convention and visitors authority.  (Charles Harris, the new permanent president and CEO, begins work on Nov. 16.)

The lifting of lockdown restrictions in early June opened the way for RSCVA to resume its marketing efforts.

Cunningham says this summer’s campaign tapped into consumers’ desires to stay COVID-safe while still getting a vacation.

Jennifer Cunningham

“The RSCVA focused its marketing efforts on Reno Tahoe’s natural beauty, highlighting inherent amenities that make this destination desirable for nearby travelers who are seeking a getaway while still being able to adhere to social-distancing recommendations,” she says.

At least anecdotally, she says most visitors these days appear to be driving from within a 500-mile radius of Reno and Sparks.

“That’s an encouraging sign for the future of our geographic target markets,” Cunningham says.

Those drive markets are critical as airport statistics continue to show that vacation air travel remains very weak.

With demand for hotel rooms still soft, travelers can find bargains in Reno and Sparks. RSCVA says hotel rates in the area averaged about $125 a night during August, down almost $22 from prices a year earlier.

Rates at motels averaged $66 in August, compared with $81 a year earlier.  Motels reported 53% occupancy during August, essentially unchanged from their occupancy last year.

One place that rates didn’t decline: RV parks. Their rates averaged $42.25 a night in August, compared with $43.63 a year earlier.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the common perception that nearly everyone in America either bought or rented an RV this summer, RV parks in the Reno-Sparks area were only 24% full in August. A year ago, they were 31% full.

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