Northern Nevada now has a unique opportunity when promoting the region to future travelers, especially those who enjoy the outdoors, the leader of the nation’s top travel consortium told the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority board on Thursday.
The RSCVA heard a presentation from Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Travel Association. The 75-year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization works to build travel to and within the United States through advocacy, research, forums, webinars and hybrid events.
During the virtual meeting, Dow discussed trends and the current state of travel within the United States and how the top desire of would-be travelers is to experience the outdoors.
“The outdoors is winning, so you’ve got a great story to tell,” Dow said. “When you really look at it, you’re in a very unique position, I think. You’ve got Lake Tahoe nearby, you’ve got the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you’ve got the largest number of ski areas in North America…”
Dow cited the “Let’s Go There” campaign, a national initiative his organization developed during the COVID-19 pandemic that recommended types of travel-related activities that could be done safely. It also encouraged Americans to think about future vacations and to make plans to go when the moment is right.
He encouraged RSCVA officials to use some of the campaign’s techniques because research shows Americans are tired of staying home and want to travel.
“Now that you know that JetBlue flight is available, grab those seats, because as (Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority CEO) Daren (Griffin) said, there’ll be a lot of bargains out there but they’re going to disappear soon,” Dow said.
Dow also encouraged the RSCVA to not forget about the regional market.
“Drive (market) is only down 5%, so what a monstrous opportunity to go regional,” Dow said. “I think it’s made for you.”
Reengaging international travelers will be the most challenging because there isn’t consistency between countries when it comes to COVID-19 testing, quarantine and vaccinations, Dow said. But without international travel, he said the industry won’t make a complete turnaround.
“The most important thing we have to do—that we have to start with—are health and safety measures and making those a top priority,” Dow said. “It’s a shared responsibility. It’s not just what you’re doing. It’s what the travelers have to do: wear masks, distancing, washing their hands. If we do all these things, we will bring back travel more quickly.”
Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority CEO Daren Griffin said ramping up cleaning efforts were among the first actions taken at Reno-Tahoe International Airport when the pandemic hit last spring.
“That’s a major shift our industry has had to make and we’re still in that mode promoting safety of air travel and safety of flight when people are able, willing and comfortable to move around again,” Griffin said.
Airport passenger traffic experienced a 55% decline during the 2020 calendar year compared to 2019, Griffin said. On March 6, 2020, the airport had approximately 6,000 departing passengers daily, but that number dipped to about 300 by April 15.
When comparing March through December in both 2019 and 2020, Griffin said air traffic fell 65% in Reno in 2020, compared to 72% nationally.
Additionally, the airport saw a 33% decline in revenue, 14% reduction in its operating budget, a hiring freeze, salary freezes, furloughs and deferral of capital improvement projects, Griffin said.
“People are waiting to make travel plans right now for spring, potentially more likely summer,” Griffin said. “So I think we’re kind of where we’re going to be for a while. It could be a few months as the vaccine program hopefully accelerates, consumer confidence will follow.”