Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

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TOURISM:

Funding for the arts, state parks in jeopardy

Gibbons’ budget would constrict efforts to draw tourists to Nevada

Most of the debate about Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget focuses on the potentially damaging effects it would have on high-profile departments such as education, social services and corrections.

But other departments also would suffer under proposed cuts.

For tourism, most of the attention has been on the governor’s proposal to merge the Tourism Commission with the Economic Development Commission and the carnival atmosphere that has prevailed in Gibbons’ attempt to select a tourism director.

Other sections of the budget plan could dramatically change the state’s ability to attract visitors and, thus, generate tax revenue that could help solve some of the state’s financial problems.

The Tourism Commission says its mission is “to generate tourism revenue” for Nevada “by developing and implementing an aggressive and competitive marketing campaign to promote the state ... and increase the number of domestic and international tourists to the state.”

The proposed merger of the Tourism and Economic Development commissions would trim the tourism budget by 58 percent, although Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who heads both commissions, said the savings would be less than $500,000 a year.

Tourism staff would be cut from 28 people to 18, and a new tourism director would not be hired. That means Economic Development Director Mike Skaggs, who was hired last spring, likely would be in charge. Although observers say he has been a quick study on economic development, he admits he doesn’t have the background to oversee a tourism marketing plan.

What else would be cut? There would be no funding for the Nevada Ballet Theatre, the Neon Museum, the Nevada Museum of Art, the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center, a Las Vegas Wash trail system, the Atomic Testing Museum and rural tourism development grants.

Instead of directly funding tourism projects, the state’s lodging tax would be reclassified as a general fund revenue source. Gibbons said he would abide by the wishes of the people, who voted in favor of an advisory question in November to increase the room tax.

That increase would have little effect on the average tourist, who probably won’t flinch at paying an extra $3 a night on a $100 room. But such an increase could severely damage the state’s successful convention industry. Those $3 add up for big groups such as the National Association of Broadcasters or the Consumer Electronics Association, which book large blocks of hotel rooms for their trade shows, and they may think twice about paying the extra tens of thousands of dollars in Las Vegas room taxes when they could just as easily go to Orlando, Fla., or Chicago.

The governor’s proposed 6 percent pay cut to what would be left of the Tourism Commission would save nearly $120,000.

The state’s visitor guide is also at risk. The guides are sent to people considering Nevada as a vacation destination and to those attending tourism trade shows. The proposed budget would eliminate funding to distribute the guide. If the guide is eliminated, the commission would lose the advertising revenue generated by the guide. Tourism officials say once an advertiser finds another place to spend those ad dollars, they’re very hard to get back.

The Tourism Commission’s Nevada magazine, one of the vehicles used to tell the state’s story worldwide, also would be severely cut.

Although not under the Tourism Commission, the state’s parks, which many view as a tourism outlet, would take big hits in Gibbons’ budget. Because Nevada is so vast, the state’s parks are administered through four offices. Under the proposed budget, two would be eliminated, and there would be a north and south administrative office.

Many state parks would be closed during the winter or their hours would be cut back. Locally, the Old Mormon Fort Historic Park would operate five days a week. A ranger position approved by the 2007 Legislature for Valley of Fire — the state’s most visited park — would be eliminated.

A version of this story appeared in this week’s In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.

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