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April 24, 2014

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Governor’s Conference on Tourism could be last if it flops

Former Nevada Gov. Richard Bryan, who developed the first Governor’s Conference on Tourism more than two decades ago, will be honored at December’s revamped two-day event.

But a representative of the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s marketing committee warned that if the event is more fluff than business, it could be the state’s last Governor’s Conference for the state’s leading industry.

“The Governor’s Conference took a hiatus, and it’s coming back in a new format,” said Commissioner Ferenc Szony in this week’s marketing committee meeting. “But when people come back to their businesses after the event, they’ve got to be able to say that this either taught me a lot or ‘I met the right people.’ If this gathering is a boondoggle, it’s going to be the last one we ever do.”

The conference has been the top gathering of tourism professionals in the state for 24 years. But in 2008, the event was abruptly canceled when Gov. Jim Gibbons called lawmakers into a special session to solve the state’s budget woes days before the event.

Citing the rough economy, commissioners also canceled the event in 2009. The commission asked newly appointed director Dann Lewis to develop an information-packed format to get the conference back on track for 2010. It’s scheduled for Dec. 7-8 at the Peppermill resort in Reno. Organizers have cut the event from three to two days and packed it with panels and presentations relevant to the industry.

Bryan, who served as the state’s 25th governor from 1983 to 1989 and also was a U.S. senator from the state from 1989 to 2001, was to be recognized in 2008 for developing the first statewide tourism conference as governor. While commissioners had no quarrel recognizing Bryan’s contribution, they wanted to avoid the appearance of the event being a party for industry insiders.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who chairs the commission, said between 200 and 250 people are expected to attend the event, and Gibbons has it on his calendar. He said he expects an invitation to be sent to the eventual winner of November’s gubernatorial election as well.

“We were very disappointed we had to cancel this very important event for a variety of reasons,” Krolicki said.

The registration fee for the event is $145 — less than half what it has been in the past.

In other business, the committee reviewed the success of last winter’s advertising campaign, the 2010 spring and summer ad campaign and the upcoming winter ad strategy.

JoLyn Laney, deputy director of marketing and advertising for the Tourism Commission, said the $3.5 million campaign developed in fiscal 2010 was seen by more people than in previous years.

The percentage of consumers who saw or heard the ads in markets where they ran jumped from 29.7 percent in 2009 to a record-breaking 42.9 percent in fiscal 2010, which ended June 30, she said.

The winter “Capture Your Heart” campaign depicted two hands forming a heart shape framing a Lake Tahoe winter scene while the summer ads focused on outdoor recreation. Ads ran on television, the Internet and in print and were shown in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Reno, the San Francisco Bay area, Phoenix, Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, Sacramento and Salt Lake City.

While committee members were complimentary of last year’s ad successes, they had some criticism about some of the winter ads planned later this year.

The commission staff outlined a campaign to appeal to viewers emotionally with a nostalgic message showing outdoor winter experiences with less emphasis on the ski industry.

But committee members said they’d rather target skiers and asked for ads that show Lake Tahoe’s winter resorts. Members also said they wanted to connect with snowboarders.

“I understand the nostalgic feel and the emotional connection, but at the same time, we’re trying to connect with skiers,” said Ellen Oppenheim, who heads the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. “This was sold to us as a winter ski campaign.”

Szony added that the commission should use the scenery of Lake Tahoe as an asset to compete with other western ski resorts.

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