Nev. Tourism's Tait: Competition Keeps Us on Our Toes

Travel Weekly West Coast bureau chief Jerry Brown talked with Thomas Tait, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, during the Nevada Governor's Conference in Reno. Tait's comments follow:

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TW: Are you satisfied that Nevada is properly placed going into 1998?
Tait: We're never satisfied. We have a lot of work to do to cope with competition -- and not just competition from known sources. Australia has had some enormous casino development, for instance, and there are casinos in other places -- in Uruguay and in Turkey -- all in beautiful, five-star properties. What these places are lacking is the kind of solid infrastructure and the value that Nevada has, but that doesn't mean that we have a lock on the gaming market. We have the lion's share right now, but we still have to work at it.

TW: Despite Atlantic City, N.J., and despite Indian gaming facilities throughout the U.S., hasn't Nevada maintained its position of preeminence in the industry?
Tait: Yes, because of a lot of work by a lot of people. I don't think anybody in the business in Nevada has rested in the almost 20 years since Atlantic City opened. Atlantic City has done enormously well, but we have not seen any significant erosion of our base because the friendships, the relationships we have developed over the years have endured.

TW: How is the hotel picture going into 1998?
Tait: There are 16,000 rooms under construction in Las Vegas, of which 7,000 will be opened in 1998, so, to help fill them, we have an enormous push on internationally, not only in our core markets -- the U.K., Germany, Japan are the top three -- but in places such as Brazil, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan, just to make sure we don't miss anybody. I don't include Canada and Mexico as international markets, by the way.

TW: Is the domestic market holding up?
Tait: The U.S. is doing very well.

TW: What's the total volume of visitor traffic into Nevada?
Tait: It's about 43 million a year, of which 33 million is to the southern part of the state.

TW: That's the Las Vegas end of the state. You've mentioned the hotel construction going on there. How does Reno, in the north, stack up in terms of building projects?
Tait: Well, John Ascuaga's Nugget opened an 800-room tower last year, Silver Legacy opened with 1,768 rooms about 18 months ago, the Peppermill just had a 400-room addition, the Atlantis is in the process of building another 900 rooms.

So, you can see that construction is not anywhere near what it is in Las Vegas, but there's still an awful lot going on here, as well.

TW: Is anybody concerned about the imbalance between northern and southern Nevada volume?
Tait: We hear the concerns mostly when the Reno core markets are tapped by Las Vegas, when people who are traditionally Reno customers go to the other place. That happens when somebody in Las Vegas mounts a major advertising campaign in Northern California.

TW: Do visitors ever do both southern and northern Nevada?
Tait: Sure. We -- meaning northern Nevada, where the commission is based -- have the ski areas, so in the winter we get a lot of southern California traffic, which is a heavy Las Vegas casino market.

TW: Gov. Bob Miller always has been a supporter of tourism. He has just one more year to serve. What happens to the Commission on Tourism after that?
Tait: The commission will continue, but [the expiration of Miller's term] is a huge loss. He started as lieutenant governor 12 years ago and, as such, he was the chair of the commission. Then, he became acting governor for two years and eight years as governor, so we have had one stream of continuous leadership for all that time -- and he happens, I think, to be the most tourism-supportive governor of any we've had. He's taken tourism issues that affect Nevada to the national level. He was a huge advocate, for instance, of the visa waiver pilot project and of developing national parks and transportation policies to facilitate tourism visitation.

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