While the consensus is that 2020 will look much better in the rearview mirror, it will leave indelible experiences that shape discussions, planning, and direction for years to come.
It certainly reinforces sustainability as the future of tourism here at Tahoe, with benchmarks to embrace including environmental integrity, economic development, and social equity for visitors and locals.
Well before the onset of the pandemic, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (LTVA) focused on distributing tourist activity beyond our most visited sites and dates. Those efforts featured messaging to trip planning apps, public relations outreach reinforcing sustainable travel concepts, car-less vacations, and encouraging visitations from longer-drive markets, as well as non-stop flight markets into Reno/Tahoe International Airport during mid-week and non-peak times. Working with other partners and local government, LTVA is consistently at the table for discussions and decisions that move South Shore forward as a sustainable and responsible destination. Along with Visit California’s new Respect California campaign, Tahoe South is continuing to incorporate good destination management practices in our outreach to visitors and media because we know together, we can keep Tahoe open, safe, protected, and healthy for locals and visitors.
The mission of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority is to market the South Shore of Lake Tahoe as a unique, world-class, year-round destination to the regional, national and international marketplace, and to favorably impact the South Shore economy through overnight stays and tourism spending. The pandemic brought this mission to an immediate halt.
When governmental stay-at-home directives were issued, LTVA discontinued all paid marketing efforts and swiftly shifted focus to encouraging people to “love us from a distance,” as we asked them to follow their county and state health guidelines. Press releases were distributed and interviews on radio, TV, and national online outlets were arranged to amplify the message, as well as updating the messaging on the Tahoe South website.
As the months passed and some restrictions were lifted, we constantly updated the Tahoe South website and “Know Before You Go” page to provide the latest information on closures, openings, and best healthy travel practices. During the pandemic LTVA staff have been key members of lake-wide communication groups, attending weekly Zoom meetings with USFS, state parks, TRPA, Tahoe Fund, city and county representatives, Tahoe Conservancy, and public information officers from around the lake for coordinated messaging and outreach. Never before has our leadership responded and forged relationships and action plans around one single purpose so quickly. Never have new learnings around our health, safety, and economy been so impactful. Never have we unified so completely around our community and the LTVA was a proud partner in all that continues to be the “new normal.”
Our strongest market has always been Northern California. With the halt COVID-19 brought to other travel options, those visitors overwhelmingly chose Lake Tahoe as their escape this summer. And many were day-trippers versus overnight guests. With this influx, our community struggled to handle the impacts of the increased visitation, especially on weekends. We all felt it and were impacted. All the LTVA staff calls South Shore home and has for decades. We experienced the summer of 2020 not just as tourism promoters but as residents.
As the visitors returned, LTVA, in coordination with the TRPA, city of South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County, and Barton Health, helped create a video campaign about the importance of following the CDC guidelines while visiting Tahoe South. Reminding visitors that “the virus doesn’t take a vacation,” the videos were released through all of Tahoe South’s social media channels reinforcing CDC and health guidelines regarding wearing masks, physical distancing, and sanitizing. Tahoe South YouTube
In carrying out our mission, we understand the need to balance a successful visitor economy with other factors, such as the quality of life for residents, impacts on the environment, and increased demands on infrastructure.
That quest will continue as we enter winter and beyond.
Carol Chaplin is president and chief executive officer of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority