Given the poor track record of a recent number of RSCVA CEO’s, who have all come from elsewhere and who have subsequently departed under less than salubrious circumstances, it might behoove the tourism agency to take an agonizing reappraisal of past choices.
Probably the most egregious example of total disconnect with the area by a previous RSCVA head was the gentleman who chose not to reside in northern Nevada while serving, but rather opted to commute from a distant California location. Other missteps by previous heads of the RSCVA have been will documented in the local press and are readily available for scrutiny by the current board of directors.
It is an open secret among tourism gurus here today that when an out-of-towner comes in to take over the local agency, it takes that individual a long time to become acquainted with the local area and the top movers and shakers. Consequently, in many of the cases, the new person is quickly co-opted by one or two of the major players, much to the dismay of the other top properties. Again, those occasions are easy to verify by looking at past issues of local newspapers.
The above is not to indict all non-Nevadans who have arrived here to serve in the marketing community. Probably the most outstanding example was one Judd Allen, who took over the reins of the Greater Reno Chamber of Commerce, when that entity was the recipient of room tax money and was charged with promoting the area. Utilizing his Hollywood connections, Allen was able to lure a number of high profile movie personalities to this area and also top Hollywood press like Hedda Hopper. Once he took over the promotion of the annual Silver Spurs awards, Allen was also able to talk the Hollywood press into voting for the recipient and thus give the award national credibility and coverage.
Allen was also blessed by having an able promotion and sales executive on his staff in the person of the late Don Burke. Working in concert with the major local properties, the chamber was able to open a sales office on Market street in San Francisco that under Burke’s direction generated a ton of room nights for the Biggest Little City, and Sparks and Lake Tahoe as well. Enlisting the aid of the Durkee Travel Bureau here the chamber set up a telephone bank that marketed the Reno Fun Train, the Reno Fun Flight and the Reno Drive-Up package, all of which were highly successful promotions. Since Reno only had under a thousand first class hotel rooms in those days, as well as limited convention space, the selling of conventions was not the major purpose. However, today that should be the primary function of the RSCVA. Perusing the convention bookings over the past decade one finds that true conventions have been few and far between and the large facility on South Virginia Street has been mainly relegated to local events and high-school-age outside sporting events.
In choosing its new CEO the RSCVA board needs to be especially concerned as to whom the successful individual plans to hire as the national sales manager. Putting “heads in beds” in the thousands or rooms now available locally is the lifeblood of the RSCVA, which is funded mainly by room taxes.
While the RSCVA is content to book events that do fill those rooms, they tend to ignore the basic type of individuals that the hotel/casinos prefer to see taking up that space. They would be those of a more affluent nature that would be more prone to attend the fine restaurants, the shows and ultimately visit the gaming tables and slots. To that end, the current major properties have all developed strong in-house sales forces that go out and bid on meetings and conventions, sometimes landing big enough ones to benefit the other properties as well. To illustrate that point, one of the previous RSCVA CEO’s got into trouble by listing hotel-generated sales on the RSCVA sales scorecard.
With the general downturn in conventions and tourism nationwide, it would behoove those in charge of the RSCVA to consider the fact that they currently have a choice in picking a CEO who can “hit the ground running” because of his long experience in marketing in this area or select a person who, in effect, will spend the majority of his first year in “on the job training.”
Another factor that should weigh heavily in the board’s decision is that northern Nevada, just like Las Vegas, is a unique area to merchandise because of its 24-hour reputation and its primary industry of gaming. If we take our eye off that ball again then we can only remember the last time we did so with “Sterling and Butler” and “America’s Adventure Place.”
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.