Reno, Lake Tahoe Hoteliers Emphasize Meeting Value

Countering frequent disapproval for holding business meetings in resort destinations, Reno and Lake Tahoe hoteliers and convention and visitors authorities are emphasizing value, getting creative and looking to smaller groups.

"The last year has been challenging, especially on the corporate side," said Mike Frye, sales and events manager of the Nevada Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. That said, corporate business and especially the SMERF market have been picking up, he added, noting that groups are smaller and more frugal than in years past.

"Everyone would say a lot of decisions are being made later," Frye said. "Not the big companies like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. They are still sending RFPs well ahead, but even in those, value is a key word."

To sell Lake Tahoe, "we have tried to describe value beyond just price," Frye said. "We are totally unique in the U.S. We have national park beauty and unlimited recreation, but we also have headliner entertainment and gaming. Planners who bring meetings here are trying to generate return on experience. When people go home, they are stoked about their jobs."

To Steve Lowe, regional director of sales for Harrah's Northern Nevada, the key is defining value in the current economy. He's planning to sell his three properties, Harrah's Reno and sister properties Harrah's Lake Tahoe and Harveys Lake Tahoe, by talking about more for less. Aside from details like low room taxes, no resort fees and reasonable F&B costs, he means "more service, more benefits, more comfort and fewer hassles, fewer worries." Said Lowe, "We create a comfort zone for the client."

This includes everything from a partnering to provide recognition for incentive winners to helping planners deal with multigenerational group issues, Lowe said.

Bill Cottrill, director of sales and marketing for the Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Hotel & Ski Resort, is using the downtime to invest in behind-the-scenes environmental improvements to his property, ranging from installing low-energy LED lights, to a composting program, to an Ozone Laundry system that uses less water, which does not need to be heated.

As for the changing face of Lake Tahoe meetings, Cottrill said, "We are seeing a lot more groups book at the last minute," he said. "Small company meetings are giving us two- to three-week lead times. So far, we have been able to accommodate them."

Lowe said that at the beginning of September he thought he wouldn't make that month's budget goal, but by Sept. 10, he was ahead of budget thanks to last-minute bookings.

The major new hotel development in Lake Tahoe this year is The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, a $300 million development on the northern California side of the lake that is set to open on Dec. 9. The 170-room property will include Manzanita, a signature restaurant by San Francisco chef Tracy Des Jardins, and the Ritz-Carlton Highlands Spa, a 17,000-sq.-ft. spa and fitness center with a signature rain experience, steam room, sauna and Jacuzzis, as well as yoga and spin studios. The ski-in, ski-out resort has an inter-mountain gondola linking it to the Village-at-Northstar.

The property's 15,000 square feet of indoor meeting space includes the 6,600-sq.-ft. and 3,000-sq.-ft. ballrooms, both divisible rooms with wraparound balconies and separate indoor and outdoor pre-function space. Two meeting rooms also are available. Outdoor spaces include 5,000-sq.-ft. and 1,500-sq.-ft. tent pad sites, in the adjacent wooded area.

Late last year, the 42-room Cedar House Sports Hotel opened an event facility and meeting center with a 300-sq.-ft. conference room for up to 12 participants and a 1,025 sq.-ft. meeting room that can accommodate 80.

Lakeland Village Beach & Mountain Resort is renovating the exterior and deck of its Lakeshore Pavilion meeting complex this fall, increasing to 3,000 square feet the usable space on the second-floor deck.

The biggest change in Reno is to the downtown area, particularly the Truckee Riverfront, which has seen major redevelopment, with new restaurants, shops and nightlife, said Michael Thomas, executive director of marketing for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

This year's newcomer is the $50 million, 9,100-seat Aces Ballpark, home of the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Amenities include regular 15- and 20-seat corporate boxes; two skybox-style suites, the 150-capacity Hall of Fame suite, and the 200-capacity Plaza Overlook suite, which can be combined, and two party decks.

The Atlantis Casino Resort Spa has completed a $72 million renovation and expansion of its meeting facilities, which now total 47,000 square feet, including a 14,500-sq.-ft. ballroom, eight new meeting rooms, a boardroom, a new spa, a new restaurant and an expanded casino.

Meanwhile, Hyatt Place at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, a 127-suite property with 1,800 square feet of meeting space, all-inclusive meetings packages and free property-wide Wi-Fi, opened last month.

Originally published Nov. 16, 2009