If Not Tourism, Then What?



Thank you for joining in on the most recent Moonshine Ink Tahoe Talks, If Not Tourism, Then What? It was the best turnout for these conversations yet, and we’re thrilled about both the overwhelming community participation and the insightful conversation that ensued. 

An enormous thank you is due to the panelists who took the time to join the conversation and share their valuable perspectives about the possibilities of Tahoe’s economy.


Two topics were addressed during April 5’s conversation — the evolution of tourism and new directions: business diversification. View the PowerPoint presentation here.

Below are key points brought up during the meeting. Find a link to the video recording as well as a list of resources shared during the Tahoe Talks event. In the spirit of spreading confirmed information, and to help #KeepTahoeSmart, we encourage you to share this enlightening community conference call in your circles. Forward this email, post the video on your social media pages, and talk about it in conversations. 

We love getting Tahoe talking. Please fill out this short survey about the recent discussion to help us better serve you. 

Key points

Evolution of Tourism

What does ‘overtourism’ even mean?

  • There aren’t defined metrics to answer this question. Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) like North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, explained Jeff Hentz, CEO of the association, mark overtourism as when a capacity is reached; others mentioned it as breaking a quality of life balance between residents and tourists. 
  • In an effort to put numbers to what North Tahoe/Truckee’s capacity might be, Supervisor Hardy Bullock of Nevada County brought up the carrying loads of environmental systems — the available parking, restrooms, trash receptacles, etc. at trailheads, beaches, and other points of interest. Understanding these numbers and defining the breaking point can provide guidance in where to direct increased infrastructure.

The best tools in the toolbox

  • We can’t stop people from coming, but we can manage their presence. Different groups are doing this in different ways:
    • DMOs, said Andy Chapman, president and CEO of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau, are seeking to bring people to the region during the less busy times — midweek and shoulder seasons.
    • North Tahoe Business Association’s Alyssa Reilly described increased efforts in visitor education. Longer-term visitors (those who stay at least a couple weeks) tend to be more proactive in keeping the community clean; not so with day and limited-night visitors.
    • Tangible options are helpful. For example, recognizing transportation pinch points and providing increased transit alternatives. This concern and others are actively being addressed by Placer County to manage North Tahoe’s crowds.

New Directions, Business Diversification

Finding our balance

  • Since the 2008/09 recession, Tahoe’s reliance upon tourism has risen from 42% to 62% … and the industry was brutally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. To stave off future collapses, Kristin York (vice president over business innovation at the Sierra Business Council) said her organization seeks bringing in businesses not dependent upon tourism. Easy-peasy, right?
  • Not right. There’s no silver bullet option, as Heidi Hill Drum of the Tahoe Prosperity Center said, but alternative economic clusters exist: health and wellness and environmental innovation through science.
  • Hilary Hobbs at the Town of Truckee pointed out that adequate commercial space is key to house potential new businesses. 

Solutions via policy

  • Successes in alternative economic energy need to be nudged along in a regulatory sense. Government as a whole might move slowly, added Bullock, but individual counties can be more nimble in simplifying access for shifting business models.
  • That shift needs to happen, said Reilly, because there are many hurdles to starting a new business, even on the county level. Opportunities lie in creating incentive programs and sidewalk or street vending. 

Not just economy, but opportunity

  • To make strong investments around the Tahoe Basin, there needs to be more certainty in the marketplace. 
  • In Frank Gerdeman’s question for the panel, he asked how diversification of opportunity in addition to the economy would work; “remote workers do inject new purchasing dollars to support the local economy but don’t necessarily add opportunities to higher wages for existing residents.”
    • Entrepreneurship and workforce training can repurpose and expand tourist workers’ expertises.
  • It’s worth considering the opposite end of the spectrum in an economy so reliant upon tourism — could the Basin handle a shift to an economy based entirely on digital commerce or manufacturing? Could current infrastructure handle such constant demand from a larger full-time population? That was Wally Auerbach’s question, and that’s where the conversation comes full circle: We listen and learn, we coexist, we educate and enforce. “It’s incumbent upon everybody in this call and everybody that lives here,” York said, “to be really clear about our values and how we live here because we love the outdoors and the clear lakes and the trails and the beauty and the nature.” It’s not how long you’ve lived here; it’s how you live here (Lynn Saunders from the Truckee Chamber shared Ten Markers of a True Tahoe/Truckee-ite as a guide on how to get there). 

Links shared in the chat during Tahoe Talks

  • From Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson: Placer County has launched a business survey to assess business retention and opportunities for expansion throughout the county. You can find the survey at placer.ca.gov/bre
  • Chris Gallagher: “In 2018/19, North Lake Tahoe’s paid advertising influenced 125,000 visitor trips, which translates to over $205 million in visitor spending to local retailers, restaurants, activity providers, and lodging properties” (Setting the Record Straight).
  • Heidi Hill Drum: Expand this program to the North Shore, Truckee: advance-learnearngrow.org

These are many of the key points from the conference call, but to get the full monty, review the full conference call video here.


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