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Nevada Says Ditch the Dice, Come for the Outdoors

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Nevada wants people to know that it has more than casinos and entertainment attractions like The Sphere. The state is investing in tourism that supports its local communities outside of Las Vegas.

Nevada has set its sights on a different kind of tourism. Rather than tout the famous casinos of Las Vegas, the state’s tourism division, Travel Nevada, is pushing rural tourism and the natural beauty of the state. 

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In 2022, the U.S. Economic Development Administration began disbursing $510 million in tourism grants to help states invest in marketing, infrastructure, workforce and other projects to strengthen their travel markets. Nevada received one of the largest grants – $13.5 million, of which Travel Nevada received $2.1 million. Over the past year, the state has started to hand out this grant money to rural areas.

“It’s our mission to get people beyond the bright lights, beyond the neons, and get out to experience the heart of Nevada,” said Nicole Orsua, chief industry development officer for Nevada Division of Tourism, also known as Travel Nevada. “Our mission is to increase and improve the quality of life for Nevadans and our rural communities by helping stimulate their tourism economics, which can then help stimulate their local economies.”

The grant was given during Covid, but it is now transforming how the state is marketing itself.

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“Pre-Covid, the mantra for so many years was to get heads in beds,” Orsua said. “But Covid was a big jolt to the industry and its partners, and that’s when they started to really refocus on capacity and resilience.” 

New Emphasis on Communities

In 2022, the group created a new Destination Development Program that set out a 10-year plan for how the money will be spent. Last summer, it issued grants to three communities:

White Pine County: The gateway to the Great Basin National Park. It has some of America’s oldest trees and darkest skies. People go hiking, stargazing, and mountain biking.

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Lincoln County: It is looking to build up its outdoor camping and market itself as a place for themed astrological tours and extraterrestrial tours, cowboy culture, and hot springs.

Black Rock-High Rock: This is home to Burning Man.

It’s still too early to measure the success of the grants, but the program is in the process of giving the rest of the money to a second cohort of three communities this year.

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Marketing Experiences

One of the main challenges in the past has been making this kind of travel bookable. Travel Nevada is in talks with GetYourGuide, an online travel agency, to help market the experiences. 

“We are always exploring conversations with innovation-minded DMOs like Nevada to drive visibility across different parts of their state, and not just the gateways,” said Anna Cashman, B2B brand and industry insights lead at GetYourGuide. 

The project showcases GetYourGuide’s stated mission to work with local governments to make tourism beneficial rather than harmful. 

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The project has global relevance. Many third-tier markets with niche offerings are looking to draw more tourism, and many are landing on travel experiences. 

A case in point: GetYourGuide also partners with San Antonio, Texas, to make the city more appealing to international markets by focusing on tours, sports, and activities.

But this approach can also work to quell overcrowding, which is becoming a more urgent issue in popular spots. In California, GetYourGuide is helping with a campaign to showcase all the things people can do in the state besides visiting the major attractions.

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In Kyoto, Japan, which has a number of popular tourist attractions, the company is developing experiences that bring tourists to lesser-known spots and spread out the visits to the heritage sites at off-peak hours.  

Other companies have worked with destinations to help distribute tourist dollars across points of interest rather than concentrate them in the best-known and most Instagrammed locations. Japanese hotel group Hoshino Resorts has been building hotels elsewhere than Tokyo and Kyoto to encourage tourist dispersal, tour operator Intrepid Travel has promoted some tour offerings off-the-beaten-path, and travel agency TravelStore has guided customers to consider alternative vacation spots.  

Orsua that they want to support the tourism that towns have the capacity to handle. “That’s our residents’ home,” she said. “This is about creating harmony between our communities and the tourists.”

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