After two-year hiatus, Nevada tourism conference resumes

RENO — After a two-year hiatus due to budget shortfalls, leaders of the state’s tourism industry are gathering in Reno this week for the Nevada Governor’s Conference on Tourism to search for ways to survive what they hope is the home stretch of lengthy economic downturn.

The return of the conference, which had gone on for more than two decades, was made possible by private and corporate backers. They took over the financing of the multiday event that cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who was among those who decided to suspend what was supposed to be the 25th anniversary of the conference in December 2008, said the resumption of the gathering is a tribute to their leadership.

“The tourism industry has strengthened and improved itself, largely thanks to leaders within the industry sharing their knowledge for the betterment of the whole state,” Krolicki said.

“This entire conference is a celebration of the endurance and ingenuity of its leaders,” he said.

The conference returns as Nevada leads the nation with a 14.2 percent unemployment rate and is tops nationally in bankruptcies and foreclosures.

The conference, which in the past had stretched over two or three days, is now limited to a day and a half. The state had budgeted about $235,000 for the 2008 event before deciding to cancel it in the face of a projected state budget deficit that year of about $350 million.

“We had the two-year hiatus because of the budget problem, but the industry wanted it and they made it totally self-supporting,” said Chris Chrystal, spokeswoman for the Nevada Commission on Tourism, which still provides some minor production assistance.

This year’s conference opens this afternoon at the Peppermill Spa Resort Casino. A series of experts will offer forecasts for Nevada’s target markets and a look at key factors today’s travelers consider when picking a time and place to go.

Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan will be the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s luncheon at the Peppermill.

Also Wednesday, a panel of top hotel executives and gaming experts will address the changing hospitality industry and their strategic plans.

Scheduled panelists are John Farahi, co-chairman and CEO of Monarch Casino Resort Inc.; Jonathan Halkyard, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Caesars Entertainment Corp.; Bill Hughes, director of marketing operations of the Peppermill; and Ryan Sheltra, general manager of the Bonanza Casino.

“Nevada leads the world in hospitality, and this panel represents the top minds in the industry,” said Larry Friedman, the commission’s interim director. “It is well-rounded with executives from international corporations and successful family-owned resorts, from northern and southern Nevada.”

Krolicki said the panel of casino industry experts will provide “an insider’s look at how the world’s most competitive gaming operations are dealing with the economy.”

“Nevada is a gold mine of expertise in the gaming and hotel world, and to have these great minds together on one stage to share their knowledge speaks to the value this conference has to the industry,” he said.

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