To those who've only seen it on a map, Lake Tahoe is an intriguing blob straddling the California/Nevada state line. Insiders know, however, that “Big Blue”—America’s largest alpine lake at 22 miles long and 12 miles wide—is a place of multiple moods and faces. Yes, the Nevada side has gambling. But regular visitors orient themselves instead in terms of North Shore (accessed by Interstate 80) and South Shore (on the Highway 50 corridor). Each encompasses pieces of both states, but their personalities are distinctly diff erent—and Reno, the rapidly evolving city 40 minutes northeast of the lake, is diff erent still.
With renovations and new construction adding venues and putting a fresh face on old favorites, this is an exciting time for planners steering groups to the Reno/Tahoe area. Time to make plans now for the summer high season.
The city of Reno and lakeside communities of Incline Village and Crystal Bay are separate in many ways but all are part of Nevada’s Washoe County and have long banded together when it comes to destination marketing.
Reno has the region’s largest airport (RenoTahoe International Airport), with nonstop service to many domestic destinations as well as to Mexico. And with tech giants including Tesla, Apple, Amazon and Switch making major investments here and adding tens of thousands of jobs over the next five years, the city is transforming at a fast and furious rate.
“Everything in Reno is new right now or in process of being made new,” says Cherise Wilson, CHSE, national convention sales manager for Reno Tahoe USA. “With all the new jobs pouring in, the destination has gotten a real kick in the pants—everybody’s pouring money into hotels.”
Among the major projects underway: Eldorado Resorts is investing $50 million in enhancements to its three connected downtown hotels, the Eldorado Reno, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus Reno, which together span eight blocks and offer about 4,000 hotel rooms.
In the neighboring community of Sparks, a similar sum is being poured into a topto-bottom remodel (including the massive 110,000-square-foot conference center) of the 1,400-room Nugget Casino Resort, which was purchased last spring by Las Vegas-based Marnell Gaming. Meanwhile, the 214-room Siena Hotel Spa Casino on the Truckee River is being transformed into a luxury-branded Renaissance by Marriott. It’s set to open in spring 2017 as the second nongaming, nonsmoking resort hotel in downtown Reno. The first—310-room Whitney Peak, known for urban-hip offerings including the Cargo Concert Hall, Basecamp bouldering park and world’s largest artificial climbing wall— recently debuted its 11,790-square-foot Third Floor banquet and event space, which includes 11 meeting rooms and a ballroom.
But Reno’s renaissance is not limited to hotels, notes Wilson. “The Brewery District and the River Walk district are building up on their own,” she says. “Within five years we will have a completely rejuvenated city.”
Another plus for the destination, according to Wilson: Room rates are much, much lower—in the $50-$60 range during off-peak season during the week—than at Lake Tahoe, about 40 minutes “over the hill.”
“We like people to know they can stay in Reno, enjoy a new urban experience and be on the beach in just over half an hour,” she says.
The premier lakeshore property in Reno-Tahoe territory is the luxury Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, with 422 guest rooms (including 24 beachfront cottages), 25,000 square feet of indoor event space and 25,000 square feet of weather-dependent outdoor space, plus a 24-hour casino complete with 16 table games and over 250 slot machines.
Summer is the high season here, while winter is more affordable, says Andrea Daly, associate director of events. “We’re a lakefront property second to none, and meeting groups are drawn here because of the outdoor facilities we have to offer them. Often they want to host a barbecue on the beach with a bonfire, great cuisine and fun décor to make it feel like a glamping destination.”
The resort’s Lakeside Ballroom and Regency Club have recently benefited from updates, including installation of Astroturf in the ballroom’s patio and fire pit area to make it available for year-round use.
“We’re not getting groups just closing the door and hosting meetings from 7 in the morning until 6 at night,” Daly says. “They come to our location not only to be productive, but to be provided with the ultimate outdoor experience—from beach parties, boats and water sports to team-building activities.” And, as they do at other Tahoe properties, Daly says, “A lot of attendees extend over the weekend with family members to take advantage of the destination.
Two adjacent and very high-energy communities (South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Stateline, Nev.) host the majority of meetings on Tahoe’s South Shore. Stateline is home to four major casino hotels (Harveys, Harrah’s, Hard Rock and MontBleau), each with about 500 hotel rooms plus theater/showrooms, casual and fine-dining venues, substantial meeting space and a round-the-clock party-hearty vibe. A block away in California, Heavenly Village, a retail/dining/entertainment complex at the base of the gondola serving Heavenly Mountain Resort, anchors a miles-long strip of smaller, more laid-back properties, several of which actively court the meetings trade.
Together, according to Tahoe South, a destination marketing organization, South Shore hotels offer about 13,150 guest rooms and 115,000 square feet of meeting space.
Scenery and recreation are top draws at Lake Tahoe—and because of that, many groups staging meetings here schedule free time for fun and invite spouses and children to tag along. The Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, a former Embassy Suites property that went independent in 2013, is a favorite venue for those bring-the-kids gatherings.
“Our marketing campaign has always been about the four doors to recreation: Out the front door is the lake, to the north are the casinos, out the back is hiking and to the south is Heavenly,” says General Manager Bill Cottrill.
The 399-suite property, fresh from recent renovations and widely recognized for its green initiatives, houses 10,000 square feet of meeting space, includes a hot buffet breakfast in its rates and occupies an enviable location on the California side of the street that serves as the state line. An extensive roster of associations, corporations and scientific groups come back year after year, says Cottrill, who adds that he’s detected a trend since the economy picked up. “Lately,” he says, “we’ve been getting a lot of groups that don’t want meetings at all—they just want to host a reception and send their people out to play.”
In one of the most eagerly anticipated developments in South Shore, Edgewood Tahoe, home to a George Fazio-designed course that has been a lakeside fixture since 1968, is adding a $100 million, 154-room, LEED-designed lodge as the centerpiece of a project that also will include a spa, fractional ownership units, a restaurant, an adventure camp, clubhouse enhancements and a 3,000-square-foot conference center. That’s in addition to some 4,300 square feet of existing event space, plus lawn, patio and beach venues. The Lodge at Edgewood, located just past the Stateline casino strip, is set to open in June 2017.
Also in Nevada, perched like an eagle’s aerie on a 7,600-foot mountaintop with panoramic views, The Ridge Tahoe is a 302-unit hotel/ vacation ownership resort that expanded its conference capabilities last year with $2 million in renovations and additions to its Castle Rock Event Space, which now totals 3,700 square feet and can accommodate classroomstyle meetings for up to 120. Adding to the resort’s all-season, family-friendly appeal are condominium-style suites with kitchens; a dedicated chairlift providing ski-in, ski-out access to Heavenly; on-site access to hiking and mountain-biking trails; a year-round swimming pool and a 30-seat movie theater.
New development is also creating fresh opportunities on the California side of the state line. Last December saw the debut of The Loft Theatre, a 107-seat live theater, lounge and dining establishment in Heavenly Village. Home to the “Magic Fusion” intimate magic and comedy show, it can be booked separately during off-hours for presentations, receptions and private dining.
Across the street from the village, San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hospitality is taking on a new venture in merging a pair of adjacent properties (968 Park Tahoe and Park Tahoe Inn) into a 167-room boutique hotel called Hotel Becket. It was set to open in December after a thematic, rustic-chic remodel of guest rooms, public areas and about 1,000 square feet of meeting space. A few blocks back, the 77-room Landing Resort and Spa, new in 2014, has in-yourface views of the lake and a 3,600-squarefoot rooftop deck from which to celebrate them. Meeting space includes a ballroom and boardroom that can be combined to stage banquets for up to 100 guests. Glass walls can be retracted to let the outdoors in, and a heated tent provides an additional venue for up to 225 people (seasonally).
A mile west on Highway 50, Hotel Azure has gone upscale with a top-to-bottom remodel of all 99 guest rooms. Its detached conference center, which houses two large meeting rooms (one with lake views) and a foyer, also has been spruced up. The 6-acre campus includes a year-round pool and lawn areas popular for barbecues and receptions. “We’re one of the more flexible properties at the lake in that we let people choose their own caterers,” says Rich Bodine, director of operations.
On the lake side of the highway, Beach Retreat & Lodge is a 260-room, three-story property with its own sandy beach and a newbuild conference center that opened in 2015 with 3,200 square feet of flexible space and a 1,000-square-foot deck. “We’ve been booking a lot of corporate groups from the Bay Area and Southern California that want a laid-back location so that when they get out of their meetings they have lots of things to do,” says Stephanie Hannah, director of sales. “We’re really popular with millennials, in particular. A lot of groups do team-building activities on the beach and lawn, or just enjoy hanging out at the fire pits.”
The resort’s Boathouse restaurant, offering outdoor dining on a 1,000-foot pier (Tahoe’s longest) shared with neighboring Timber Cove Marina, is a favorite summer dining venue for Beach Retreat guests and public visitors.
While North Shore has a reputation as being more laid-back than South Shore, the stereotype doesn’t hold when it comes to Truckee, a hipster haven of a ski town that never seems to sleep. Renowned for its restaurants, boutiques and nightlife, Truckee sits just off Interstate 80 and is an off-hours magnet for meeting attendees convening throughout the region.
The meeting and lodging venues are many. Cedar House Sport Hotel, an architecturally stunning, 41-room boutique property, has a detached event center and renowned restaurant. Granlibakken Tahoe, a 74-acre venue about a mile from the lake’s west shore, specializes in corporate, association, education and wellness retreats for groups from four to 400. Winter guests can enjoy a small ski hill and children’s snow-play area on site, while the resort’s Treetop Adventure Park offers year-round aerial treks on more than 50 bridges and zip lines, activities well suited to team-building ventures.
At Squaw Valley USA, groups can factor lift tickets or scenic Aerial tram rides (offered summer and winter) into their packages. Lodging and meeting space at the base area, where shopping and dining outlets provide a lively atmosphere, is available at the Village at Squaw, which in addition to lodging offers 40,000 customizable square feet of indoor and outdoor space, can accommodate groups as large as 900.
A different but complementary ambiance prevails next door at Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn, a 66-room boutique hotel at the base of the cable-car line. “We have 6,000 square feet of meeting and special event space and can accommodate up to 200 people classroomstyle,” says General Manager Steve Lamb. The location, he adds, “offers great opportunity to both get down to business and go outside and enjoy nature. When the snow is flying, groups from Sacramento, Reno and the Bay Area come see us for getaways and team building. Summers are equally vibrant, and our midweek corporate program is very strong.”
At the far end of the valley, the Resort at Squaw Creek is a ski-in, ski-out, AAA FourDiamond property with 405 guest rooms and a 33,000-square-foot conference center. A $7 million guest room renovation project completed last year introduced a modernmeets-mountain design scheme for enhanced sense of place, while a rooftop garden was added to supply produce for the resort’s culinary programs.
Over the ridge, Northstar California is similarly centered around a base village with many dining, entertainment and lodging options. A variety of meeting spaces are available to accommodate banquets and conferences for up to 200, while private events at village restaurants or the midmountain Zephyr Lodge also can be arranged.
Also at midmountain, the castle-like RitzCarlton Lake Tahoe, is also a ski-in, ski-out, AAA Five-Diamond property. It has two ballrooms and substantial outdoor event space and is upping its summer appeal with the addition of the waterfront Lake Club in Tahoe Vista, about 20 minutes away. Due to open this summer, the Lake Club will feature indoor and outdoor dining spaces as well as an expansive lawn, beach access, changing and storage facilities, outdoor whirlpool, private boat pier, a classic wooden boat available for charter and a pair of activity concessionaries providing watercraft rentals, lessons and tours.