The Greatly Profitable Outdoors

Like it or not, we live in a service and experience economy. You might think of open space and trails as peaceful getaways, but big thinkers on the great outdoors are increasingly describing it like part of a Wall Street portfolio.

“We have incredible outdoor assets,” Kevin Bagger, the senior director of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said at a recent open space and trails summit at The Smith Center. “It’s important to make sure we have the funding to protect those assets.”

Bagger and others who gathered at the forum frequently brought up both the economic potential of the outdoors and the possibility that decreased investment in public lands could undermine that potential.

More than 7 million people visited Bureau of Land Management lands in Nevada in 2011; they dropped $332.7 million in the state. “These are jobs that are always going to stay where they are,” said Will Shafroth, who leads America’s Great Outdoors initiative for the U.S. Department of the Interior. “You’re not going to export Lake Mead.”

And the more people use public parks and trails, the more decision-makers care about protecting them, said Neil Kornze, the acting deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management. Political will is gathering for the state to focus more of its marketing on eco-tourism and fitness travel, and the convention authority has hired a sales executive to focus on this niche.

Smart marketers extend stays, said former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst, the executive vice president of communications and government relations for Caesars Entertainment. Tourists may come to Las Vegas to visit the Strip, but they can be persuaded to spend an extra day or two—and more money—for a trip to Mount Charleston and Valley of Fire. Red Rock Resort has used this strategy with its adventure spa program.

Speakers at the summit also brought up several ideas to get Southern Nevadans out on parks and trails. Among the most promising (and logistically complex) is the proposed Vegas Valley Rim Trail, a 100-plus mile circuit around the city that would link up currently disparate systems. Meanwhile, Las Vegans can also expect to see more public-private partnerships and linkages between urban areas and the outdoors.

“We’ve been taught that you’re either for development or for the environment,” Shafroth said. “Today we know you can be for both.”

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