Updated: July 14, 2014 at 4:30 pm
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Northern Nevada tourism officials say they've seen a significant spike in convention bookings, but continue to struggle with a drop in government business because of a misconception that casino resorts cost more than other hotels.
The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority signed contracts for nearly 50 percent more rooms going forward compared with the previous year — 163,259 in fiscal 2013-14 compared to 110,000, said Chris Baum, the authority's president and chief operating officer.
"It is some very positive momentum," Baum said Monday.
"We are making significant progress on advance bookings and future bookings on a definite basis," he told The Associated Press.
The so-called "definite" rooms locked into convention contracts make up about 20 percent of the Reno-Sparks area's total room nights in any given year, Baum said.
The biggest new deals include Triple Crown Sports, an organizer of youth sports tournaments that has booked 22,756 room nights for four events planned in 2014-15.
Overall, room revenues grew 12 percent from 2012 to 2013 — the first double-digit increase in taxable room revenues in more than a decade, the visitors authority said. Room rates reached a daily average of more than $83 for all hotels in Washoe County, a 9.6 percent gain from 2012 and the biggest annual increase since 2007.
Before the recession, the authority typically booked about 50,000 rooms annually for government-financed conventions alone, but in recent years that figure has fallen to below 10,000, Baum said.
"The last time I checked it was 9,000. We don't see any change in that," he said. "Government planners are still under the impression they will get in trouble if they book something in a resort area."
Tourism officials in Las Vegas especially saw a drop in convention business after President Barack Obama said in 2009 corporations shouldn't use federal bailout money on luxury trips to Las Vegas. A year later, Obama said at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, "You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college."
Republican Rep. Mark Amodei led Nevada's congressional delegation in introducing the "Protecting Resort Cities form Discrimination Act" last year aimed at prohibiting government agencies from "blacklisting" resort properties. The House Appropriations Committee approved the measure in May as part of a larger Justice Department spending bill the full House is expected to pass on Wednesday, Amodei spokesman Brian Baluta said.
"These prohibitions emphasize optics over real fiscal restraint," Amodei said, "because they have been implemented without concern for whether the banned resorts and casinos present a better value for taxpayers."
Baum said the push in Congress is helping, but his sales staff still faces that hurdle regularly.
"Even if there's not an official policy in place it is widely understood by employees that my boss wants me to stay away from controversy and out of the spotlight even if it is cheaper at the resort. Unfortunately, it wastes tax dollars," he said.