ELKO – Is Elko a destination for international tourists?
With media writers from around the world arriving to see and experience western culture – and encourage others to visit – the answer is quickly becoming: “yes.”
“Tourists are intrigued with western things that we take for granted like the wide-openness, the mountains and everything we have to offer,” said Tom Lester, Elko Convention and Visitor Authority tourism and convention manager.
Lester has invited tour operators and groups – or “fams” – from the United Kingdom and France to visit this summer. It follows the successful visit from German media writers in January for the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
A story by Margit Brinke and K. Peter Kraenzle, “Die Stimme der Buckaroos,” with pictures of the Star Hotel and Gathering performers, won a $1,000 prize at the Denver IPW in May and publication in the “American Journal” and the “Quarter Horse Journal,” German travel magazines that features tourist destinations in the western United States.
To be published in top travel German publications, each having a circulation of 30,000, “puts Elko on the map,” Lester said.
“About 250 travel writers submitted their stories,” he continued. “It’s a prestigious award.”
It also creates more interest in Elko from tour groups such as Grand Union Tours and Galaxy Tours.
“Galaxy Tours is looking at stopping in Elko,” Lester said. “They have about 18,000 tours, so about 800 come through and stay in Elko.”
Lester, who markets northeastern Nevada to tour operators with Travel Nevada trade shows throughout the year, explained that tourists from Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom are highly interested in western and Native American culture.
The recently opened Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum, along with the California Trail Interpretive Center, offer visitors unique experiences that – in some cases – they can take home with them.
“At the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum, they can do leather tooling and make a key chain .... Or do basket weaving at the Trail Center because it puts that person in that experience,” he said.
It’s those experiences that can increase overnight stays in Elko, Lester said. “That’s what we’re hoping for … out-of-town guests who spend money in shops, eat and buy gas, Lester said.
Being the midway point for tourists who fly into San Francisco and are on their way to Yellowstone National Park situates Elko perfectly for tour operators, Lester added.
“[Some] rent a car to drive to Salt Lake to see the Salt Flats. While bus drivers can only go so many hours before they have to stop, we can capitalize on that and let them know what we have to offer.”
Additionally, to continue to draw visitors from around the world, Lester is working on translating 14-day itineraries that include Elko into languages such as Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, which makes it easier to sell to travel agents.
“We’re also working with the Trail Center to translate the displays into Mandarin for bus groups,” he added.
However, it’s the reactions from international tourists who are fascinated with Elko and Lamoille Canyon that Lester points to as a reason why the area is so popular with them.
“When we had the Korean fam here last year, they saw cows and had to get out of the vehicle and take a look,” Lester remembered. “The vastness and the wide open spaces are something they would probably never see in their own country and that’s why they are intrigued with the West.”