When Claudia Vecchio accepted the job as director of the state Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs a year ago, she knew she was entering uncharted territory.
The state had just combined its tourism, arts, museums and Native American culture departments into one office because of a budget crunch. It was anybody's guess how well the parts would fit.
Vecchio came from the tourism industry, having headed Destination Integration, a Dallas company that promotes tourism and economic development for midsize communities. She previously directed the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism.
Vecchio, who is based in Carson City, spent a year familiarizing herself with the state and the entities that comprise her department. During a recent visit to Las Vegas, she reflected on what she has learned:
What has been the biggest eye-opener for you in terms of marketing tourism in the state?
I think the big surprise was the fact that there is so much in this state that people don't know is here. There are some incredible natural resources, like the Valley of Fire, Great Basin National Park and the Ruby Mountains. And there are some great special events in this state.
Because there are -- and rightly so -- great marketing machines in Las Vegas and Reno, some of these really extraordinary things get overlooked. I didn't know they were here, and I consider myself to be someone who knows the world and the good things that there are to see.
It also has been a surprise the level of education we have to do to help people understand what there is besides Las Vegas and Reno. When you're driving along, all these great wonderful things are just five minutes off the freeway, but nobody knows they're there because there's no signage, no rest stops, no visitor services infrastructure, no nothing to help the regular person know what's in the area. That's something I feel pretty passionately about trying to change -- working with the Department of Transportation and others that manage those kinds of services.
Where are some of the places you have been since you arrived in Nevada?
I'm getting out there. I've been across Interstate 80 from Wendover to Reno. I've been to Elko on a couple of occasions and was there for the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which I love. I went out for the opening of the California Trail Interpretive Center, which is an extraordinary facility about 10 miles west of Elko. They've positioned it so that not only is it on the California Trail, but you can see where the trail splits as it goes west. It's really smart. The facility is just gorgeous and definitely worth the trip out there.
I was out in Ely not too long ago and came across Highway 50, which is aptly called "the Loneliest Road." There are some wonderful little towns along there that are fun to see. I was up with some State Parks folks on Highway 93 to some of the parks up in Lincoln County. We didn't get as far as Great Basin, but we did get to Kershaw-Ryan and Cathedral Gorge state parks. It was really cool to see all that.
I can see why people who live in Las Vegas are a little hesitant to go out there because you're into nothing pretty quickly, and there are very few gas stations and services out there. It's a little intimidating to make the trip.
When I've been down in Southern Nevada, I've been to Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and Boulder City. I still need to do the U.S. 95 corridor, because I keep flying between Carson City and Las Vegas.
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