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Nevada to show off natural beauty via televised ‘Passage’

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RENO, Nev. — It's being billed as a combination of the reality television shows "Survivor" and "Amazing Race," but Nevada officials are hoping the winner will be the state's tourism industry.

Tourism officials have announced plans for "Nevada Passage" — a made-for-TV competition next spring intended to display the state's natural beauty and many varied opportunities for outdoor adventure.

From rock-climbing in Red Rock Canyon to mountain-biking in the Ruby Mountains, sandboarding on Sand Mountain and whitewater kayaking in Reno, teams of 20 competitors will make their way through a series of athletic challenges May 19-24.

The events will be videotaped for an hourlong, syndicated television show that the producers predict will be seen next fall by at least 2 million viewers across the country.

"Viewers will see Nevada as we have never shown it before — a rugged adventure landscape that's also very beautiful," said Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

"Nevada Passage" will take the racers from Las Vegas through several rural communities before ending in Reno.

"The performance will be like a combination of the 'Amazing Race' and 'Survivor,' " Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt said at the 20th Governor's Conference on Tourism in early December.

"It will enable adventure seekers to clearly visualize the thrill of kayaking the Truckee River or mountain biking in the Ruby Mountains near Elko," she said. "We think it is going to get us a lot of publicity."

The Honolulu-based TEAM Unlimited is producing the event and intends to syndicate the TV show in more than 80 markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

"It will be entertainment-oriented. The true goal is to reach those people who travel for the sake of adventure," TEAM Unlimited's Janet Clark said. Based on the company's experience, 2 million viewers would be the minimum expected, she said. The show will air between August and November 2005.

Participants will compete at a different location each day for six days, starting with rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and time trials on personal watercrafts from Lake Mead Marina to Echo Bay Marina. Next on the schedule are a four-wheel drive rally and treasure hunt at historic areas near Ely, followed by mountain biking and trekking in Lamoille Canyon near Elko. The final two days involve sandboard time trials at Sand Mountain near Fallon, and whitewater kayaking from Verdi to downtown Reno.

The announcement about the show comes at the end of a banner year for Nevada tourism. Annual visitation to the state was expected to top 50 million for the first time in 2004, and the outlook for 2005 is "very, very bright," said Gov. Kenny Guinn at the governor's conference.

Guinn said that competition from tribal casinos in California had proved to be a blessing in disguise for Nevada's tourism industry by forcing the state to do more to attract foreign travelers, adventure-seekers and other new visitors.

"Competition for gaming dollars has done us more good than harm. It has inspired Nevada to strive for a much broader market by diversifying our product to include adventure shopping, fine dining and other amenities," he said.

The 50 million visitors — a projected 37 million to Las Vegas — is 10 million more people than visited Italy last year, one of the top international tourism destinations, he said.

Hunt, the Tourism Commission chairwoman, has placed a priority on expanding international airline routes to Nevada.

The commission opened new offices this year in Beijing — the only U.S. travel office in the China — and Mexico City to go with those already established in Japan, the United Kingdom and South Korea. "Global tourism is the key to our future," Hunt said.

Walton Chalmers, vice president of the American Gaming Association, said he's impressed with Nevada's relative immunity to the economic slowdown that lingered across most of the country after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"It really has been resilient. You're going to break records for gaming revenue, non-gaming revenue, visitation, room occupancy rates," he said.

For example, 51 percent of MGM Mirage's income comes from non-gambling sources "and it's clearly going in that direction even more," said Alan Feldman, senior vice president for MGM Mirage in Las Vegas. "Entertainment and retail shopping has been skyrocketing," he said.

The Gaming Association's research also shows there are an increasing number of people who "find casino recreation an acceptable form of entertainment," Chalmers said.

Surveys suggest one in four adults have visited a casino in the last 18 months.

"For young people, under 40, something like 90 percent see it as an appropriate entertainment expense," he said.

The governor said he had even come around to liking an edgy ad slogan for Las Vegas — "What happens here, stays here" — that had raised some eyebrows as a suggestive invite to wild times.

"I had my concerns about it," he said. But he said at the governor's conference that he'd changed his mind since traveling around the country and hearing positive reactions.

"I can tell you that slogan is synonymous with Las Vegas, and they don't take it as a negative," Guinn said.

The campaign launched last year by R&R Partners of Las Vegas includes one TV ad with a woman who apparently just married a man who speaks no English on the spur of the moment at a Vegas wedding chapel.

In another, a Chinese woman scratches out a line in a postcard she apparently doesn't want the folks at home to read and in another, four women in a limousine giggle and laugh about an undisclosed, apparently embarrassing, incident.

Each ad closes with the now-famous tag, "What happens here, stays here."

If you go

NEVADA PASSAGE:www.nevadapassage.com

NEVADA COMMISSION ON TOURISM:www.travelnevada.com or (800) NEVADA-8.

LAS VEGAS TOURISM BUREAU: www.lasvegastourism.com