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Where should a gnome roam? Utah or Lake Tahoe?

Published: 01/28/2010
Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune -- Utah or Lake Tahoe? Where's a gnome to ski?

Travelocity wants to know, so the online travel agency is conducting a contest. Voters will determine the next ski destination the company's Roaming Gnome mascot visits to dispel "cabin fever."

Utah's ski community wants to win. At least three organizations -- Ski Utah, the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Utah Office of Tourism -- have sent out e-mail blasts, encouraging people to cast online ballots as often as possible for Utah.

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the first day of voting, their efforts were succeeding. Utah was ahead 55 percent to 45 percent. But the contest has a long way to go -- until 10 a.m. MST Feb. 3.

"It's a fun way to generate some winter ski buzz," said Shawn Stinson, spokesman for the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), whose Ski Salt Lake campaign promotes the four resorts in the Cottonwood canyons -- Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton.

"If we win, there will be chances to tout our success, photo opportunities with the gnome that we could take advantage of in national campaigns," he added. "It's a popularity contest for sure, but we would love to put yet another feather in our cap by winning a friendly rivalry with our neighbors to the West."

For people who vote, there is also a chance to win a four-night, three-day ski trip to Vail, Colo.

Travelocity launched the travel contest last summer in hopes of boosting trip bookings and the exposure of its Roaming Gnome mascot.

Over a six-week period, it ran three contests pitting destinations against each other for the gnome's affection. First up was Las Vegas vs. Atlantic City, then a three-way challenge among Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C. The promotion ended with Hawaii vs. Jamaica vs. Cancun.

"It gave us a chance to get our mascot out there and build good will with customers," said Travelocity spokesman Joel Frey. "You have to become a fan of the gnome on Facebook before you can vote, so it was an easy way to increase his Facebook following."

The summer program proved so popular that Travelocity's ski destination partners asked for a shot. After all, Stinson noted, the CVB's Ski Salt Lake Superpass, discount coupons redeemable at any of the four resorts, "was Travelocity's best-selling lift-ticket product the past three years."

In winter's first pairing, Frey said Banff routed Whistler/Blackcomb 69 percent to 31 percent. Like the battle between the Canadian rivals, the Utah-Lake Tahoe matchup already is stirring emotions.

"The competition between resorts is friendly, but not really," Frey said. "Quite a bit of talk goes on on Twitter and Facebook. We're seeing a lot of back-and-forth already between Utah and Tahoe."

In a tough economy, winning can be valuable.

As Ski Utah spokeswoman Jessica Kunzer noted: "Not only will the Roaming Gnome visit that great area, but thousands of dollars of marketing and media will go into promoting the destination for leisure travelers, giving all of us more travel business.

"So help us help you," she pleaded. "Vote for Utah as many times as you can. Tell all your friends to vote, also."