Last Stop on the Way to Burning Man? Reno, Nevada
Reno is no stranger to visitors. Especially strange visitors. That’s why, every September, Reno welcomes “Burners” with open arms.
What are “Burners”? you may ask. Well, they’re none other than the veritable army of vibrant, adventurous attendees of Burning Man, the now three-decade old arts and culture festival – arguably the most famous of its kind – that built its entire identity against the backdrop of the southwest. At the end of every summer, thousands gather in Black Rock City, a transient settlement of art installations and music fueled by a kind of dreamy camaraderie not easily found in the waking world. In 2021, twenty thousand people attended Burning Man despite state restrictions, a historic low. This year, nearly ninety thousand are expected to attend.
And for many of them, Reno is the last big city on their way to Black Rock. More than twenty thousand landed at Reno-Tahoe International Airport this October on their way to Burning Man, bringing an economic tidal wave with them, with businesses of all kinds benefiting from the temporary surge in population.
Already Reno is a destination in itself, host to popular casinos and resorts serving an audience composed of both native Nevadans and out-of-state visitors, many from San Francisco and other Northern California population hubs where gambling is less accessible. This means Reno is conveniently well-equipped to host this yearly migration of Burners. And with that migration comes an exodus back home, with Reno once again serving as primary travel hub for many festival goers. The airport congestion is so heavy that officials typically try to raise awareness to non-Burner travelers and recommend they arrive earlier than usual, lest they find themselves trapped in sluggish, overcrowded security lines.
As the nearest large city to the festival, Reno usually finds itself the de facto inheritor of Burning Man’s leftover art installations, displaying them proudly as pieces of Reno’s own artistic heritage. One notable example is the illuminated stained glass Space Whale, which was exhibited for only days at Burning Man 2016 but continued to live on at Reno’s City Plaza. The whale has become so integral to the identity of the plaza that, in 2021, the Reno City Council voted to buy the whale and repair its damaged stained glass panels, replacing them with bulletproof polycarbonate.
Those in the hospitality and lodging sectors will especially benefit from Burning Man, with hotels typically booked to capacity to accommodate the thousands of travelers. Indeed, Burning Man represents a guarantee of business for AirBnB hosts as well, sweetening the deal for those property investors who have sought to tap into Reno’s tourism market. With so many people traveling to and from Black Rock City, stopping for a few nights in Reno on the way in and the way out, and often traveling and lodging in large groups, Burning Man ends up being something of a blessing for Reno property investors.