Bennett Says, Let’s Let Tourism Lead the Way
Editor’s Note: On Jan. 15, Donald G. Bennet Jr., president and CEO of the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), testified before the New York General Assembly’s Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Assembly and the Standing Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation. His testimony focused on the current state of the campground industry in the Empire State.
Highlights from Bennett’s testimony are appearing in a three-part series on www.woodallscm.com. The series started on Feb. 22. Part 3 appears below.
The tourism efforts in New York state operated by the Empire State Development Corp. have been a little confusing as no outreach with stakeholders has taken place in quite some time. I am happy to see that a television marketing campaign took place this year for the first time in years. I was also glad to see the New York State Travel Guide remain a mainstay of the print marketing campaign. Although we are in a different age of marketing with the Internet, the printed guide is extremely important to accompany the website in a complete marketing program. The average New York camper according to research is 51 years of age, nationwide the average is 55. The travel guide is intended to be used while traveling.
The aid to localities is a program called “Matching Funds,” a program that has been a public private success story for our tourism industry. The program takes public monies and leverage such monies with a private dollar-for-dollar match. Examples of this success can be found in our annual CONY Camping Directory. Many local tourism agencies rely on these funds and the smaller agencies this program makes possible the resources to have a tourism office and program.
In Gov. Cuomo’s 2013 state of the state address he mentioned a regional competition for $5 million. I am hoping that this is not the new matching funds program. My fear with a competitive process as the governor describes it in his address. Is that the tourism offices with the largest staff and the most resources will be able to “win” the lion’s share of the awards by being able to put together better programs and proposals.
The governor also spoke of regionalization in the tourism arena coupled with the Economic Development councils. Several problems come to mind. First the tourism regions do not match with the economic development regions. Examples (Sullivan and Ulster counties are included in the Hudson Valley Economic Development council region while in the Tourism Region they are a member of the Catskill region). Many other examples exist throughout the state.
Secondly, the regional approach seems like a nice idea but I am afraid that only the large businesses will get grants and funding. The current matching funds system provides monies to counties individually where they can leverage their own budgets, sales tax and occupancy tax revenues to have the professional marketers referred to as TPA’s (Tourism Promotion Agents) provide a customized marketing plan to showcase the unique assets that their particular county has to offer, whereby the state can leverage private funding and double their investment through this program as the I Love NY logo must be included on all marketing utilizing matching funds.
The matching funds program is a great help to small private businesses to enable them to promote themselves. I am hoping that this committee will work to ensure the Matching Funds program continue and operate as it has.
I know that the budget is and will continue to be very tight but one of the bright spots in regards to employment has been in tourism related businesses. Let’s let tourism lead the way to a healthy New York state economy. I feel that more public private partnerships can be explored and potentially be developed to leverage non-taxpayer assets to promote New York state as a destination.
In summary, please work to keep the matching dunds program in place as it has operated. Regions as specified for Tourism and the Economic Development regions need to be aligned. With the governor’s state of the state address and expanding the school calendar we must be cognizant of two things:
- If we remove the summer break, we hurt seasonal tourism businesses by making it harder for families to spend quality time together exploring our great state.
- Also, we take the risk of hurting these tourism and agriculture businesses as many of these businesses rely on students to provide a seasonal labor force.