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Bennett Says, Let’s Let Tourism Lead the Way

February 26, 2013 by · Comments Off on Bennett Says, Let’s Let Tourism Lead the Way 

Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY president and CEO

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.

Budget:

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.

CONY Urges Privatizing State Park Operations

February 25, 2013 by · Comments Off on CONY Urges Privatizing State Park Operations 

Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY president/CEO

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. Click here to read that first installlment.

Part 2 appears below.

First of all I have to say that in the private campground sector we need public parks. Our customers from near and far want to spend time in many of our famous parks and historic sites.

1) With the economy as it is currently, many more families have to find affordable ways to spend leisure time. Thus the increase in the use of park facilities.

2) Public parks are a great driver of tourism and a natural draw for visitors far and wide to visit the parks.

3) Richard Louve’s book “ The Last Child in the Woods” and many studies peg the average 6th grader in this country spending approximately 6-8 hours per day in front of some type of screen. Childhood obesity among American children has become an epidemic problem. If this trend continues, the life expectancy among children will begin a downward trend for the first time in many decades. We must work to promote the “getting kids outdoors” or parks will over time be viewed as less and less important and usage will decline. Social Media is actually Anti-Social media. With Gov. Cuomo’s initiative for extended school hours and possible extended school year, please take heed as children are not able to experience the outdoors. What will this plan do to tourism in New York State? What will this plan do for the labor shortages at the agriculture jobs as well as the many tourism jobs that these students provide to the sector? What valuable training in hospitality that these students learn? Not all learning in life needs to be in a classroom.

4) Several advantages that state run campgrounds have over private is that insurance and real estate taxes are not expenses of state-run campgrounds. Many other expenses are shared via park police, etc. I know many organizations have been formed to promote the idea of garnering additional taxpayer funding for the development and improvement of state parks and historic sites. We must find funding for parks from users of parks, it’s only fair. The state campgrounds even have a built in Camper Assistance Program trading labor for campsite usage. The private sector used to try this calling them workcampers however the workers’ compensation and ny unemployment insurance carriers put a stop to it on the private sector end. How does the state get away with this?

5) I feel that the state campground facilities and many other areas golf courses, ski resorts, resorts operations should be privatized. This concept would let the office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation focus on the Day Use parks for the benefit of our New York residents and out of state visitors. Privatization would provide the ability for the vendor to implement and finance many of the upgrades that the users of the facilities seek rather than the taxpayers as a whole. By privatizing the state businesses, it would remove much of the unfair competition aspect that currently exists.

6) I also feel that many of the departments should be realigned. The Department of Environmental Conservation operates approximately 6,000 campsites and the Office of Parks and Recreation operates approximately 8,700 campsites. Why not consolidate the operations? We also have oversight and regulatory irregularities. The Department of Environmental Conservation has oversight of regulations for many aspects of privately owned campgrounds, waste water systems, flood plain regulations while in direct competition? The same can be said for the Office of Parks and Historic Sites. Regulations exist in case a private campground is on a historic site. Oversight and regulations come into play while the department is in direct competition. Why not realign and let one agency oversee the campground operations while the other agency houses the regulatory side? This would ease the appearance of the direct conflict of interest that appears. Or why not lease out the state campground operations to a concessionaire(s)?

3) Regulations

a. Privately owned campgrounds face a burdensome regulatory environment.

b. Department of Health codes lead the way but we have a rapidly changing environment.

c. Don’t move firewood for fear of moving invasive species has been on the forefront the past few years.

d. We now face the prospect of bed bugs in rental cabin units.

e. DEC/FEMA with Flood Plain enforcement,

f. Historic Site regulation for new parks, if the park is in a historic area or near a body of water.

g. Adirondack Park the APA regulations, Ag and Markets for campground store operations,

h. Department of State and local for CODE issues.

i. ADA access for the disabled regulations

j. and the list goes on and on.

TUESDAY: Tourism promotion confusing

CONY’s CEO Standing Up for Parks in Hearing

February 22, 2013 by · Comments Off on CONY’s CEO Standing Up for Parks in Hearing 

Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY president/CEO

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. 

About Donald Bennett and CONY:

Bennett has been with CONY for almost seven years as CEO. He is also a Certified Public Accountant and a third generation campground owner. His campground business just concluded its 50th year of operation in the Finger Lakes region.

CONY is headquartered in Pittsford, N.Y., and has approximately 200 privately owned campgrounds all over New York state as members. The organization was founded in 1963. CONY is dedicated to the promotion, growth, improvement and development of privately owned campgrounds in New York state.

Highlights from Bennett’s testimony will appear in a three-part series on www.woodallscm.com. Part 1 appears below. 

Summary of the Privately Owned Campground Segment for 2012

Privately owned campgrounds and RV parks in New York state have experienced an average to above average campaign for 2012. The camping sector of the outdoor hospitality industry is very dependent on such conditions as the weather, fuel prices, the economy and current trends. In 2012 the weather cooperated, fuel prices remained stable; $4 per gallon seems to be the tipping point for many; the economy is still somewhat soft. Generally in bad economic times, camping becomes an affordable vacation. With the economy as it is, families are trading down from much costlier vacations, to thus learning to live with less.

Some statistics for the New York camper:

1) 74% of New York campers were at home the night before vs. North America at 54%. This shows the trend that with the poor economy, people stay closer to home commonly coined as “staycations.” As families struggle with employment issues and many families have become two income with both spouses working, it has become more difficult to align vacation time. Short, close to home vacations, getaways or weekends have become more popular.

2) 18% of the campers were first time camper’s vs. 15% for North America.

3) The purpose of the stay at private campgrounds: On the way to another location in New York was 25%. The national average is 48%. A Getaway/Weekend in New York amounted to 51% vs. 34% for North America. Stay and Play for New York amounted to 24%, while the national average was 18%.

The Private Campground Owner Faces:

1) Increased fees, taxes and expenses:

a. Fees have increased exponentially over the past few years. Examples are: Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) spedies permit. The permit for septic systems and the discharge into the ground system. DEC does nothing for this fee but yet it has doubled in the last few years. Ag and Markets charge a small seasonal operation the same fee as a multi-million dollar grocery store.

b. It is widely known that real estate taxes have increased a tremendous amount while assessed values have also raced ahead compounding the problem of high taxes. Many municipalities have implemented Occupancy Taxes on rental units and cabins and even in one county on campsites themselves. Campgrounds must be commended on green space and keeping large parcels of land from regular development, while keeping them on the tax rolls to help the funding of the local communities in which they are located.

c. Expenses have risen beyond belief. Electricity is one of the major expenses of a campground operation. Campgrounds are classified as a commercial electric user even though most of the electric is a residential nature. As a new small residential increase in transmission costs was widely debated in open forum, a radical large increase was kept under the radar that took effect in October 2010. This will prove to be a large and costly increase. Some meters’ transmission charges and fees will in some cases triple. Some expenses fall on the consumer. To use the New York State Thruway without an easy pass, certain campers can cost $75 from one end of the state to the next.

2) Competition:

a. Privately owned campgrounds have been competing unfairly with New York State run campsites for decades.

i. Between the Office of Parks and the DEC, state-run parks account for approximately 15,000 campsites. The private sector contains approximately 45,000 campsites statewide.

ii. I would like to point out that camping is a privilege, not a right. I don’t think that subsidizing camping at state run facilities is the best use of taxpayer dollars, considering the many capital updates that the state-run facilities require that could be paid for out of operations.

iii. Many visitors to state-run facilities are from other states and provinces. Out-of-state citizens should at least pay market rate or at a minimum at break even rate. Many other states have two rates for their state-owned facilities giving their residents a “discount.” Why is it that New York state taxpayers are subsidizing out-of-state residents’ vacations?

MONDAY: A closer look at parks in New York.

New York Campground Owner Cited by CONY

January 19, 2010 by · Comments Off on New York Campground Owner Cited by CONY 

Michael Papp, owner and operator of West Canada Creek Campsites in Poland, N.Y.,  was honored by Campground Owners of New York (CONY) with the Chairman’s Award, according to a news release.

The award was presented during the CONY’s 46th Annual Conference and Trade Show  held at the Kaatskill Mountain Resort in Hunter, N.Y. 

Papp was selected for the Chairman’s Award by CONY Chairman Scott Sherwood for his leadership and diligence in steering CONY through a year-long strategic planning effort. Papp serves as 3rd vice chairman on CONY’s board.   

In choosing the recipient, Sherwood felt that Papp deserved the award for ”is many extra hours devoted to managing and analyzing data, and encouraging participation from fellow board members during this intensive period of re-organization and forward movement for CONY. These extra efforts were in addition to running a campground business and raising his two sons with his wife Sandy.”

According to Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY president and CEO, Papp’s efforts have lead to several positive outcomes for CONY.

”Thanks to Mike’s enthusiasm and hard work, we now have an improved corporate identity with a new CONY logo, well-crafted mission and vision statements for the association, and a re-organization of our committee structure that has already had positive affects on our board’s functionality after only one meeting.” 

CONY is an association dedicated to the promotion, growth, improvement and development of privately owned campgrounds in New York state. More information about the association and its campgrounds – including a free camping directory – is available at www.nycampgrounds.com.
 

CONY Responds to New York Park Closings

April 27, 2009 by · Comments Off on CONY Responds to New York Park Closings 

Bennett

Bennett

(Editor’s Note: Donald G. Bennett Jr., executive administrator for the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), wrote this Letter to the Editor which was published recently in the Watertown Daily News.)

This past week media outlets have been reporting that budgetary pressures have forced cutbacks and closures at New York state and DEC parks, affecting traditional summer activities including camping, swimming, golfing and historic sites. Seasons will start later and end earlier, and some operations will be closed on certain days of the week. With these closures and cutbacks, it would almost seem that people planning their vacations will have fewer options and opportunities to stay and play in New York state.

That is definitely not the case. What has not been reported is that hundreds of privately operated campgrounds and RV parks across New York state, with thousands of campsites as well as cabin and trailer rentals, are poised and ready to welcome vacationers this year.

Your readership may be surprised to learn that privately operated parks offer many of the same — if not better — activities and amenities as found in New York state parks, including swimming, hiking, hands-on activities, camp stores, shower/restroom facilities, even golfing. Most privately operated campgrounds and RV parks in New York are near popular attractions (including state parks and historic sites) and world-class events. And, camping is still one of the most affordable vacations that budget-minded citizens can indulge in, even at campgrounds and RV parks not subsidized by taxpayer monies.

To those feeling the time crunch imposed by the cutbacks at New York state and DEC parks, we propose they explore the variety of camping, RVing and recreational opportunities that can be found online at www.nycampgrounds.com — and make their reservations today.

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