LAKE PLACID - With 85 million people living within a day's drive of the Adirondack Park - many looking for outdoor recreational opportunities - Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism officials say it makes sense to enter into a contract to promote Hamilton County tourism.
"The more concentrated efforts we get in all of us working together, trying to promote the same things, the better off we are in the long run for everybody," said ROOST Executive Director Jim McKenna.
On Nov. 7, the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposal by the Lake Placid-based ROOST to facilitate the county's tourism marketing for one year. The $250,000 contract includes $25,000 for administrative costs and starts Jan. 1, 2014.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his whitewater rafting team compete in the Adirondack Challenge on the Indian River in July in the Hamilton County town of Indian Lake. The Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism helped coordinate the event.
(Photo courtesy of the governor’s office)
"We've seen some movements by some of the towns in Hamilton County and some of the towns in Essex County ... about really trying to work together and looking at their communities as one unit," McKenna said.
He was referring to the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub, a cooperative created by five towns - Long Lake and Indian Lake in Hamilton County and Newcomb, North Hudson and Minerva in Essex County - to promote this central Adirondack region as a tourist destination. The move came after New York state bought former Finch, Pruyn paper company land in and around these towns, including the Essex Chain Lakes tract. A classification recommendation for this newly acquired land is pending at the state Adirondack Park Agency, and the final decision will be made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Town officials are looking to promote the land as a backcountry destination.
"There's another good example about county lines," McKenna said. "When you're looking at recreational opportunities or tourism, a potential visitor out of Albany, New York is not going to make a decision to come or not based on what side of the county they're on. They're coming to the Adirondacks. Understanding that dynamic is also something that we've been watching."
ROOST's partnership with Hamilton County mirrors a recent push by Gov. Cuomo to regionalize economic development efforts throughout the state with his Regional Economic Development Councils.
"I think there's been a general movement by a lot of the tourism organizations around the state - even coming out of the I Love New York organization - to look at things from a regional perspective because we're much better off promoting entire regions rather than individual counties," McKenna said. "When you add all that up, from our organization's point of view, it seems like something we should be taking a strong look at because when we're putting something in the marketplace in New York City, it's outdoor recreation. And all of a sudden now we can include more of whitewater rafting in our messaging."
For Hamilton County, choosing ROOST meant choosing a familiar name with familiar faces.
"They're not an unknown quantity for us," said Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Morehouse Town Supervisor Bill Farber. "We've worked together with ROOST on the Adirondack Challenge. So there's that working relationship, and ROOST obviously has enormous experience doing exactly what we need."
When Hamilton County Economic Development and Tourism Director Ann Melious - a former Lake Placid resident and director of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council - left her job earlier in the year and moved to California, supervisors began re-evaluating her position. The person she succeeded in January 2011, Bill Osborne, has been filling in temporarily.
There has always been a need to balance economic development and tourism marketing duties in the position, according to Farber, yet county leaders have continually found that economic development needed more attention. So they decided in September to split the position up, concentrating on economic development and planning duties locally and contracting out the tourism marketing.
"Long story short, we took a deep breath, we had a couple of committee meetings, we talked about how we could restructure it, and concluded that we wanted to keep the economic development and planning side more local," Farber said.
Hamilton County received four requests for proposals for the tourism marketing, and members of the Tourism Committee reviewed them at their Oct. 29 meeting. A resolution supporting their recommendation, ROOST, was then placed on the Nov. 7 board meeting and approved by eight supervisors (with one supervisor absent).
The ROOST/Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau already provides tourism marketing for Essex County, plus the towns of North Elba and Harrietstown, and the villages of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. Adding Hamilton County to the mix was a no-brainer, according to McKenna. For one thing, the counties have a lot in common, as smaller communities such as Long Lake and Schroon Lake are facing similar issues.
"Our organization certainly has the infrastructure in place right now that can serve Hamilton County well," McKenna said.
Essex and Hamilton are the only two counties located entirely within the Adirondack Park's Blue Line boundary. Asked if that's an advantage, McKenna said, "Without a doubt.
"Everybody talks about the brand of the Adirondacks," McKenna said. "You don't make a brand happen. A brand happens by itself, and I think the more we can focus on Blue Line-specific programming, the more we can help that brand take life. And I think these two counties together is the nucleus of that happening."
Asked if taking on the Hamilton County contract means more jobs for ROOST, McKenna said it's too early to tell. The RFP did not include a marketing plan; that's phase two. However, due to technological changes in tourism marketing over the past 20 years, it takes more time for marketing efforts. Therefore, McKenna said they will most likely need more help.
"It doesn't work anymore where you go buy an ad in the (New York) Daily News and people come," McKenna said. "It's interaction with social media and other means, and that takes people to do. Whether that's contracted out or becomes part of our staff, that's something that we have not figured out yet."
McKenna said he's looking forward to continuing the synergy ROOST has already created with Hamilton County and the towns in the Upper Hudson Recreation Hub. Throughout the year, he's been meeting with these town officials and giving advice on tourism marketing and destination management, which is about planning and making sure communities have the right amenities for travelers.
Hamilton and Essex counties already work together on marketing as they are both members of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council along with the counties of Franklin, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Clinton and Warren.