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Quality of life for residents, quality of place for visitors

ROOST begins work on tourism management plan for Lake Placid

Hikers take a break on the summit of Mount Marcy in September 2017. (News photo — Antonio Olivero)

LAKE PLACID — At the heart of the Adirondack Park is the concept of balance, between humans and the environment. How do we balance the needs of the people who live and visit here with the state’s mandate to protect the environment?

The same can be said for tourism management, whether it’s in the Adirondacks or other destinations across the globe that rely on visitors for their economy.

In the Adirondack Park, there are official plans with guidelines to protect the environment: the State Land Master Plan and the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan.

Yet there’s no plan to protect our communities from the effects of tourism — what they call a destination management plan in the industry. But that’s about to change for the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba.

The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism/Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau is a not-for-profit corporation charged with marketing certain parts of the region: Lake Placid and Essex County, Hamilton County, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Piercefield.

Athletes turn around on state Route 86 during the 2019 Ironman Lake Placid triathlon. It is one of the village’s largest events and regularly creates friction with local residents, especially when it comes to traffic. (News photo — Lou Reuter)

And even though ROOST has been working toward destination management for some time, it’s making a big push this year to create an official plan. That would make ROOST a tourism marketing and management organization. This shift was confirmed during a staff retreat in January 2020, according to ROOST President and CEO James McKenna.

“It was really based on the fact that as destinations become more successful, attention really has to be paid to the management of tourism,” McKenna said on April 7. “And what that really means is that the community has to be taken into consideration on a major level as you move things forward.”

The Breckenridge Tourism Office in Colorado recently wrote a destination management plan with the following vision: “Harmony of quality of life for residents and quality of place for visitors.” ROOST is using the Breckenridge plan as an example as it moves forward, and McKenna said Lake Placid’s vision may be similar to Breckenridge’s.

“To be successful long-term, we have to make sure that No. 1, we have a good quality of life for our residents and then quality of place for our visitors,” he said. “Tourism management is about making that equation work, and it means that organizations like ours … have to recognize that the No. 1 ingredient to a successful economy in the travel industry really comes down to a successful community first.”

That’s the essence of the North Elba Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund (LEAF), which began this year to use 2% of Essex County’s 5% occupancy tax collected locally to help fund community projects. Members of the North Elba Town Council Tuesday, April 13, approved the LEAF program’s first round of grants — more than $560,000 for 17 civic and government organizations. ROOST pushed the county to raise the occupancy tax to help fund community improvement projects, and the increase was effective June 1, 2020.

Breckenridge’s plan

In its executive summary, the Breckenridge Tourism Office explained the need for a destination management plan, saying iconic destinations worldwide are being overwhelmed with visitors. That, in turn, creates friction between residents, governments, tourism organizations and visitors themselves.

“At some point, if left unmanaged, this continually increasing compression of travelers undermines the quality of life for residents and diminishes the destination experience for visitors,” the Breckenridge plan states. “Over time, that can also damage the destination brand, which decreases visitor satisfaction and loyalty because the destination is ‘too touristy.'”

A 22-member steering committee — with guidance from MMGY NextFactor, a travel consulting firm in West Vancouver, British Columbia — came up with a vision and four strategic goals. Each goal includes initiatives designed to accomplish the primary objectives, as well as the people and organizations responsible for their implementation.

“(The goals) will inform the future direction of Breckenridge in terms of how the public and private sectors collaborate to navigate the future of the year-round visitor economy,” the plans states.

Here are Breckenridge’s goals:

1. Deliver a balanced year-round economy driven by destination tourism by 2024

2. Elevate and fiercely protect Breckenridge’s authentic character and brand — our hometown feel and friendly atmosphere

3. More boots and bikes, less cars

4. Establish Breckenridge at the leading edge in mountain environmental stewardship and sustainable practices

Even though ROOST officials are looking at Breckenridge’s plan as an example, they will tailor their own plan to the uniqueness of Lake Placid, according to McKenna.

“We’re a little different than some of those western mountain resorts that are considered more long-haul travel resorts,” he said. “The fact that our geographic situation is so close to the major metropolitan areas of the northeast U.S. and southeast Canada, we might want to understand that as travel trends change, and as our community changes, we want to be a little more agile in how we do our planning.”

The Breckenridge plan is a 10-year road map. Lake Placid’s will be for five years and will be updated every five years.

Lake Placid’s plan

Now is a good time to work on Lake Placid’s destination management plan, according to McKenna, especially after seeing a successful year of tourism in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic — despite no major events and no traffic from Canada.

“The pandemic that we’ve gone through over this past year has given us the opportunity now to reset and to really evaluate that and to see how is the best way to move forward,” McKenna said. “(It) has given us an opportunity to look at these things in a new light.”

First, the positive and negative impacts of tourism on residents have to be evaluated, according to McKenna. But when considering large sporting events, those working on the plan also have to keep in mind that there’s a certain brand that goes with Lake Placid on the international stage.

“And we have to be protective of that international sports brand,” McKenna said. “So we have to make sure that as we fine-tune how to do these events in the best way for the major benefit of the community, we don’t want to put ourselves in a situation that we might not have (events like) the World University Games.”

Other considerations may include environmental goals and making sure events are operating in a sustainable manner and there’s a certain amount of social equity.

“Then we also have to look at a way — and maybe Ironman’s a little bit of an example — that there’s a philanthropic component that large events should be giving back to the community as well,” McKenna said.

Yet a destination management plan may also include non-tourism components, such as coming up with ways to build Lake Placid’s economy in a way that is less dependent on the travel industry.

“What things can we do to make sure that we have a broader economic base than the travel industry alone?” McKenna said.

ROOST officials were expected to speak with consultants at MMGY NextFactor this week to discuss the destination management plan, according to McKenna. In addition to Breckenridge, they’ve worked with Denver, Manitoba, Greater Miami CVB and Indianapolis.

The next step is forming a steering committee of between 20 and 25 stakeholders. McKenna said he hopes to get the program up and running by May and have a plan in place by this time next year. The process will include input from the public, town, village and Lake Placid/North Elba Community Development Commission. ROOST officials won’t be writing the plan; rather, they would facilitate the process.

“We feel that is our role because we’re predominantly talking about the travel industry,” McKenna said. “We think this is important for us to initiate and get off the ground. … Hopefully new ideas come to the table and new issues.”