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A Tri-lakes Tourism Consortium & A Regional Chamber: Part I

October 27, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
I begin with questions:

If there were no municipal borders, would the Tri-lakes region be a natural tourism destination as well as a business center? Are we of similar interest, economy and amenities to promote ourselves as a distinct region? Do we have similar quality of life opportunities with our mountains and lakes that we can collectively speak the same message?

Depending on how you answer these questions goes a long way to discussing our current and often referred to as “cumbersome and overlapping” business development and tourism marketing efforts.

Is it time to evolve the local chambers into a Tri-lakes regional business development organization?

Should we also consider flexing our muscle as a natural tourism region and create a consortium-based promotional effort?

Should we separate these 2 critical functions?

Different Customers

In business, in vital facets of your organization, it is important to hold people accountable to meet your goals. We really have no one accountable locally for tourism promotion. You cannot fault the chambers, they have minimal marketing dollars. The counties are responsible for areas outside the Tri-lakes. Other organizations are responsible for the region or the state.

At the same time we have a slew of local groups involved in marketing and economic development. On the marketing side these range from merchant groups, lodging associations, artist and wellness guilds to civic associations and a big one: volunteer groups that hold events.

Yet we don’t seem to have a good handle of what each other are doing and with declining dollars can we get more of our marketing dollars as a region?

On the economic and business development field, you have the chambers, non-profit groups, community development, county IDA’s and local governments.

Who do we go to when we have a business inquiry?

The irony is that the Tri-lakes are responsible for most of the bed tax money in Essex County and sales tax in Franklin. Is there a way though to cull our collective weight as a natural tourism region as well as a commerce center?

On the tourism side, this may be a good time to consider this:

Further discussion is planned between the chambers in Franklin County, the County IDA and the County itself. There are some interesting forces at work here and perhaps misconceptions:

County Tourism in Transition

Currently, the County Industrial Development Agency which is administering the tourism office is not filling the tourism director’s position. Does an industrial development agency understand tourism – one of the largest county employers and sales tax revenue generators? Luckily, staff remains to administer the county matching funds tourism program. However, will there be sufficient resources available to proactively engage in marketing especially the new social media? Are there new revenue generating ideas for the county to consider in the new marketing? Can they be a part of these marketing discussions?

The Many Hats of the Chambers

The chambers within the county have argued in the past that they are more in touch with what communities want in marketing. Yet the chambers themselves have scarce resources and minimal marketing dollars to do their own marketing. Historically, the chambers have also served to be a business-to-business development organization. With declining resources can they do both? Do they have the expertise to understand the new world of marketing? Would they need additional resources?

Putting Heads-in-Beds

The concept of a bed tax is to use those funds to directly assist efforts that put “heads-in-beds.” In other words, revenues generated by people, typically tourists, staying in the counties lodging facilities are to be used for marketing to bring in more people to stay in these same lodging facilities. If done correctly, the theory goes; while they are here they will shop, eat and become involved in activities thus spreading their tourism and sales tax dollars around.

This obvious point that tax money being generated is a result of people “occupying” our lodging facilities may be misunderstood. Bed tax dollars needs to directly go back to those County “experiences” that bring people in from far enough away that they need to stay with us. The marketing experts call it “destination marketing.”

Marketing – to Whom?

This is where the confusion of what marketing we need to undertake to enhance our lodging “occupancy” perhaps begins. Not all marketing is created equal and not all events or experiences will draw people from far enough away to fill up our rooms.

And that’s okay.

But just as the debate between rails or trails has to date minimized, just the promotion of an event or a corridor will not necessarily attract folks who want to stay overnight. We have to provide them with an experience or simply put: a reason to stay with us.

Not all events or experiences are meant to do this – and that’s okay too. It all comes down to: Why was the event created for in the first place? Create a family based event for New Year’s like First Nite? Generate community enthusiasm for spring such as Daffest? Or is the event to bring in athletes from all over the world to use our venues?

Each of these events is needed but their target customers may be very different. A community event is just that – it targets the community. Generally, folks are not traveling to attend these events and thus have minimal interest in staying in our lodging facilities. They may grow to that someday but that is not their first priority. This is very different from an event like the World Cup or the Adirondack Arts & Heritage Festival that seeks to draw folks from outside the region as its primary purpose.

What’s the Real Goal?

Whoever ends up controlling the bed tax should it come to pass, needs to understand that its first priority is promoting those experiences that focus on bringing people into our lodging facilities. With minimal resources, the proposed bed tax or the County’s tourism fund cannot promote everything. It needs to focus on those activities that draw people here for as long as possible.

In today’s marketing, this effort generally requires that we give them a whole slew of reasons to do so. They need to have the confidence that there are enough lodging facilities, a variety of places to eat and other leisure activities to undertake once they make the decision to come here.

Local events can primarily use local media. Destination events need to consider some type of non-local marketing.

This takes a level of expertise and resources.

With today’s shrinking marketing dollars on a local, county and state level they will also require an understanding of how to use those resources and leverage our business and community dollars with theirs.

We will need scratch and claw and scream to get our events and experiences heard not only through the din of our own crowded community calendars but also the busy visitor or tourist who is getting Facebooked, e-mailed and Twittered to death from every other rural community.

To stand out we may need to understand the intent of different events, coordinate them and know how to leverage them with other resources.

One Mission?

Is one issue too many different groups doing too many different things with decreasing support?

Can we focus one effort that is held accountable for business services?

Can we create another initiative that coordinates tourism marketing?

Each has one mission and each has one goal. However, they have very different objectives and expertise. More importantly, they respond to a very different customer.

What might this look like? We will discuss one idea next week.


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