Adirondack Challenge debrief meeting closes with the awarding of the events “Finish” banner to the Town of Indian Lake and Town Supervisor Brian Wells; (left to right) Brian McDonnell, Neil McGovern, Jeff Byrne, Bill Farber, Christine Pouch, Ross Levi, Jim McKenna, Brian Wells, Vonnie Liddle.
Jim McKenna, head of the office that spearheads tourism efforts for Essex and Hamilton counties, dazzled lawmakers from across the North Country on Thursday, Feb. 27 with a lively presentation that stressed the importance of tourism in growing the region’s economy and why local officials need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing their communities.
McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office for Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), said while revenues generated by the county’s occupancy tax were the highest they’ve ever been last year at $1.9 million, up almost seven percent from last year, it’s important to note that the figure is a direct result of the increase in rooms and lodging opportunities —including last July’s opening of the Hampton Inn and Suites in Lake Placid — and that continued efforts are required to keep that number climbing.
“We have to start making tourism one of our top priorities,” he told the lawmakers, including Franklin County Legislature chair Billy Jones, Clinton County’s James Langley and Essex’s Randall Douglas. “Especially in smaller towns with declining populations that have a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities.”
McKenna, who peppered his speech with trivia questions to the lawmakers like, “Which was the only county in the United States to award a liquor license to a high school,” said domestic competition to attract tourism dollars is intense and he looks forward to helping local officials establish what they need to be successful in promoting their communities.
“First we have to get facilities developed for local residents, then we need to continue to fund lodging and hotels.”
Eighty-five million people live within a six-hour drive from the region, said McKenna, and it’s important for towns to create a unified front and stop competing against regional bedfellows like Lake George and Old Forge and start positioning themselves as alternatives to, say, Europe and Cape Cod.
McKenna also stressed the importance of the organization’s Destination Marketing Organization accreditation and Lake Placid’s membership in the World Union of Olympic Cities, both elite designations that puts the county — and soon, neighboring Hamilton — in the same bigtime league that gives them a seat at the table along global heavyhitters like London and Beijing.
The coming year marks a particularly ambitious one for ROOST, one that will see them expanding their efforts into Hamilton County and working alongside town agencies to determine four central tourism hubs, sculpting destination master plans and working to finetune their outreach through new websites and social media in order to crank out a unified marketing message.
According to a study conducted by Tourism Economics in 2010, North County tourism is a $1.1 billion industry, generating $144 million in state and local taxes.
“Marketing today is a personal thing,” McKenna told the lawmakers, citing the decline of the effectiveness in traditional advertising in promoting the region and the rise of word-of-mouth promotion that relies more on sharing memories and experiences with friends and family.
“The competition has never been greater.”