After venting, tourism efforts look to move ahead


By Patsy Nicosia

It took half a meeting to get there, but after an hour spent trashing, thrashing, and ripping apart Schoharie County’s 2019 plans for tourism, representatives from the Bull’s Head, Apple Barrel, Beekman 1802 and about 20 others agreed Wednesday their best bet is to work together to move forward.
What that will look like still has to be hammered out, but it will likely involve a partnership between the Occupancy-Tax Board, the Chamber’s Tourism Committee, the County Administrator’s office and industry reps.
And everyone agreed: To succeed, it’s going to have to be better a lot better funded than tourism is now.
Unhappy with the job the Chamber was doing and faced with a $60,000 shortfall in the O-Tax monies, supervisors decided to take on tourism themselves in ’19 and then launch a revved-up effort in 2020.
It was this idea that drew the most fire Wednesday; Jess Kirby of the Apple Barrel, who applied to act as the Tourism Promotion Agency before supervisors decided not to award a 2019 contract, said she was never given a chance to revise her RFP and called the whole idea unfair to tourism.
“You’ve known about the decline in O-Tax for more than a year,” she said.
“There could have been a number of other ways to lay this out, but it seems the answer was just to make it go away. Tourism is about the only thing, when you put money in, you get it back. This whole thing has been flawed from the beginning.”
Bridget Mayne, director of sales for Beekman 1802, called it outrageous that the county’s going into 2019 without a tourism plan “for the businesses that are bringing in the people.”
Beekman’s September Harvest Festival drew 18,000 visitors—three busses of them from New York City, a third of whom would have spent the night if there had been beds available, she said.
Which is an undeniable problem, said County Administrator Steve Wilson.
Not only did the mismanagement and closing of Rodeway Inn in Cobleskill slash O-Tax monies, he said, now there’s no place for larger groups of tourists to stay.
“The point of 2019 is to talk with the tourism community and develop a better RFP process,” Mr. Wilson said, adding, “I believe there is no support for the county taking over tourism. This effort is meant to set that up.”
Still, there was little support for a bare bones effort in ’19.
“We need some forward motion,” said Kelly Button who runs the New York House B&B in Sharon Springs.
“If we don’t do anything this next year, we’re going to be in real trouble…”
John Leavitt, Carlisle supervisor and owner of Heather Brook Clydesdales, an agri-tourism business, argued the county is wrong to fund tourism solely with O-Tax monies; other suggested using sales tax revenues since much of it comes from tourism.
“This has to be collaborative…it has to be stakeholder-driven,” said Bull’s Head co-owner and chair of the Chamber’s Tourism Committee, Chris Guldner.
“Tourism businesses have to be at the table. Otherwise, I’ll just close up shop in January and walk away.”
Mr. Wilson said he’s looking for tourism volunteers to work on a better long-term plan and Mr. Guldner suggested a place to start might be at the next meeting of the Chamber’s Tourism Committee and O-Tax Board set for 4:30pm Monday, January 14 at Howe Caverns.