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Rails & Trail(ing) Amenities

November 25, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Sometimes the obvious is not so simple.

It is interesting to look at the tourism statistics between Essex and Franklin counties. These statistics reprinted with the permission of the Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) relate specifically to tourism dollars and not total expenditures. This report has been compiled for the last several years entitled “New York: Economic Impact of Tourism Regional Reports” by “Tourism Economics: An Oxford Economics Company” under Empire State Development auspices:

Total Tourism Impact 2010 (In $ ‘000)

Indicator Essex Franklin

Traveler Spend $330,576 $103,668 Local Taxes $ 22,152 $ 5,951 State Taxes $ 20,494 $ 6,427

It is interesting also to note that Lake Placid generates 80-90% of the Essex County occupancy tax according to ROOST officials.

Is it because Lake Placid promotes itself better than the rest of the communities? Is it the legacy of 2 Winter Olympic Games and the name recognition? Or is it perhaps something else?

Certainly the Lake Placid name does not seem as powerful as a name all of our communities share and that is “Adirondack.” This was confirmed by the folks in the Olympic village who after they commissioned an independent analysis discovered that more visitors recognized “Adirondack” than “Lake Placid.”

Need for Amenities?

While this is not suggested by the report, I am wondering if one of the reasons has to do with the diversity of amenities. They have more and other communities have less. But, is it more than simply the Olympic venues? Today’s visitor typically does not travel just for one reason. If skiing is their interest – yes, they will research the type of venues available as they decide between here or Vermont, Canada or out west. But they also want to be sure there are other activities and products that interest them.

The concept here is that while you need to have things to do like events, art walks and music, you may also need “amenities” like lodging rooms, restaurants, and retail shops that appeal to them. Depending on whom your target customer is, these products may need additional amenities like fireplaces, green fixtures like hydro therapy steam showers or simple things like secured bicycle storage areas for cycling enthusiasts.

Is this why Lake Placid generates between 80-90% of the occupancy tax in Essex County?

We may need to remember that despite the recession or maybe because of it, visitor expectations are higher than ever.

Whose Value?

It gets down to that other misinterpreted word “value.” Value is not just about price. It is also about what people EXPECT for that value. Depending on whom your customer is this can be very different. Are you a family on a budget? Are you an empty-nester looking for a special romantic experience? Do you expect a nice family run motel room or are you looking for an Adirondack Great Camp experience?

Besides the great outdoor experience, visitors “expect” other things and that is why shopping and eating are high on the list of folks who end up coming to our Great Woods. If your community offers only one type of lodging or few restaurant choices, you can have the greatest “activities” or events in the world, but they won’t be staying or spending as much money as they could be.

Perhaps this is why several years ago ROOST in conjunction with local communities in Essex County developed a local “tourism destination plan.” They recognized that communities needed to keep thinking about having the appropriate amenities to attract today’s visitor.

In Saranac Lake for example, the effort suggested the community needed more amenities included high-end lodging and restaurants.

An Appropriate Experience?

And this is where the proverbial chicken or the egg discussion comes to play. Do you build it and hope they will come or do you create demand first? If so, what exactly do you build –an economy lodge, a high-end hotel? If you don’t create the “right” products that particular visitors are looking for, will they even come in the first place? Or worse yet will they come back? If the experience is not what they “expected” will they rake you over the coals with bad social media buzz?

I don’t have an opinion on trails versus rails. I would offer this for consideration though: Both sides may need to consider a real business plan of what will happen after the trail is created or after the tracks are revitalized.

Whether its rail or trail or something in between, do we have the amenities to lure and satisfy today’s visitor? Will families be able to cycle miles upon miles before basic amenities like a restaurant or bathrooms are found? Will the train stopping at a revitalized rail depot impact the rest of the community? How many times has Saranac Lake discussed ways for riders to spend more time in that community?

An Investment Plan?

Any discussion that focuses on just the infrastructure of the corridor may be incomplete. Any opinion that suggests that visitors will simply appear may be understating what it will take to get folks here AND provide them with the amenities they are looking for.

Except for the diehards, will cycling or rail enthusiasts be looking for other activities and the type of amenities that suits their income and preferences?

In the argument of one versus the other, other regions that have been successful have been cited. Is it just because of the corridor or the scenery or is it because of the overall experience and the wealth of amenities for different target customers?

No matter what the option, will it also take an investment in not only infrastructure of the corridor itself – revitalizing the tracks or ripping them up and redoing the surface – but also an infrastructure investment into the communities to be sure they can compete and lure the visitor with the right products and activities they are looking for?

Finally, in either case we may need a careful and targeted marketing plan that details what the experience is all about – and it may be quite different along the corridor – but perhaps united with common marketing strategies.

Working Together?

Is it not possible to put together a Corridor Commission, a working group that is made up of all sides of the debate? Can this also include community reps from the entire length of the corridor, DOT, economic and tourism officials?

Can we look at all the options side-by-side that include not only an infrastructure cost, but an amenity, product and activity mix that we will need depending on who it is that we are going after? Can we talk about what the marketing plan and that investment will be?

In business before a bank asks you to invest, they require a business plan. This plan must describe the infrastructure investment, how will you market it and manage it. Finally, how you will pay for it. This plan must be focused and detailed.

Can we create a business plan for the corridor before we are asked to” invest”? Instead of each side arming for their own cause, can they combine forces and - money - to look at the alternatives – side-by-side?

We may be being asked by both sides to make an investment decision without sufficient information. What we may do today about this corridor may not only impact us, but future generations as well. Isn’t that worth at least a real investment plan where everyone has input?

 
 

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