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Doheny talks tourism
August 6, 2012 - Chris Morris
Watertown businessman Matt Doheny continued his "50 Businesses, 50 Days" tour last week, this time focusing on the 21st Congressional District's tourism industry.
As with past tours, the Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, issued a list of ways to help the industry after he completed his tour. Doheny said tourists and seasonal residents spend billions of dollars in the region, helping support thousands of local jobs.
"We want them to keep coming back – and tell their friends about the wonderful opportunities here," he said in a press release. "But to make that happen, we need these common-sense solutions to some of the problems that hinder tourism."
What follows is a series of "solutions" to those problems that Doheny says are hindering the tourism industry:
KEEP GAS PRICES LOW
Working Americans have always had a strong desire to take a vacation. But in this weakened economy, it’s harder to justify the cost. Travelers definitely consider the price of gas when deciding whether they can afford a trip. With gas prices between $3.60 and $3.80 a gallon district wide, we have to change our federal policy. First, we have to change the supply and demand quotient. We must take advantage of untapped resources in the continental United States, offshore and in Alaska. We cannot stand in the way of projects like Keystone XL that can move crude oil from friendly countries to our refineries and distribution centers. Second, we must reduce ancillary costs that drive up the price at the pump. New York’s congressional delegation should be putting pressure on state leaders to reduce the 49.1 cents in state taxes that are charged for every gallon pumped, which is the highest in the nation. Third, we must streamline the permitting process for building refineries. The last significant refinery was built in 1977 – and permits can take up to 10 years to be approved. Finally, we have to change monetary policy. Oil is priced in dollars. A weak dollar drives up everyone’s costs, especially for the people who can least afford it.
MAINTAIN THE MINIMUM WAGE
Most of our tourism based businesses offer jobs at minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. Recently, Democrats proposed raising the minimum wage to $9.80 per hour, a 35 percent increase. However, this runs counter to people’s desires. In an April survey, Jefferson County seasonal residents said the area would be a better place to live if there were cheaper goods and services and a wider variety. Raising the minimum wage would force retailers to increase their costs to consumers and would likely stifle new business offerings. Owners of tourist-based businesses often have less than 90 days to make the money needed to both sustain their enterprise and to ensure it can open during the next season. Factors outside their control – such as bad weather – can hurt profits and growth. It would be a mistake to compound that problem with something that can be controlled, such as the minimum wage.
PRESERVE OUR LAKES, RIVERS AND ENVIRONMENT
Whether it’s skiing or sailing, biking or boating, hunting or hiking, the economy of the 21st century largely relies on the preservation of our natural resources. Our bodies of water are under attack from a dangerous predator – our own carelessness. We have introduced almost 200 non-native species into the St. Lawrence River and close to 50 in Lake Champlain. Many of those are invasive, which means they harm the natural ecosystem and, in turn, our economy. The round goby, Asian carp and now the spiny water flea are threatening the survival of bass, pike, walleye and perch by competing with these native species for food. Lake trout and Atlantic salmon are feeding on alewife, another invasive found in Lake Champlain, which is causing reproductive problems. The origin of most of these unwelcome guests is the ballast water of ships. While commerce must continue, we can do so it in a way that includes ballast standards that protect our rivers and waterways. There is also a public outreach component. Boaters and other recreational enthusiasts must understand the consequences of moving from one body of water to the next. Boats must be drained, cleaned and inspected by their owners to prevent non-native species from being accidentally introduced. A little personal responsibility can go a long way to ensuring that our waters can be used for enjoyment for centuries to come. Finally, the International Joint Commission is still using an outdated plan for managing water levels along the St. Lawrence River. Their new proposal is Bv7, which represents input from a diverse group of stakeholders. It will benefit both the economy and the environment, and should be implemented.
STOP THE VISITOR FEES AND TAXES
It was short-sighted for the Obama administration to propose charging a $5.50 Customs inspection fee for people arriving from Canada to the United States by air or sea. The regulation was written so vaguely that it could have had a devastating impact on our ferries, which transport tourists from Wolfe Island in southern Ontario to Cape Vincent. Washington bureaucrats with little understanding of our efforts to entice Canadian shoppers are sure to propose this fee again as a way of generating revenue for our government. It’s important to remain vigilant in this fight. Since cross-border travel benefits both sides, it’s important for Canadian policy on duties and tariffs to more closely resemble U.S. regulations. Americans who spend the day in Canada get to bring back up to $200 in purchases without being hit with a tax. However, the Canadian government does not reciprocate. Provincial taxes are also creating a significant disincentive to purchase alcohol in the United States, which hurts the burgeoning Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail. Canadian visitors who stayed more than 48 hours in the States can avoid paying fees if they’ve brought home less than 1.5 liters of wine (about two bottles), 750 milliliters of spirits and 24 cans of beers. In Ontario, each additional 750 milliliters of wine is socked with an import duty, an excise tax, a whopping 40 percent provincial duty and then a harmonized sales tax. It is unreasonable for a $14 bottle of wine to end up costing $22.09 after taxes. Cross-border commerce free of entanglements and punitive levies provides incentives to travelers from both sides. We must continue discussions with our Canadian partners about loosening these protectionist policies.
EXPAND CELL PHONE AND INTERNET COVERAGE
Smart phones can be extremely valuable to vacationers in an unfamiliar town – but if you can’t get cell service, you can’t search for a nearby restaurant, gas station or hardware store. Tourist destinations need cell phone and Internet coverage to be more appealing. While some may welcome the chance to unplug, all should at least have the choice of deciding whether to stay connected to their home or work.
LINKING OUR PRIME DESTINATIONS
One of a congressman’s primary responsibilities is to be salesman-in-chief for his district. Matt would like to help create more linkages between the Thousand Islands-Seaway, Adirondacks and Capital-Saratoga tourism regions in an effort to entice visitors to stay longer and visit more destinations.
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