Tourism helps transform region

Thousand Islands International Tourism Council Director Gary S. DeYoung. Norm Johnston/ NNY Business

Is tourism an essential part of transforming the north country economy? When the North Country Regional Economic Development Council created its development plan in 2011, it titled it “Transformational.”

The plan looks to implement projects that transform the north country’s economy into one that works in the 21st century and tourism was identified as an important part of the mix.

That’s not surprising in a region that includes the Adirondacks and 1000 Islands. What is interesting is the way tourism was included. One of the visions in the North Country Economic Development Council’s plan is to “Activate tourism as a driver to diversify our economies.” The idea is that tourism is not an end to itself. It is not an industry separate from other business activity. In this vision, one of the most important things about tourism is that it can be used to build communities that are more livable and, therefore, more competitive in attracting other types of business.

Here are some things on the list of tourism developments that transform a community: waterfronts that are redeveloped with amenities made possible by tourism trade; healthy downtowns where visitors and residents enjoy a variety of shops and restaurants; an active calendar of events and performances patronized by tourists; agriculture that is bolstered with tourism businesses like wineries; and airports and highways with traffic from both residents and tourists.

In Jefferson County, the current Comprehensive Economic Development Plan identifies a number of strategies for tourism. The strategies include supporting private tourism businesses. That includes expansion of wineries and agri-tourism businesses and recruitment and promotion of retail. The plan calls for ongoing quality improvement in tourism service businesses such as hotels. It also places economic value on expanding public amenities like recreational trails. Like the regional plan, the county’s plan sees tourism as an integrated part of a healthy, transforming economy.

All this requires an adjustment to thinking about tourism marketing. Lots of textbooks identify four “Ps” of marketing; product, place, price and promotion. The product is what you have to sell. The place is where you sell it. The price is how much you charge. The promotion is how you communicate with customers.

Often, communities have just thought of tourism marketing in terms of the promotion P. That’s the primary task of a destination marketing organization, like the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council.

Tourism marketing is indeed an essential investment. Destinations need to continually advertise and promote to attract customers. But, the product, place, and price factors also are essential to becoming a true destination. In fact, all those elements impact the effectiveness of any promotion. If tourism is to drive economic transformation, the region as a whole and communities individually, will need to work on all four of the marketing Ps. The region needs to offer a quality tourism product, it has to be available to easily purchase at a competitive price, and it must be promoted.

Today, as reflected in the regional and county plans, many economic development organizations are bringing their resources to bear on the challenge by creating marketable tourism products. The region’s tourism operators also will need to adapt to today’s sales “place” — the Internet — selling rooms, tickets and experiences online. Tourism is big business and globally competitive, the north country will need to invent cooperative approaches and make far-sighted investments to realize the goals of the planners.

There’s a lot at stake to getting tourism right. Every year, tourism spending already accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales here in the north country. The state pegged the 2012 amount at $456 million in the tri-county 1000 Islands region. The same study noted that tourism supports 8,606 jobs in the region.

There’s evidence that the public and private sectors are moving forward on tourism product. The first round of Regional Economic Development funding included support for the new waterfront hotel being built in Clayton. The 2012 round included a $2 million grant to establish a north country tourism loan fund to assist private investment. New York State Parks & Recreation has opened Rock Island Lighthouse as a public attraction. Municipalities are working hard to improve downtowns and waterfronts. Private operators have built nearly 700 new hotel rooms in Jefferson County over the past six years. Dozens of new restaurants and retailers have opened. Agri-tourism enterprises continue to develop with openings of a craft cheese room, distillery and new winery in Jefferson County this year.

Product improvements not only mean more income from tourists, but the development of community amenities that make attracting other types of business investment easier. Continued investment in promotion of tourism to the region exposes improved and attractive communities to a broad range of visitors and investors. Moving into the global marketplace of the Internet can bring north country tourism to the world. Comprehensive marketing of tourism is indeed a key strategy in transformation of the north country economy.

Gary S. DeYoung is director of tourism for the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council. Contact him at gary@visit1000islands.com, 482-2520 or 1 (800) 847-5263.