Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tourism and Development: Part 1

There were two meetings last night, happening almost concurrently. Gossips tried to cover both but could only be present for part of each. The meeting of the Tourism Board started first, at 5:30 p.m. This post will report on the first forty minutes or so of that meeting, which went on for another fifty minutes.

Photo: Bruce Gilbert|Newsday
At its January meeting, the Tourism Board received and opened eight proposals submitted in response to an RFP for professional help in "developing a tourism branding and marketing strategy." Last night, the field of eight was narrowed down to four--at least that's where things stood when Gossips left the Tourism Board meeting to go the the HDC board meeting downstairs. The four groups that made the short list are ChandlerThinks, BBG&G, Fifteen Degrees, and Neo Design Group. It was decided that every board member should become familiar with the four proposals, start "digging deep," and come to the next meeting with more information. Tourism Board member Tammy Dillon urged that a decision be made in a timely fashion because, if the group chosen is going to study current visitation, the peak season for visits to Hudson is Memorial Day through Columbus Day.

The board then turned its attention to financial support for community events. It will be remembered that for years the City, in its annual budget, allocated $20,000 to support festivals and events in Hudson. Recipients of a share of the money have in the past been, among others, Flag Day, Winter Walk, the Hudson Pride Parade, the Black Arts and Culture Festival, the Bangladeshi Festival, and the Halloween Parade. For more than a decade, the money was distributed by the Common Council Arts, Entertainment & Tourism Committee. Last year, after Council president Tom DePietro abolished the AET Committee at the beginning of 2018, the money was distributed by the Finance Committee. This year, the $20,000 was not included in the city budget. This was done, apparently, with the hope that the Tourism Board would provide money out of its budget. 

Last night, when Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Tourism Board, presented the possibility, board member Jamie Smith Quinn responded, "The budget we have now is not adequate." (The Tourism Board currently has $140,000.) She then said, "It's our mandate to market, right?"

Dillon argued that funding events was worthy discussion. "As a Tourism Board, we need to open it up to anything that attracts people to Hudson." Board member Ted Gramkow concurred. "It's the duty of the board to have a parallel initiative for spending dollars. Can we create more festivals and make festivals better?"

Quinn suggested there were other places for events to get money, naming as one Columbia County Tourism, and expressed the opinion that the Tourism Board should not be giving out grants. Dillon had argued that some events relied on support from the City, noting that if the Halloween Parade didn't get funding, it wouldn't happen. Responding to this, Quinn asked, "If it's so important, why didn't [the City] fund it?" Board member Jeff Hunt wondered too why the City had dropped the $20,000 from the budget.

Hunt said if the board were to use $20,000 of its budget to fund events, there needed to be established procedures. Volo said he would investigate the procedures that had been put in place by the now defunct Arts, Entertainment & Tourism Committee. Board member Ellen Thurston offered her assistance in reviewing and establishing procedures.

On the topic of the Tourism Board's mandate, the law that created the board is the same law that established a lodging tax in Hudson: Chapter 275, Article VIII of the City Code, enacted in March 2017. According to the law, the board is "empowered to take all reasonable steps it determines desirable, necessary and proper to market the City of Hudson as a destination for overnight and daytrip visitors by making use of the funds set aside by the City Treasurer." The problem may with the language of the law or with now the term market is defined--narrowly or broadly. 

In an interview on WGXC last week, Council president Tom DePietro talked about the Tourism Board and its mandate. He told of a meeting he and Mayor Rick Rector had with two representatives of the lodging group early on in 2018. As DePietro tells the story, "We asked them what they were hoping for [from the lodging tax]. They did not talk about branding or marketing. They said create more amenities and a friendly, a better city that people are going to want to do things in." (The interview can be heard here. The comments quoted begin at 13:00.)


  1. I chaired Artswalk in 2099, produced the Hudson Music Festival from 2011-2014 and produced the Hudson Summerfest in 2017. It is very difficult to raise funding. County Tourism has a very small budget and a typical award can be about $250. I firmly believe that public events can attract a lot of people to Hudson. The Hudson Music Festival always got great press and became New York State's largest free music festival, but it was expensive to produce and the City did help to fund it. Why people think festival organizers can find loads of money for a free event is beyond me.

  2. Fun things to see and do both benefit the people who live and work here and draw in those who visit. There is no point in marketing to promote tourism if there's nothing to offer once the tourists get here. Let's focus on organization and support of festivals, parades and activities in Hudson, and the marketing and promotion will take care of itself. As the proverb says, build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

  3. I think we would all benefit from a responsible discussion about how marketing can benefit the City of Hudson, and how to measure that success.

    I am wiling to be wrong. 

But I have not heard anyone make the economic argument.

    As far as I know, the only reason for the Tourism Board was as a political concession to B&B’s who were concerned that the Lodging Tax would hurt their business.

    (There is no evidence that it does, and more evidence that it does not.)

    This board is a runaway train.

    An unnecessary political concession from 4 years ago has created a de fact Tourism Marketing Department with the 4th largest budget in the City. (If fully funded, the Tourism Board would have more money than the Fire Department.)

    Is this where our priorities lie?
    Do we let B&B owners set our destiny?
    Do we need marketing more than planning?

    My view is known: urban planning is the only form of marketing the City needs.

    I think we, as a City, suffer because the way we make decisions doesn’t work anymore. I believe the City of Hudson needs more community planning & urban design.
This money is an opportunity to change the processes underneath our decision-making to include everyone in our decision-making to create more resilient outcomes.