Saturday, March 30, 2019

An Evening with the Tourism Board

At the Tourism Board meeting this past Wednesday, two dates were identified for hearing presentations from the four consulting firms being considered to help develop a marketing and branding strategy for Hudson. On Friday, April 26, the board hopes to hear presentations by from Neo Design Group and Fifteen Degrees. On Friday, May 10, presentations by BBG&G and Chandlerthinks will be scheduled.   

That being accomplished, the board turned its attention to the difficult issue of funding community events. At some point in the budget process last year, the $20,000 typically written into the city budget for festivals and events and then divvied up among such diverse events as Flag Day, Winter Walk, the Black Arts & Cultural Festival, the Bangladeshi Cultural Festival, and the Halloween Parade was eliminated from the budget. The expectation, apparently, was that the $20,000 could come from the percentage of the revenue from the lodging tax designated for the Tourism Board to spend. The amount is currently $140,000.

This is not the first time the Tourism Board has discussed the issue, and the conversation seems not to have changed much from what it was in February. Tambra Dillon, executive director of Hudson Hall, declared herself a "big advocate" for funding community events, saying, "The budget is modest, and the return is great." Jamie Smith Quinn, executive director of the FASNY Museum of Fire Fighting, remained staunchly opposed to, in her words, "diverting money from tourism to events that will not bring tourists." She asserted that being on "a board that gives out money" is "against her ethics statement." Her particular problem, although unstated, seems to be the connection of two board members--Dillon and Ellen Thurston--with Hudson Hall, which produces Winter Walk, a past recipient of funding support from the City of Hudson.

It was suggested that the Tourism Board could return $20,000 of its budget to "the City" for distribution, presumably by the Common Council Finance Committee, which divvied up the money last year. It was also suggested that the Tourism Board might create an ad hoc committee, made up of Tourism Board members and others who have no conflict of interest, to make recommendations for distributing the $20,000. Audience member Nicole Vidor called the events in question "the soul of Hudson" and opined, "It would be a beautiful thing to share the bounty from tourism with these events." Thurston expressed the opinion, "I would like to see these events continue. I don't think we should just walk away from them." Jeff Hunt added, "Taking that money away would do a disservice. We should support the events that made Hudson what it is today." Still, no consensus was reached, and no decision was made about how to proceed.

Toward the end of the meeting, when public comments were heard, the perceived mission of the Tourism Board was once again called into question. Claudia Bruce questioned the need to "brand" Hudson, asking rhetorically, "And we need a firm to brand Hudson more than we need new sidewalks?" Audience member Sean Sawyer observed, reasonably, "The money the Tourism Board has wouldn't fix one block of sidewalks." Linda Mussmann suggested, as she has before, that the law that created the Tourism Board and empowered it "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" needed to be changed.

I was reminded of this discussion the next day, when I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR and heard Audie Cornish interviewing Paris Martineau, a reporter for WIRED, about the problems local governments are having trying to collect taxes on Airbnb stays: "As Airbnb Grows, So Do the Problems Cities Have with It." What struck me was something Martineau said early in the interview when describing lodging taxes: "These tax dollars are especially important to cities in tourist areas in particular and are used to fund public works projects and to maintain the sort of things that attract tourists to their towns in the first place." During the Tourism Board meeting, something Hunt said seemed to echo this sentiment: "Our charge is to keep people coming to Hudson." 

If the Tourism Board's charge is "to keep people coming to Hudson," how is the goal best accomplished: through marketing and branding, or by maintaining and enhancing the things that attracted people to Hudson in the first place? If it's the latter, it seems such efforts would benefit the people who live here as well as those who visit.


  1. heads in beds. that's where the money comes from and you use it to get more heads in beds to collect more money. events that don't put heads in beds don't get money, or shouldn't, pretty simple. The extra heads spend money in our shops, restaurants, and attractions.

  2. How about restoring the Park on 7th st ? How about taking down the electric poles on Upper Warren from the park to Worth Avenue to make it look like the rest of Warren St. ?

    Restoring the town is what brings the tourists to see an incredibly beautiful mostly intact 19th century Main St with unique stores, restaurants, and yes air bnb apts and hotels, motels and all sorts of other amentities. The Opera House. Club Helsinki with Stevie Nicks singing there tonight. !!

    Pretty amazing i would say, in the last 25 years.

  3. My wife and I used to live in the Albany burbs and used to regularly come down to the Winter Walk (Wow, were there ever some cold ones). So I'd have to say Ms. Quinn is erroneous in her thinking.

  4. Former mayor Rick Scalera submitted this comment:

    My two cents….Apparently Jane Smith Quinn, Executive Director of the FASNY Museum of Fire Fighting has never attended our events such as Flag Day, OutHudson Parade Winter Walk, The Black Arts & Cultural Festival , The Bangladesh Cultural Festival, and last but not least The Halloween Parade. Investing a small percentage ($20,000) of lodging tax dollars toward these and other events here in Hudson is exactly how the monies should be spent!

    Rick Scalera

  5. When I was producing the Hudson Music Festival from 2011-2014, we had become New York State's largest free weekend music festival. All of the press we did were in-kind donations. That included a tv commercial that Mid-Hudson Cable produced, advertising and a special schedule produced through Register-Star, numerous newspaper notices and articles, and our Twitter account had over 5,000 followers. We also had an article in the annual Amtrak magazine. We estimated that there were close to 15,000 visitors in Hudson for the weekend, with many booking rooms.

    Producing a large event like this is expensive, at least $25k for us. Add paying the artists would be an additional $25k, mind you, we had over 300 artists participating!

  6. Carole, this is a great post, in my humble opinion. It asks the question so articulately: what are people looking for here? I would argue, along with those who suggest using tourism money to improve our events, public spaces, and sidewalks, etc., that it is the spirit and usability of our city--exemplified by winter walk, festivals, parades, fun. It is also the potential for a city in transition, transition into a place where there are free fun opportunities as well as good shopping opportunities. People come here to be in the Hudson Valley, in part--so more funded, outdoor stuff would be an absolute draw. I think you've laid the case out beautifully. Again: my opinion is humble.

  7. This is a very important conversation. I agree with the heads in beds! Research shows that if you start by encouraging overnight visitors, it delivers the best return. The town of Lenox now has a pop up on its home page taking visitors straight to a link to book lodging. Their Chamber initiated the website and agreed that this was the best move for them. The city of Las Vegas has done something similar. Day trippers will not sustain the retailers on Warren street. The other issue, the short term rentals, is a huge problem, not just in Hudson or the US, but around the world. Official B&Bs are registers in NY State, pay fees for it and must follow certain guidelines like hard wired smoke detectors. I cannot fathom how the "AirBnB" phenom has gone on so long without a more concerted effort to regulate what they do. Sorry I missed the meeting but at least we are all talking about this and, it seems, expressing honest opinions. Finally, I would note that we have a terrific group of business and marketing professionals right here in our own back yard and they did an excellent job branding Hudson for the Husiness Coalition and its website. Why not work together and not reinvent the wheel? I am sure there are reasons for not tapping into the excellent work that is already building a broad identity for Hudson but I hope it is being discussed.