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.
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