In case you missed it there is yet another dust-up underway in the Adirondacks over how and where to spend the dollars that market our region to potential tourists.
We’ve reported before that the Adirondacks lags well behind in terms of creating a recognizable brand in them minds of potential visitors.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that he wants far more New York City and downstate travelers to choose the vacation opportunities we offer in the North Country, rather than head east to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.
But the truth is that studies have shown that a lot of New Yorkers don’t even know we exist. And to the extent that they do, they don’t think we’re as cool or have as much cachet as our New England neighbors.
Which is why it’s so frustrating that Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake are fuming over a tiny $25,000 request, made by Saranac Lake village representatives to help market their community’s tourism assets. They want the dollars to come from Franklin County.
Saranac Lake wants to partner with ROOST, the Lake Placid-based tourism operation. But that marketing program is run by Essex County.
You see where this is going?
While New Hampshire and Vermont find ways to pool their money and messaging power — thereby creating ad campaigns that actually have the heft and creativity to spark some kind of response — Adirondackers work village by village.
The reason for this balkanization is pretty simple: We are, in fact, balkanized, with no central governing organization to shape how and where dollars are spent.
That kind of effort would take political heft, enough to resist bending to local, parochial interests. But efforts to create that kind of organization have faltered.
After all, why would folks in Warren County want visitors to spend time on the Thousand Islands? Why would development officials in Lake Placid want to boost visitorship in Hamilton County?
The answer, of course, is that the region as a whole has the assets and the resources to become a major destination, while no single county or community can possibly compete at that level.
If we marketed the region as a whole, in a coherent, deliberate and persistent way, we would almost certainly see a net increase in visitors that would give everyone more opportunities to build their local tourism economies.
Instead, we continue try to go it alone. Maybe Saranac Lake will get its money. They will spend some tens of thousands of dollars — the goal is to pool $85,000 — over some limited period of time to boost the local brand.
Meanwhile, our neighbors to the East continue to boost their entire tourism industry, with Vermont along spending $5 million every year on tourism marketing even during the depths of the economic downturn – with many of those dollars aimed at “our” visitors in New York.
It’s hard to say what the solution here might be. Maybe there is none. Perhaps our competitors will continue to grow and market themselves as 21st century destinations, with sophisticated branding, while we remain a kind of cool, funky, undiscovered Wild West.
But maybe some day we’ll find a way to make the Adirondack-North Country into a unified, recognizable destination, where the incredible assets of all our unique villages, resorts, and natural wonders add up to something greater and more appealing than any one community could provide.
I’ve said before: In the years before I moved here, I was a West Coaster and had no idea what the Adirondacks were. But I knew New Hampshire and Vermont — and I wanted to visit them some day.
Until we create the same collective appeal for our beautiful corner of the world, I suspect we’ll be missing out on visitors, dollars and opportunity.