There is a case to be made that the entire economic future of the region hinges on our ability to attract and retain a growing tourism base while building a longer visiting season.
We doubt many would be surprised by that, because we have said it before.
With a pot of money from the county bed tax totaling more than $4 million, Warren County has the resources to craft a strategy and brand as successful as any in the state.
It has two big-time summer destinations in Lake George and Saratoga Springs while also being perfectly placed at the gateway to the Adirondacks.
We have a lot going for us.
But some prominent businessmen and hoteliers in the Lake George region have been raising a ruckus about the way Warren County spends its bed tax money.
They don’t think they are getting the most bang for their buck.
They cite statistics that show occupancy rates in hotels are dropping, despite growing bed tax revenues. Hotel prices have just increased, they point out.
They argue the way Warren County approaches tourism and how it spends that $4 million is unlike other regions of the state.
We believe they make some good points and we have argued for years for a more centralized regional concept that takes all communities into account.
Over the past year, efforts have been made to appease the business people and hotel owners who believe the bed tax money should be used to fund a Convention and Visitor’s Bureau instead of the government-run Warren County Tourism Department. More money has been funneled in that direction this year, but we’re not convinced it will be the solution.
We’re not even convinced the problem is a lack of promotion, or the wrong kind of marketing. We believe this problem needs to be addressed on multiple fronts.
We think it is time to start over.
While we rarely are fans of studies, we wonder if it is time for Warren County to hire a big-time marketing firm that can provide a 10- to 20-year plan to attract visitors and keep them coming back using detailed research based on demographics and the latest trends.
It might be expensive, but we don’t believe the supervisors or any of their employees are equipped to handle such an undertaking. This needs the attention of marketing experts willing to bring in new ideas and a fresh direction while maintaining a branding approach that is consistent for years to come.
We need to know what we want to be, and that means feedback from the business community, civic leaders and regular citizens.
We need to know what the end game looks like.
Only then can we craft a roadmap into the future.
We believe it is time to use some of that $4 million to identify our tourism assets, rank them and rate them as part of a strategy of branding the region.
Identify what our visitors like — the lake, the vistas are obvious — but what else do they want to do while they are here?
Who are the visitors we are trying to attract? Aging baby boomers, young families or singles? Maybe it could be all of the above.
We also need to pay attention to what visitors don’t like — lack of parking, a crowded Canada Street, few quality restrooms — and fix it.
We need to identify established businesses that are ready and willing to expand their season beyond the summer.
We need to develop an inventory of events that gradually extends the tourism seasons into the spring and fall.
How about a pumpkin festival at Glens Falls Civic Center?
What about a “Lights on the Lake” event like the one hosted at Onondaga Lake Park outside Syracuse where people flock to see Christmas light displays?
We’ve heard plans for years for wine and beer trails and a history trail. Maybe bed tax money could be used to enhance and develop those experiences and help out struggling nonprofit historical sites.
We need a plan to modernize the tourism experience in a 21st-century world. We need to know who we are trying to attract and why.
Infrastructure should be an ongoing concern.
The parking problem in Lake George needs to be addressed and solved in a way that will allow the village to abandon the parking meters and consider a pedestrian plaza for several blocks of Canada Street — even if it is only in the summer.
Route 9N along the lake needs to be made safer and more inviting for tourists to explore the rest of the Lake George region.
Aggressively promote day trips from Lake George to surrounding attractions and communities while partnering with neighboring counties about what they have to offer.
If visitors leave feeling they did not experience everything, there is a good chance they will come back.
There needs to be a significant event draw every weekend of the year in Warren County.
Sure, there are problems that need to be overcome, but just solving the parking problem in Lake George could dramatically change the experience in Lake George and the region.
For one of the few times, money is not a roadblock. The bed tax is a cash cow that will keep on giving.
It’s time for Warren County supervisors to take a new direction on tourism. We don’t believe anyone is really 100 percent satisfied with the current direction.
So let’s start over.