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Pandemic perspective: County tourism officials optimistic visitors will return to Orleans

Posted 4 May 2020 at 6:02 pm

‘The spirit of travel will be a necessary and prominent component of our return to everyday life after the NY Pause is lifted and must be promoted, supported and protected at all costs.’

(Editor’s Note: Dawn Borchet is the county’s tourism director and Lynne Menz is the marketing manager for the Tourism Department. They wrote this article for the start of National Travel & Tourism Week.)

By Dawn Borchert and Lynne Menz

The 2020 Orleans County Tourism Guide is 48 pages. The dominant photo on the cover shows a sailboat during a striking sunset. There are also photos of the chapel at Hillside Cemetery near Holley (showcasing Medina sandstone architecture), two kids with large salmon and the Canal Culvert, the only place where traffic goes under the Erie Canal. The guide has a theme of “Great Lake Adventure & Canal Town Culture.”

It seems futile to celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week during a pandemic that we haven’t seen the likes of in our lifetime! But we would be remiss not to share what tourism means to Orleans County and speculate how we’ll fare this summer. A proclamation was signed by our legislature in April proclaiming May 3 to May 9, 2020 as National Travel and Tourism Week in Orleans County, NY, and “we urge the citizens of Orleans County to join us in recognizing the critical role this industry places in Orleans County”. Highlights of the proclamation are as follows:

  • Tourism is the foundation of a healthy workforce, whereby Tourism Industry Employment remains the 3rd largest Industry in New York State, supporting 15.8 million jobs in the U.S. in 2019, including 9 million directly in the travel industry and 6.8 million in other industries.
  • Spending by travelers has aided state and local governments alike, generating $180 billion in tax revenue last year to support essential services and programs nationwide.
  • Nearly 253 million visitors traveled to New York State in 2018, generating an economic impact of $114.8 billion, including direct spending of $71.8 billion and state and local taxes of $8.9 billion.
  • According to the NY State DEC Anglers Survey for 2017, the total annual economic impact to Orleans County from sportfishing alone was $27 million with $5.1 million in local and state tax revenue.
  • The spirit of travel will be a necessary and prominent component of our return to everyday life after the NY Pause is lifted and must be promoted, supported and protected at all costs.

The Orleans County Tourism Department is funded through occupancy tax which has continually increased each year, with a record of $58,000 collected in 2019. This 4% “bed tax” is collected by our motels, inns, lodges and vacation rentals which is then matched by NY State through the I Love NY marketing campaign. In 2020, we began working with a record high budget of $120,000 to promote tourism in Orleans County, but, we are currently at risk of losing the state funds due to the pandemic. However, that’s not going to stop our momentum to promote tourism in Orleans County!

We just recently published the 2020 Orleans County Travel & Adventure Guide and we’re in the process of distributing them throughout the northeast at interstate travel centers, AAA offices, airports, convention centers and sending it to those planning a visit. The guide is the largest to date (48 pages) and loaded with historic and natural attractions to explore as well as places to shop, dine and stay. We expanded on our trails feature and even included a list of ice cream shops this year! The guides are currently available at the Orleans County Administration Building and will be stocked at the four county libraries (designated as official Orleans County Visitors Centers) as well as several of our tourism partners (museums, lodging, advertisers) as soon as they reopen.

Orleans County Tourism is involved in several co-op projects with neighboring counties. We recently unveiled the 100 Must See Miles on the Erie Canal brochure in partnership with Visit Rochester and Wayne County Tourism. This brochure showcases 50 unique points of interest along the Erie Canal in the 3-county/100 mile stretch between Medina (Orleans) and Clyde (Wayne County). We are also included in two new regional websites: the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Council (LOSPC) – www.ilovenyfishing.com and the GLOW region’s updated brand, “Fresh Air Adventures”, which is anticipated to go live before the summer.

File photo by Tom Rivers: Lyndonville’s Fourth of July celebration, capped by fireworks, is among the community events that have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between January and April, Dawn Borchert, our Tourism Director, represented Orleans County at travel and outdoor shows touting Orleans County and especially our ideal location. Shows included the NY Times World Travel Expo, the Harrisburg Outdoor Show, AAA Shows in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and the Fly Fishing Expo in New Jersey with Ron Bierstine of Oak Orchard Tackle & Lodge. Meeting travelers face-to-face has been invaluable to find out what the consumer is interested in and introducing them to the variety of Orleans County’s assets.

Aside from visitors attending weddings, reunions and family functions, we have found those who come to Orleans County are generally from the Northeast US and visit primarily for fishing, craft beverage touring, shopping and being near water, specifically the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls. In this pandemic, while the large cities’ tourism and convention bureaus are taking devastating economic hits, rural communities such as ours are expected to fare better while travelers are looking for “socially distant” activities such as camping, fishing and enjoying the outdoors.

A recent survey polled 1,000 NYS residents across different age groups and the results support our speculation regarding traveling post-quarantine in NY State: 57% are attracted to local areas with natural attractions and smaller communities. Travelers will be avoiding long trips, 71% will travel by personal vehicles (avoiding public transportation – airplanes, trains, cruises) and opt for stay-cations this summer. The activities that are expected to experience significant decrease in attendance are the amusement parks, casinos, theaters/concerts and museums with high capacity.

We are saddened by the fact that so many of our hometown events have been cancelled this summer – our events that can pass for a backdrop in a Hallmark movie. The Memorial Day Parades, Strawberry Festival, Independence Day Festival, Holley and Albion’s Summer Fests and several concert series are being shelved for the health and safety of our community. We remain optimistic that after the NYS Pause is over, we expect that our restaurants, shops, marinas and campgrounds will be back in business and our vacation rentals occupied with visitors taking advantage of our rural location while maintaining social distancing. And, we anticipate our communities will be spontaneous and creative, yet responsible when it comes to entertainment.

We’re reminded of the final scenes from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” when all the Whos from Whoville came out of their homes on Christmas morning and joined hands in celebration despite having their Christmas presents and decorations stolen. Their joyful spirit couldn’t be broken, and subsequently “the Grinch’s heart grew three times that day!” We predict that day is just around the corner! (Except we will be donning our homemade designer masks, remain 6’ apart and refrain from holding hands!)

We have so much to be grateful for here in our corner of the world that many of us take for granted – Lake Ontario, the “Oak”, the historic Erie Canal and the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge – just to name a few of our natural assets waiting to be navigated, fished and explored. Coupled with strong communities teeming with pride, spirit and creativity, why wouldn’t anyone want to make Orleans County this summer’s destination?

Wishing you and yours the safest National Travel & Tourism Week!

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