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Tourism asks: Once they're here, how to we more visitors around?


1/16/2019
By Patsy Nicosia

Uber or Lyft? Ride sharing? Or busses from Schoharie County Public Transportation? Those were among the possibilities tossed out Monday to answer the question: Once we get people to visit Schoharie County, how do we get there from here to there and around? About 35 people gathered at Howe Caverns as part of efforts to keep tourism promotion moving ahead with bare bones funding in 2019. Discussion included how to best use a total of $28,000 in I Love New York advertising funding, fundraising, and the importance of having a regular voice at the Central New York table. But the liveliest discussion followed Ron Ketelsen’s update on efforts he began as interim tourism director in 2018 to find new ways to move people around the county. Last fall, Mr. Ketelsen said, he met with the Hall of Fame, Glimmerglass Opera, the Otesaga and others in nearby Cooperstown to brainstorm ways to move visitors between Schoharie and Otsego Counties. One possibility is using Schoharie County Public Transportation busses, which are already making runs to the Albany Airport and train station for about $7 a trip. But Howe Caverns Bill Gallup and April Islip said they’ve run into problems with visitors who have no way to leave their attraction once they’re there. Ms. Islip said their visitors refuse to use a service like Uber or Lyft because they don’t think it’s safe. Others at the meeting said rides from either service could take as long as an hour to arrive and they’re over-priced--because they’re likely coming from Albany County. Maureen Lodes, a longtime Sharon businesswoman, argued it’s time to start looking at what visitors need—not what we think they should need—and Maria Lange, another Sharon business-owner, said when faced with similar tourist transportation problems, Telluride, Colorado’s Telluride Foundation lured Lyft in to help vet and train drivers. “They’re used to convenience,” Ms. Lodes said. “They don’t want to wait for a bus.” Chris Guldner, who chairs Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Committee, said the fact that the transportation topic generated so much conversation is a sign of how complex—and important—it is. “If we’re not able to figure it out, what’s the chance that our visitors will?” he asked. Mr. Ketelsen will continue to head efforts to look at transportation problems and solutions. Other committees to come out of Monday’s meeting will look advertising with 1:1 matching grants from I Love New York with help from Kurt Pelton, and digital marketing—from tech to analytics to understanding the process—with help from Mohammed Baligh, who handles that job at SUNY Cobleskill. As part of the process of transitioning tourism from the Chamber to the county—at least for 2019—Alicia Terry, senior planner in the Administrator’s Office said the county IT has been working on getting the 800 number transferred over and has set up a new email address for tourism inquiries. Explaining the I Love New York program, Ms. Terry said there’s $14,000 available from the state to be matched by $14,000 from participating businesses. The program’s focus, though, has been updated, emphasizing ads that group businesses rather than just promoting one. Mr. Ketelsen added that the ads also need to have a regional draw and be geared toward overnight stays and all links must go back to the Chamber site. The tourism group will meet again Monday, February 11 at the Old Stone Fort from 4:30-6:30pm.


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