Tourism Summit 2018 asks all the right questions

Tourism Summit 2018 asks all the right questions
By Patsy Nicosia

Seventy-five representatives from Schoharie County’s tourism trenches gathered at SUNY Cobleskill for Tourism Summit 2018 Monday. Their goal? Finding ways to make the most of a list of local strengths so lengthy it makes you wonder why anyone would visit—or live—anywhere else. “The object here is to hear from people in the trenches,” said SUNY Cobleskill’s Jason Evans, in welcoming the crowd. “We’re all starting out with the same thing: A love of this place. Next we need to figure out the best way to work collaboratively.” Chris Guldner, chairman of the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Committee, said they’re in the process of developing a strategic plan for tourism—something that will incorporate many of the ideas that surfaced in Monday’s small group discussions. “Today is the first step in creating a plan of action,” he said. Nick Castellanos, who handles tourism efforts for the Chamber, ran through a variety of promotions funded with both state and local dollars, including conferences, travel shows, and a New York by Rail promotion featuring Sharon Springs Beekman Boys. Agritourism, outdoor adventure, family fun, and history are all among the tourism draws that are marketed even internationally, he said. Among the highlights of each of those: Agritourism—Farm stands, farmers markets, pick-your own fruits and vegetables, Family Farm Day, and restaurants—from diners to places like Wellington’s Herbs. Outdoor adventure—Hiking, kayaking, biking; places like Vroman’s Nose, hunting and fishing, and natural draws like the Landis Arboretum. Family fun—Howe Caverns, Secret Caverns, the New York Power Authority, the golf course and mini-golf and go-karts at Gobbler’s Knob and Muscle Motors Speedway. History—The Old Stone Fort, Iroquois Indian Museum, Palatine Museum, and countless small museums in almost every town. History also includes geological history, Mr. Castellanos pointed out, which not only circles back around to its caves—both developed and natural—but to the southern end of the county, where the Gilboa Museum is home to the oldest fossils in the world. “Fossils that made life possible,” he said. Then there’s craft beverages, unique shopping experiences, festivals and events, SUNY Cobleskill, music, antiques and even art. And to top it all off, the scenery. “That is a unique treasure,” Mr. Castellanos said. “There are few places with views like Schoharie County. Mountains, waterfalls, nooks and crannies all over.” But the region’s not without its liabilities, he said; among them: A lack of lodging for tourists, problems with communication and coordination between attractions and organizers, lack of transportation, and too little funding. It was those liabilities—and how to work around them—that drove the small group discussions after the formal presentations. At a table of mostly Sharon Springs representatives, the Cobbler’s Maureen Lodes mentioned the need to reach travelers who aren’t on social media. Randy Bannister, who lives in Canada, but has made many friends in Sharon Springs—drawn there initially by the festivals—and visits frequently, said in his part of the world, people think New York State stops at Lake Placid. “I mention Schoharie County and people have never heard of it,” he said. At another table, Kurt Pelton led a discussion that delved into the possibility of a series of seasonal auto shows—something that would expand on events that are already going on. Justin Behan, who owns and runs the Green Wolf Brewery in Middleburgh, also stressed the need to focus on what’s already going on here. “Let’s not re-invent what’s already drawing people here,” he said. “We have the events…people are coming.” John O’Donnell, who’s retiring after 34 years in the B&B business, said he sees a tremendous opportunity here for Airbnb.

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