Elizabethtown Jim McKenna, head of the office that spearheads tourism efforts for Essex and Hamilton counties, dazzled lawmakers from across the North Country on Thursday, Feb. 27 with a lively presentation that stressed the importance of tourism in growing the region’s economy and why local officials need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing their communities.
McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office for Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), said while revenues generated by the county’s occupancy tax were the highest they’ve ever been last year at $1.9 million, up almost seven percent from last year, it’s important to note that the figure is a direct result of the increase in rooms and lodging opportunities —including last July’s opening of the Hampton Inn and Suites in Lake Placid — and that continued efforts are required to keep that number climbing.
“We have to start making tourism one of our top priorities,” he told the lawmakers, including Franklin County Legislature chair Billy Jones, Clinton County’s James Langley and Essex’s Randall Douglas. “Especially in smaller towns with declining populations that have a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities.”
McKenna, who peppered his speech with trivia questions to the lawmakers like, “Which was the only county in the United States to award a liquor license to a high school,” said domestic competition to attract tourism dollars is intense and he looks forward to helping local officials establish what they need to be successful in promoting their communities.
“First we have to get facilities developed for local residents, then we need to continue to fund lodging and hotels.”
Eighty-five million people live within a six-hour drive from the region, said McKenna, and it’s important for towns to create a unified front and stop competing against regional bedfellows like Lake George and Old Forge and start positioning themselves as alternatives to, say, Europe and Cape Cod.