Montgomery County

Montgomery County set to take over tourism promotion; plans in motion to grow in-house efforts

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FONDA – The Montgomery County Legislature on Tuesday is set to vote on a resolution designating the county government as the “Tourism Promotion Agency” required by New York state’s “I Love New York” matching grant program, a move that effectively ends the county’s previous practice of contracting annually with the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism.

“That’ll likely pass on Tuesday night,” Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said Saturday. “For Montgomery County, once Fulton County decided to go that way, there really wasn’t a decision to be made. I’m not sure the chamber could support that program for Montgomery County [going forward]. So, we have to make a decision in October and get that paperwork [designating a Tourism Promotion Agency] to the state, so we don’t have time to wait around.”

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors earlier this month voted to create its own tourism bureau, operating under the county planning department, ending its annual contract with the regional chamber for tourism promotion.

Mark Kilmer, president of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, has said the combined tourism contracts from both counties provided the chamber with funding that paid about 20% to 25% of its annual operating budget of approximately $500,000. The loss of the funding is expected to result in some layoffs of the chamber staff, and Fulton County officials have said it is likely their county will attempt to hire Anne Boles, the current chamber director of tourism, to serve as the county’s new tourism coordinator.

Ossenfort said he believes Montgomery County will continue to have a strong relationship with the regional chamber, and he is scheduled to meet with chamber officials this week to discuss how his county can continue to partner with the chamber in ways that are beneficial to both entities.

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“Once we saw [what Fulton County did] we realized we were probably going to have to [handle tourism] ourselves, but that was not a problem because we are in a good position to do so,” Ossenfort said.

Over the last several years, Montgomery County has been slowly withdrawing its support for the two-county regional tourism promotion strategy through the chamber. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Montgomery County was providing about $120,000 annually to the chamber — about $50,000 was the ‘I Love New York’ matching grant, but in 2021, when most tourism events were shut down or severely curtailed, the contribution dropped to $74,500. This year, it rose again to $95,000 — still less than the pre-pandemic norm.

In January, Montgomery County formed its own in-house tourism promotion committee, which includes members of the Canajoharie Palatine Chamber of Commerce and the St. Johnsville Chamber of Commerce. The county also assigned new tourism-related duties to its Director of Communications Morgan McClary and Business Development Center Director of Program Development Vincenzo Nicosia.

On Saturday, McClary and Nicosia were involved in the promotion and organization of the 2nd annual Blues at Burbine disc golf tournament at the county-owned Thomas H. Burbine Memorial Forest in the town of Charleston.

Ossenfort said the annual disc golf tournament is the first of the county’s signature annual tourism events, part of a strategy to use outdoor recreational activities to draw tourists to the county in each season of the year.

Ossenfort noticed cars from New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts at the tournament on Saturday suggesting the tourism committee’s strategy appears to be working.

“I think we all agreed at the beginning of the year that the county was not doing enough,” the county leader said, “and that wasn’t because of the chamber, it was because we felt we needed a more robust tourism program.

“The eye-opening thing for me was when we did some market research and we looked at what some other counties were doing for tourism and it was peanuts, what we were doing, so it became quite obvious that if we’re going to compete we’ve got to put some more effort in. We’ve got to put some more money behind it, and that’s what we’ve done.”

The preliminary 2023 Montgomery County budget includes $50,000 from the federal U.S. American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 grant money, which will be combined with the ‘I Love NY’ matching tourism grant to give McClary and Nicosia a larger budget to purchase advertising and pay for other activities to plan and promote tourism.

Nicosia said he believes there will be efficiencies created by having all of the tourism promotion funding coordinated by the county.

“For example, we won’t have duplicate videos, where the chamber is doing videos on topics, and we’re doing our own videos on the same thing,” he said. “That will save money for other projects or promotional efforts. There have been creative differences, too, like areas we would like to see money go to, like social [media], digital ad campaigns, rather than paper or radio, not that we’re going to completely dismiss that.”

McClary said she’s been working on how to expand the county’s social media advertising.

“I’ve been dabbling with learning more about TikTok, Instagram Reels, just trying to utilize all of the social media platforms, in an effort to engage different ages of people,” she said. “One of Matt [Ossenfort]’s big goals has been us working on how do we get younger people to want to stay here, to move back, buy a home here, be a part of this community, so I’m hoping we will be able to continue in that effort.”

Nicosia said the next of the county’s signature tourism events will be “Elves Day Out” on Dec. 3 in the village of Canajoharie. He said the tourism committee has been working with the Canajoharie Palatine Chamber of Commerce to take the traditional village event and enhance it to the next level.

Toward that end, he said the event has been moved from a Friday night to a Saturday night.

“In an effort to engage people from outside of the area to attend, thinking that on a Friday, after work, some people may not be able to attend,” McClary said. “But, something that is all day on a Saturday, people can come out with their families

Nicosia credited McClary with coming up with the idea for a Christmas-themed scavenger hunt for Elves Day Out that will involve people going through clues to find different items hidden in stores in Canajoharie, with prize incentives for individuals that can complete the scavenger hunt.

“Our hope is that if people get into those businesses, and see what we have to offer, they’ll come back again, not just for Elves Day Out, but for a weekend, to come for a lunch. We just want to put Montgomery County on the map,” McClary said.

Ossenfort said the county tourism committee is still working on the creation of a third signature event, but he believes it may involve a road race and possibly some kind of 24-hour ultra-marathon race.

On Saturday, Ossenfort said he believes the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce will still have a role to play in the county’s tourism promotion strategy, although he’s not yet certain what that role will be.

“I think we still want to find ways in which we can partner with the chamber,” he said, “and I’ll be meeting with them [this week] to find ways to do exactly that.”

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