TAC promoting southern end of Franklin County

MALONE – Some of the Franklin County Tourism Advisory Committee’s efforts are helping the southern end of the county.

TAC recently announced it would allot $20,000 of its funds to help the town and village of Tupper Lake fund their joint contract with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism to develop a destination and marketing plan for the area.

Another $20,000 will go to Saranac Lake for its ROOST contract. Saranac Lake and the town and village of Tupper Lake each requested $25,000 from TAC.

At last week’s Franklin County Board of Legislators meeting, TAC board member and Malone hotelier Chris LaBarge explained that the committee is still in its early stages, and its members wanted to fund ROOST because its success has already been proven.

“I really have to compliment both the Saranac Lake towns and village, as well as now the Tupper Lake towns and village, for getting together and saying, ‘We want to take control of our own destiny’ in terms of what we want to do in the future and getting organized to promote tourism,” LaBarge said. “Saranac Lake has started something that appears to have significant progress in one year, and Tupper Lake said they would like to get started with a similar activity with ROOST.”

Providing funding for the ROOST contracts leaves TAC’s budget at $50,038. LaBarge said there are no requests for that money yet, and he’d like to see it used toward the development of a destination master plan for the county.

The legislators formed TAC last May in anticipation of a county occupancy tax receiving approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. They’re still waiting on that.

If passed, the tax would impose a 5 percent fee on overnight guests in Franklin County. TAC’s role is to advise legislators on how that tax money should be spent to promote tourism throughout the county.

“I hope we don’t get discouraged because so much weighs on this occupancy tax,” said Legislator Gordon Crossman, D-Malone.

LaBarge said TAC members are trying to coordinate a meeting with state Sen. Betty Little and the public at Paul Smith’s College to explain the county’s need for the occupancy tax. He said the main idea is to get people from outside the county to come in, and to have their bed taxes pay to help attract more visitors.

“We have in the last year really tried to get educated on what tourism is made of,” LaBarge said. “Without the bed tax, that makes this extremely challenging. The money that is needed to complete that (destination marketing plan) is more than the money we would have available. We cannot keep going to the taxpayer for this money.”

Besides the occupancy tax, LaBarge said some funding for marketing might be available from other sources, but “right now we only want to commit to what we already have funding for.”

Regional tourism

Franklin County Tourism Administrator Fawn Tatro spoke to the legislators on behalf of TAC, outlining some of its county-wide efforts.

Tatro said $77,480 in matching funds grants TAC received has helped fund various promotional initiatives throughout the county. Those initiatives are done through a partnership with Adworkshop and Inphorm Public Relations.

The initiatives include increased digital marketing in areas like social media, search marketing and paid advertising.

Other initiatives include a summer and fall television campaign, public relations, tours with travel writers, a ski campaign and a golf campaign. The ski and golf campaigns encourage those facilities to offer discount packages designed to get visitors to stay in the area for multiple days.

The funding for those campaigns receive matching funds from the state Regional Economic Development Council, so the county pays $7,500 to promote skiing and $13,000 to promote golfing.

Titus Mountain Family Ski Center, south of Malone, is the main focus for the skiing campaign.

“In order to receive funding, it has to be a destination,” Tatro said. “A destination area means you need to provide a place where they can spend the day, where they can eat, that type of environment.”

To be eligible for the matching grant, the ski package must cross-promote other business, like lodging options and restaurants.

Crossman asked if the Big Tupper Ski Area could be included in a ski package. Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, said the resort was still waiting on a lawsuit between environmental groups and the state Adirondack Park Agency to be resolved before the Adirondack Club and Resort project, which would develop some of the land around the ski center, begins. Maroun is also the mayor of the village of Tupper Lake.

“Big Tupper was included in a marketing campaign with ‘Ski Titus’ the first year, but it’s been very difficult with the lack of snowmaking,” Tatro said. “That second year, I don’t think they opened at all. So it’s been very difficult from a marketing standpoint when you don’t have a schedule for snowmaking. You don’t want someone to drive from Canada to get there and realize it’s not open.”

Legislator Barbara Rice, D-Saranac Lake, asked if the Mount Pisgah Ski Center, owned and run by her home village, could be included in the Titus marketing campaign. Tatro said it could, and asked Rice, who is also a village trustee, to send a blurb promoting Pisgah. Pisgah is smaller than Titus or Big Tupper but does have snowmaking.

Tatro said the 6,820 more hotel rooms were booked this year as a result of the golf package campaign.

“That’s what we want,” Board of Legislators Chairman Billy Jones said. “We want people to come and we want people to stay. The more nights days we can get them here, the more money we can get them to spend.”