Selling Tourism

Visitors spend big bucks in Dutchess, not so much in Putnam. What’s the difference?

By Michael Turton

A new study of the Hudson Valley tourism industry contrasts Putnam and Dutchess — one a county in flux and the other seemingly a hive of activity.

Tourism Economics, Inc., looked at tourism revenues and costs across the state, then broke the data down by region.

Both Putnam and Dutchess counties are on the Hudson River, which is a focal point. Asked to name her county’s top five draws, Mary Kay Vrba, CEO and president of the non-profit Dutchess Tourism, quickly named the Walkway Over the Hudson, Dutchess County Fairgrounds, Culinary Institute of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site and DIA: Beacon. Only the fairground is not located within sight of the river.

The same is true for Putnam County, where major, river-based attractions include the Village of Cold Spring, Boscobel, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Constitution Marsh, Foundry Preserve and Breakneck Ridge. Breakneck, which last year drew some 70,000 hikers, sits at the border between the counties, which share a trolley that shuttles visitors between Cold Spring and Beacon with a stop at Breakneck.

The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (photo courtesy of Dutchess Tourism)

The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (photo courtesy of Dutchess Tourism)

Dutchess draws a considerably larger portion of the Hudson Valley’s tourist spending compared to Putnam: 16 percent versus two percent. Much of that difference can be attributed to the makeup of the two counties. Dutchess is 825 miles in area, has a population of about 296,000 and includes two cities, Beacon and Poughkeepsie. Putnam is 246 square miles in area, has a population of about 99,000 and no cities.

Yet even taking into account the difference in scale, Dutchess County’s tourism marketing is stronger. In 2016 Dutchess will spend $1.6 million to promote tourism, or about $5.62 per capita. Putnam will spend slightly more than $214,000, or $2.16 per capita.

Dutchess’ more urban nature is a factor in its broader program and success. It charges a four percent bed tax on each of its 2,200 hotel rooms, many of which are clustered in the Fishkill area. That tax alone accounts for the entire $1.2 million contribution the county makes to Dutchess Tourism. In contrast, Putnam County, which has virtually no large hotels, contributes $142,000 to its tourism agency.

Putnam Tourism in flux

The two county tourism agencies have vastly different organizational structures. Dutchess Tourism is overseen by a 27-member board made up of tourism industry and community leaders and headed by Andrea Reynolds, president of the Dyson Foundation.

The Boscobel house in Garrison (file photo)

The Boscobel house in Garrison (file photo)

The non-profit Putnam Tourism operates as a county department employing one person, interim director Frank Smith. In the wake of the resignation of director Libby Pataki after questions were raised about her management of the agency, the county advertised for volunteers to serve on a newly formed board of directors.

Smith did not respond to a number of attempts to reach him by email and phone to determine the status and makeup of the new board and to solicit his thoughts on tourism in Putnam County.

However, two organizations contacted by The Current said they have been pleased with Putnam Tourism’s recent efforts. Dave McCarthy, a board member with the Cold Spring Film Society, said that the Carmel-based tourism body had increased its grant to the popular outdoor summer movie program to $1,500 in 2016 from $250 last year.

“It was very helpful,” McCarthy said, adding that the society surveyed this year’s moviegoers and will soon release the results. A previous survey showed that many audience members come from out of town and contribute significantly to the local economy. He said this year’s series attracted more than 4,000 people.

Alison Antoine, who heads the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce, also had kudos for Smith. “The Chamber has a solid, collaborative relationship with [him], and he continues to be supportive,” she said, noting that Putnam Tourism was a major sponsor of the Summer Sunset Music Series at the riverfront.

3 thoughts on “Selling Tourism

  1. For me there are two issues that stand out. Beacon has so many wonderful outdoor cafes, places to hang out and great, reasonably priced varieties of places to eat. It is also diverse culturally and that is a plus.

    I am also aware that the Putnam legislators are a difficult group who seem to follow an agenda that is often at odds with the Cold Spring community and seems to me like a closed system with the exception of two or three who remain in the minority. We are a divided community with some representatives who have failed our community. Let’s hope this will change.

  2. Dutchess County Tourism has had professional leadership and was marketing its attractions national and internationally since the 1990s. Putnam is smaller geographically and has fewer attractions and is environmentally greener — we have fewer hotels or B&B’s to accommodate overnight stays. In addition, climbers to Anthony’s Nose, Appalachian Trail and Breakneck spend little to no money locally.

    I am hopeful Putnam Tourism will embark on strategic plan on ways to maximize our resources and attributes in Philipstown and the County to attract more visitors. I have always envisioned a Cold Spring event equal to the Victorial Streetwalk in Saratoga.

    By the way, does anyone have a brochure or info on the architectural points of interest of Cold Spring building on Main Street? How interesting is our cemetery? Do we promote Cold Spring as the birthplace of Emily Warren Roebling, the actual “clerk of the works” for the Brooklyn Bridge? She was a champion of women’s rights, completed a certificate course at NYU on women’s law and wrote a paper on “A Wife’s Disabilities” that called for the elimination of laws discriminating against women. It won an award. We have lots of gems but have not found a way to market them.

  3. Although this is a great article, I wish I could have spoken with Michael before he wrote it so that I could give him my perspective on my last four years working with the Putnam Tourism Agency, such as it is. I would also like to commend Ms. Rosengarten and Ms. Waivada for their perceptive comments. Cold Spring has been rated one of the top tourist attractions in the Hudson Valley and we have many, many things to recommend us, including our superb geography, public transportation, fantastic shops, eateries and other attractions.

    To say that the Putnam legislators are a difficult group is the understatement of the year. The entire GOP-controlled county government is a hotbed of incompetence, laziness, nepotism, greed and cupidity. They are so thoroughly unprofessional that in the private sector, 99 percent of them would not be able to hold down a regular job, even at Walmart.

    The Tourism Agency is theoretically overseen and funded by the Legislature, and therein lies the problem. Just as with any other government program or agency, there is no reward for success nor penalty for failure. No matter how much money is wasted, no matter how many tourists come or don’t come here, no matter how badly anyone screws up, nobody ever gets fired. Instead, they get the same paycheck and benefits and eventually a pension.

    Since I opened my shop in Cold Spring, I have been working my butt off trying to get money and support for our Village from the county any anywhere else that could provide funding. After all, we are truly the only real tourist attraction in the County. I have tried to enlist the help of any legislators or public officials who would listen but have gotten zero help from any of them. I had to fight very hard at budget time to try and convince them that we needed more money for tourism, not less.

    To her credit, Libby Pataki did give us some funding for advertising and promotion and her successor, Frank Smith has also been helpful as was mentioned in the article. This year I was able to get funding for various marketing materials including a Cold Spring shopping and dining guide, as well as brochures at Grand Central Terminal. That being said, compared to what our neighbors are doing, and what the county should be doing, it is a mere drop in the bucket and shows a complete lack of foresight on the part of the Legislature that controls the purse strings.

    The Village Board of Trustees is not much better than the Legislature when it comes to bringing home the bacon for Cold Spring and the current board seems actively hostile to the whole tourism effort. They close down the pubic bathrooms and complain about vandalism. Meanwhile, they have a useless and costly police department that can’t even assign an officer to keep an eye on the restrooms so they wouldn’t get vandalized. Would that be too much to ask one of the dozen or so cops who are on the payroll?

    There are many, many things that can be done to improve tourism in Putnam county, specifically as it pertains to Cold Spring. The Tourism agency has been without a permanent head for over a year and while Mr. Smith is doing the best he can under very difficult circumstances, it is really outrageous that the Legislature can’t get its act together and move this process along more expeditiously.

    Also, I should disclose that I have submitted my own name as a candidate for the post of tourism director. The job was advertised by the County in April and it seems they are no closer to appointing someone than they were a year ago. Even though I am one of several very qualified applicants, I have no doubt that this will most certainly not be a merit-based appointment. Rather, it will go to the person who has the best political connections to the regime.

    The Butterfield fiasco has brought out a lot of residents who finally have decided to confront their local government officials for a variety of reasons. For some it was the Ailes donation that sparked their ire, for some, it was the cost of the senior facility. For most of them, I daresay it was the first time they took an interest in how their hard-earned money is being spent by the junta in Carmel.

    As a 30-year taxpayer advocate, all I can say is that I hope their vigilance will continue and that they will remain interested in where their tax dollars are going.