Second year in a row of little growth
By Chip Rowe
Tourism in Putnam County continued its slow growth, with visitor spending increasing only 1 percent in 2018, the same percentage it rose the year before, according to a newly released report by Tourism Economics, which each year estimates the economic impact of tourism in New York state.
Tourists spent $64 million in Putnam County in 2018, it said. Although that figure was slightly higher than in 2017, the amount of local taxes generated by tourism dropped 3.6 percent from the previous year to $4.4 million.
On Tuesday (Sept. 3), the Putnam County Legislature, by a 9-0 vote, approved an addition to the county charter to create a Department of Tourism and a director of tourism appointed by the County Executive with the approval of legislators. County Executive MaryEllen Odell last month named Tracey Walsh, a former executive with the American Cancer Society, as director of the department, which will replace a nonprofit Visitors’ Bureau that disbanded earlier this year after legislators expressed disapproval with its operations.
The change to the charter notes that the director “shall not engage in any private practice nor be employed in their field of expertise with the county by any private or other governmental entity” — an apparent reference to Libby Pataki, a former Visitors’ Bureau director who resigned after it was discovered she was drawing a salary from a separate tourism nonprofit — and requires the director to report to the Legislature on a quarterly basis, which seems to reflect concerns by legislators about what they called a lack of transparency by the Visitors’ Bureau.
The charter change takes effect on Oct. 18.
Before the vote, Legislator Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown) suggested removing language that cited four sites as examples of locations the department would promote, three of which are county-owned (Tilly Foster, Veteran’s Memorial Park and the Putnam County Golf Course). The other site mentioned was Boscobel, in Garrison.
“Why name these if you’re not naming them all?” asked Montgomery, who read correspondence from the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, asking how the list was determined.
Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) noted that the law lists county properties, which are maintained with taxpayer money, because “we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure these properties are successful.”
Montgomery, however, said the county properties are already at an advantage because they have government funding and support.
“Not only are we funding these tourist attractions with our tax dollars — it’s all public money that goes into the golf course, Tilly’s Table and the farm — we are putting those organizations like Shakespeare and all the private nonprofits and private businesses at a disadvantage,” she said.
Legislator Joseph Castellano (R-Brewster) said he is confident Walsh would not exclude any areas of the county.
“We want to see everybody succeed,” he said. “These are the properties that we decided as a group to put on this list, but I completely believe that our new tourism director is going to work with everybody.”
Across six counties in the Hudson Valley, tourist spending increased 19 percent over 2017, according to Tourism Economics, with Westchester County accounting for 45 percent of the revenue, Dutchess for 15 percent and Putnam for 1 percent. The firm estimated the industry brought $4.365 billion to the area and supported 62,300 jobs, including 11,000 in Dutchess and 1,350 in Putnam.
Tourism spending in Dutchess County increased 7 percent last year, to $642 million, after a 6 percent increase in 2017, and visitors contributed $45 million in local taxes, an increase of 4 percent.
New York City accounts for about 65 percent of the tourist spending in the state, followed by Long Island at 9 percent and the Hudson Valley at 6 percent.
Holly Crocco contributed reporting.